One of the qualities I’ve found most helpful to cultivate with regard to ME/CFS and fibromyalgia has been acceptance. Many people struggle with the idea of acceptance, associating it with a sense of giving up. However I believe it’s possible to be both accepting and hopeful. Acceptance without the belief that you can make a difference to your future isn’t helpful, but to me that’s resignation not acceptance.
Acceptance is helpful when it involves an acknowledgement of exactly how things are in the here and now and that you can’t change what has happened before this moment. It involves choosing not to dwell on what happened to lead to this moment or how things were better before. Helpful acceptance recognises that life needs to be lived differently for a while and that we need to adapt to our new circumstances.
Acceptance coexists with hope when we recognise that the way we respond to our circumstances can impact future outcomes. Our choices and actions can result in better illness management and better emotional wellbeing. By accepting that the future is unknown, we can aim to influence it in positive ways. Our well-being isn’t dependant on our circumstances; it has more to do with how we choose to see them and respond to them.
Acceptance is useful both on the macro level of accepting the illness as a whole and on the micro level of accepting our moment-to-moment circumstances. Before I accepted that I had this condition, I fought it and pushed against it, only to find myself getting worse and worse. To reach an acceptance of this illness I first had to acknowledge the losses involved and allow myself to grieve the things I had to let go of. By accepting my feelings as an understandable reaction to my circumstances, my grief was able to flow to its natural conclusion.
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Accepting that life had to be lived differently for a while allowed me to focus on how I could live it in a way that optimises my health given my new circumstances. I then found that by learning to recognise and accept my daily energy limit, accepting how this changed from day to day, I was better able to manage my health. Accepting the inevitability of bad days and not beating myself up for having them helps me to keep my spirits up. A compassionate acceptance that my spirits will dip from time to time prevents the vicious cycle of negative thinking which could easily lead to depression.
Acceptance is also the natural antidote to resistance. Resistance is very wasteful of our energy. When we resist our limits, we push too hard and crash. When we resist our feelings, we expend energy keeping them at bay. Resistance builds tension and stress, which doesn’t do us any good.
Similarly if we struggle to accept certain aspects of our personality or our behaviour, we will also carry an extra weight of stress and tension. We can let go of this tension if we accept ourselves as human and imperfect. We can’t change the fact that we made mistakes in the past, but we can accept ourselves as fallible, learn from them, choose to put them right where we can and do things differently in the future. By letting go of resistance and embracing acceptance our energy becomes more freely available to us to spend on the things we choose.
There are so many different ways that acceptance can benefit our wellbeing, it’s well worth paying it some attention. What do you resist? What areas of your life could benefit from a little more acceptance?
Julie Holliday (www.mecfsselfhelpguru.com) is a writer and coach committed to helping people overcome the challenges of chronic illness and live the best life possible. Having completely recovered from ME/CFS once, Julie enjoyed 7 years of vibrant and active health before being struck again. She is now dedicated to sharing all that she has learned about what has contributed to her initial recovery and her present happy and fulfilling life as a chronic illness warrior.