Acceptance is a Small, Quiet Room.
Over the past several months, the general trajectory of my health has been "better." That is a good and great thing. But even during the "better" periods of time, my illness is a part of me. There are blips, and setbacks, and annoying calls with insurance companies that leave me worried the "better" won't last long.
When those blips happen, I get angry. I get stressed, and panicky, and all-around miserable. My reaction to illness-related stress is not the healthiest, and involves a lot of why is all of this so freaking unfair type thinking. It can all bog me down to a point where it has a major impact on my overall happiness and hope for things to come.
The problem is that I'm a bit of a control freak. I like to plan, I like to know what's around the riverbend, and I like to be prepared. Being sick takes a huge chunk of basic control away from you. I don't have control over developing an autoimmune disease. And while I can do my best to control my stress levels and eat safe foods and take my meds, I still can't control when a flare comes. And I can't control how the government votes on health care bills. And I can't control when my insurance company decides to stop covering one of my meds. And I can't control the ever-growing balance on my medical bills.
That's a lot of stuff in the "things I can't control" category. It's freaking stressful just to type it out. One way I've tried to cope with that is by trying to exert control over other areas of my life that aren't up in the air. It's why I dye my hair a lot. It's why I moved across the country that one time. It's why I am always the friend that makes the brunch plans.
But at the end of the day, all of that other control doesn't make me less sick. It doesn't cure Crohn's, or stop me from having a terrible symptom day that screws up my plans. So what the heck do I do about that?
I try to accept it.
Believe me, it is not easy. That's why I say "I try to accept it" and not "I accept it." Some days I do a much better job than others. Some days I meditate and I'm zen and I count my blessings and think of the hardships of others and practice gratefulness and yadda yadda yadda.
Other days, when the anger and frustration comes much easier than acceptance, I remind myself of a concept written about by Toni Bernhard in How To Be Sick:
"One day I became aware that I was wishing I'd stop feeling sick –– that the physical discomfort would go away, that I would stop being sick. Of course, wishing for something over which I had no control only brought more suffering."
Upon reading that I thought, "duh," but it wasn't something that had occurred to me before. I can't wish my way out of being sick or cure my illness by cursing the gods for my circumstances. In fact, spending all that time stressing about aspects of my illness that I can't change was driving me to panic attacks. But what I can work toward is developing the grace to accept a condition I can't change. I can stop adding to the physical suffering by compounding my emotional suffering. I can accept and give compassion to the bad, frustrated, angry days –– without letting them define me. I can let go of always needing to have control.
I'm still very much a work in progress when it comes to big buzz words like acceptance. But I figured if I needed that reminder today –– that letting go of control is okay and often necessary –– that maybe you did, too. So feel free to come be a work in progress with me. Curse, and cry, and panic, and then remind yourself of practical ways you can change your thinking, and try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.
As Cheryl Strayed said (in a way that I think applies beautifully to chronic illness):
"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."