Acceptance and resilience. I cringe when I hear myself say ‘buzz words’ like these but I use them because they’re useful. In fact, I’ve come to believe that they’re the foundation for living with whatever is unpredictable and difficult in your life.
Many years ago, when I first thought about resilience, I thought, “I have this!” I actually had no idea why or how I came to possess this strength but I knew enough to be grateful. The meaning of resilience is pretty straightforward and sums up what it takes to regain your balance while living with unpredictable illness:
the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
On the other hand, I’ve found that acceptance, a term that is often associated these days with Buddhism and just as often misunderstood, typically means different things to people. The dictionary definition of Acceptance:
I’m sure that there are people who are born with this quality but I haven’t met them. I know that it’s not an easy thing to learn and even less easy to grasp. One example in ‘our world’ is that to ‘accept’ that you live with pain (or any chronic condition) means that you receive the idea and it’s impact, rather than reject or deny it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re happy, grateful or even view it favorably. And that distinction is critical and often missed.
I witnessed an example of this recently. Over the past year, ‘Susan’ ( name & facts are changed) has increasing difficulty walking long distances due to complications from Ehlers Danlos, a condition she’s lived with her entire life. Periodically, she’s significantly debilitated by the pain and other associated health issues and she struggles to adjust to this condition that she’s lived with for most of her life but is only now becoming so difficult. I find that very understandable. What could challenge your acceptance of a situation more than having it move from fairly stable to highly unpredictable and more difficult?
One problem she is facing comes from the travel demands with her work. She flies frequently and navigating the long terminal is becoming a big problem. Sometimes it’s fine but often she arrives exhausted and in tremendous pain which causes her to spend several days just recovering to baseline.
She was growing deeply disappointed and frustrated by this. Then she realized, “I’m trying my hardest to ignore what my body is telling me. I could do it before but it’s not working now.” Looking at her options, getting a scooter at the airport made the most sense even if she hated the idea of it. It made her condition public and, “… Exposed!” People would stare at her and wonder what’s wrong with her. What if someone she knows but doesn’t know about her condition sees her in a wheelchair and makes a comment?
Fortunately Susan’s resilience kicked in. She decided the next time she travels, she’d get a wheelchair when she arrived at the terminal even though she couldn’t be sure this was one of the days she needed it. When she walked up to the appropriate counter, however, the service person looked at her ‘funny’ and asked, “Do you really need this?” Susan is 32 and looks perfectly fit. But honestly? Do you know anyone who would use a wheelchair if she didn’t need it?
Susan’s face turned red and her heart raced. She knew the question was ridiculous but she she couldn’t help question herself. She took a breath (as we practiced), noticed the mounting yet invisible pain (as we practiced) and responded, “Yes. I need a scooter.” She wasn’t happy she needed this but would be grateful if it helped her feel better. Hooray for small victories.
Over the almost 40 years of living with unpredictable, mostly invisible and often debilitating health, I’ve learned that I want to be comfortable in my skin and feel like I’m living in a balanced state of mind (if not in my body!). I’ve also seen how these challenges have worn down my resilience over the years and I lose acceptance a lot more quickly. I find myself wishing it were different. And then, I remind myself that I want to be satisfied with my life and that wishing and hoping won’t get me there (it’s actually on a sticky posted on my computer).
Instead, I turn to the people and places that help me with acceptance. I work on it, as Susan did, to restore my resilient attitude. I work to respond by wondering what is possible and what can I do to make it happen — instead of wishing and hoping.
How is this going for you? Are you stuck on wishing and hoping or have you figured out how to respond with resilience and accept what can’t be changed? Who do you turn to?