The very nature of a chronic illness like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Lyme disease is that there is no simple answer; there is no cure – not yet anyway. Yet it’s a very natural human response to desperately want to find one. We all go through it, first we want the medics to find it for us; then after a frustrating and desperate period we realize that that’s not going to happen. Then we decide to learn for ourselves how we can do things to improve our health. We desperately want control. And over and over again we consider new medications, new tests, new alternative therapies, new supplements, new diets – desperate for them to be the one thing that will sort it all out and make life right again. Do you ever find yourself desperately striving for THE answer?
Unfortunately though, with these kinds of illnesses, desperation and striving are counterproductive. They introduce tension into our bodies which compounds the illness mechanisms, often adding quite substantially to our symptoms. Our desperation to find the answer makes our body even more difficult to treat.
This may sound like I’m a pessimistic sort of person, but I’m really very much an optimist. I just know that solutions are easier to find when you face the complexity of a problem. I believe that there is an answer out there for each and every one of us, and that it will be different for each of us. It will take different steps in a different order to unravel the complexities of the different illness mechanisms involved in what’s going on in each individual’s unique body. It is possible to get there, and it’s a good thing to keep on trying, but it’s an even better thing if you can try from a place of peace and acceptance, without the desperation and striving.
When I faced that I’d lost my old life and grieved it, I came to an acceptance that life has to be lived differently for a while. A big weight was lifted of my shoulders and for the first time, I was able to notice some tiny improvements in my condition. With this acceptance and a focus on being relaxed, each of these little improvements led to other improvements until five years later, I completely recovered. I’m living proof that when you can let go of tension and striving and find a bit of peace with the way things are, any intervention that you choose to engage in will have a much better chance of success.
When the illness hit me again after seven years of active, vibrant health, I knew I had to find that acceptance again. I understood that accepting that life needs to be lived differently for a while means prioritising how to make it worthwhile as it is. It means finding the little moments of joy and energy-appropriate ways to lift your spirit.
This acceptance doesn’t mean giving up hope of better health; it’s actually what will bring hope in the long run. It just means not putting life on hold until you get there. Not losing all that time that you could be using to learn how to enjoy a new way of living. Not living a life of tension and desperation. When we are at peace with the way things are, our body gets to send its resources to healing and digestion. It may need help with that healing, but I believe that that help will be ineffective without first reaching a state of being at peace.
I’ve found that I regularly slip back into that state of striving. Sometimes it’s because my health improves and I get excited about really getting better again. Sometimes it’s because I haven’t seen an improvement for a long time, and I wonder if I should be trying something else. But once I notice that I’m no longer at peace with the way things are, I remind myself that acceptance needs to come first. Occasionally that means a new wave of grief in order to find that acceptance again, although often, all it takes is for me to refocus on being present in the here and now and to choose to find ways of making life enjoyable as it is.
What helps you find peace with the way things are?
Julie Holliday, ProHealth’s Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people take back control from energy-limiting chronic illness to live a more relaxed, balanced and fulfilling life. Julie loves spending time in nature, growing her own vegetables and spends as much of her day as possible in a comfortable pair of yoga pants. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.