When Acceptance is Both Sadness and Relief

The truth is, I haven’t been healthy for years. Tabitha asked me one day, “When’s the last time you felt truly well?” I wasn’t sure. Maybe in 2014? No, I think that was already a painful time. I think it was that spring I went to a professional conference in Chicago, and much of the time that I wasn’t actively presenting my research, I was in my hotel room, ordering room service and burning myself.

So maybe in 2013? I think I was okay at least some of the time then.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. I have had some good periods in the past five years, certainly–especially when traveling. More recently, I did quite well for about three weeks in a row back in August, and for about two weeks around Christmas and New Years, I felt really good, healthy. But I just can’t seem to sustain it. Even if my mood is more stable, I’m often exhausted, unable to sleep, having bizarre medication withdrawal symptoms, or just sick. It’s definitely worse the last two years or so. I don’t feel I’ve ever fully recovered my energy after my pelvic organ surgery, almost 23 months ago now.

Of course I have come a long way; I don’t want to deny the progress I’ve made. I haven’t harmed myself in 10 months. I am a big advocate of self-compassion–and not just theoretically. I actually practice it. Plus, I meditate. I practice yoga, if I feel up to it. I eat healthier.

It’s just that none of this has fixed things. The truth is, I can’t know from week to week or even day to day what I’ll be up to doing. I’m struggling to do the freelance work I’ve contracted to do, even though it’s not full time. I have to cancel things more often than I want to.

Last week, I started taking clonzepam again, and even though I know it’s not a sustainable solution over the long haul, it’s given me some sleep, finally, after six or seven weeks of pretty severe insomnia. Wonderful! I was looking forward to this week, lunch with a former colleague, a walk with a friend, little things, but big to me.

Instead, I’m sick again. My tentative self-diagnosis is salmonella, from some chicken I ate on Monday (a guess–it wasn’t actually pink but I can’t think of what else might have caused this). Ever since then, I’ve had relentless diarrhea (icky, I know, sorry). Some of the time I don’t feel like eating, and I do a little better. But then I get hungry and eat a little white rice or a saltine cracker. A little later, I’m spending hours running back and forth between my bed and the bathroom. I’ve lost five pounds in three days. My abdomen is increasingly hot and achy. And today, day three with very little to eat, I am very weak.

So I cancelled my check-in with Tabitha on Tuesday–no conversation about the clonazepam. I cancelled my Wednesday therapy session with E, even though we had important stuff to follow up on from Monday’s session. I cancelled the lunch with Rob and the walk with Maria and the yoga class. I haven’t worked on either of my contracts. In short, my life has been entirely interrupted yet again.

Yes, I know that this particular illness is a fluke, and it will pass. If it is from salmonella, then I’ll be sick for four to seven days (I hope four). If it’s some other infection, it will eventually go away. But the thing is, it’s been one thing after another for me for years now. I can’t count on a stable mood. I can’t count on feeling healthy. I can’t count on having enough energy to get out of bed, frankly.

Earlier this week, this was frustrating the hell out of me. I kept looking for a reason. Maybe I’m not strict enough about my healthy diet. Maybe I should be exercising harder, to build up strength. Maybe I am not demanding enough of myself, I’m not disciplined enough, I’m giving in too easily, I’m lazy.

And then I remembered the lesson that I keep having to learn, over and over: there is peace in accepting what is. Resisting reality just increases the suffering.

What if I think about it this way, instead: For whatever combination of reasons, my physical and mental health are not what I would wish them to be. I don’t have the energy to do everything I would like to do. I don’t have the energy I used to have. This might get better after a while. Or it might stay like this for the rest of my life. Right now, I can’t know that, and even with a therapist and a psychiatric nurse and a nutritionist and semi-regular massages and part-time work, I can’t control it.

But I can accept it. I can say: this is my life right now, my very human life.

Being human means many things, and one part of being human is to not be well and strong all the time. This is my time to experience that aspect of being human. It is an opportunity to be open and to cultivate my empathy for others who are not well or not strong.

On the one hand, it makes me a little sad to accept this. It’s not the condition I would choose, of course. But neither would millions of other people choose the difficulties they have.

At the same time, it’s also a bit of a relief to accept it. I can stop with the searching for “reasons” (which were all versions of blaming myself anyway). Instead, I can raise new questions for myself: with what energy and space I do have in my life, how do I want to care for myself, and how do I want to serve others? If I find ways to do those two things, then I’ll be okay, even if I’m not well, even if I’m not strong.

 

24 comments

  1. Q, I can’t usually help myself, but please let me tell you to go and see a doctor! Now! Just make sure your diagnosis is correct and all you need is rest. Please. Your symptoms sound serious. More than that: you’re worth it. You’re worth taking a doctor’s time, checking this out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your concern, BP! Also for your encouragement to go to my primary care doctor, something I tend to avoid. I did go today though. She ran some tests, but I haven’t heard anything back yet. She did say, “probably a virus; just drink a lot of liquids,” and maybe that’s all I need. That’s pretty much what I’m doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve got the right attitude. I really believe we heal better if we don’t get angry at our ailments. Your body wants kindness. Sorry you’re feeling so poorly. Make sure you get lots of fluids if you can’t eat (nag nag nag). Hoping you get better quickly. I’m sending love x

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    • Thanks for the love and validation. Our bodies DO want kindness, don’t they? Our minds and spirits too. Funny how we keep forgetting that! But this WP community is a nice place to keep reminding one another.

      Now, off to make another cup of herbal tea…

      Like

  3. This is such an important topic. Acceptance can be hard to find, but like you say resistance just makes things worse. I just finished reading the Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, and they talked about how acceptance doesn’t mean that the situation is desirable/perfect or that you shouldn’t strive for positive change; instead it’s about accepting that things are the way they are in that moment. I find that perspective makes it easier to wrap my head around acceptance.
    Oh, and I’ve had salmonella. It’s really, really gross. Hope you recover soon.

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    • I like how you put it: acceptance doesn’t mean I think it’s a good situation or that I shouldn’t make an effort for positive change. It’s not the same as giving up. It’s just that instead of putting my effort into denial or resistance, I can put it into caring for myself and others or trying to make things better.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I share your struggle – I remain continually frustrated and angry with the ongoing disruptions to my life (physical health, anxiety related, just plain shit that happens), but I did come to think the other day, after a 3 day stint of bed bound burnout, that maybe all that IS my life, and I should stop waiting for it to be different. For now. Despite it all, commitments get met one way or the other, the work gets done approximately when it should (though never in time to satisfy my perfectionistic expectations), the bills get paid, everyone gets fed, family mostly get what they need, albeit imperfectly.

    This, I think is the answer:

    it’s also a bit of a relief to accept it. I can stop with the searching for “reasons” (which were all versions of blaming myself anyway).

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    • Exactly, yes! This IS my life right now: a week or two of feeling good, then a physical illness or another round of depression or two weeks of hellish insomnia. It’s unpredictable. So… where will I find my happiness in the middle of that unpredictability? Will I remember to feel thankful on the days I can make it to my favorite yoga class? Will I remember to laugh at the way my two dogs tease each other? Will I take the energy I have to reach out to someone who might be lonely today? How can I focus on the beauty and meaning (there’s lots of it) in the middle of the unpredictability?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This tummy bug/poisoning sounds truly awful. I hope you feel better very soon. But if not, then yeah maybe a Dr’s visit?
    I think it sounds like you’re doing loads to help yourself and your self-care routines are pretty damn good!

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    • Hi Sirena, yes, I did break down and pay a visit to my primary care doctor today. It’s always a bit frustrating–I drive 20 minutes, get there on time, wait 45 minutes until she can actually see me, talk to her in a rush for 10 minutes which doesn’t give her time to see the big picture of what’s going on in my health, and then she sends me off for lab work (and I wait another 30 minutes to have my blood drawn). Is it any wonder I tend not to make her part of my routine health care routine?

      Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent.

      Anyway, I saw her, got blood drawn, am waiting to see if I have some kind of infection and how my liver and kidneys are doing. Meanwhile, drinking lots of fluids and resting and just accepting that it is what it is right now.

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  6. The studio where I first started doing yoga and meditation promoted a different “mindfulness attitude” each month, and the first month I went it was “non striving” – quite a novel concept for me and one which has stuck in my mind ever since.

    Acceptance of what *is* rather than what we *would like* is very hard, same with learning self compassion and believing that we have value just for “being” – independent of anything we “do” or “contribute”. I am so glad that you’ve been able to let go of your demands and expectations of yourself just a bit little and treat yourself with kindness. I hope you recover soon and have a stretch of feeling physically better. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yoga is also where I am learning a lot of these wise insights: to look for a balance between effort and ease, to do my best and then detach from the outcome, to allow the principle of “non-harming” (ahimsa) also apply to how I treat myself, to let things be what they are. It’s a big piece of why I love yoga so much–the spiritual philosophy is rich and gentle, and then the physical practice is just am embodiment of that wisdom.

      I’m still sick, seven days in now, but I’m finding that it kind of comes and goes during the day. If I don’t eat very much and rest in between, I can still do some things I want to do. I’m managing, happy not to be banging my head against the wall just at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, I know what you mean on a lot of counts with this post…I don’t want to encourage you to move out of acceptance, because I agree that is less painful than second-guessing oneself. However, I was thinking fear affects the GI system. I feel, looking back, I often felt sick when I was afraid and didn’t know how to moderate that. (Stiff upper lip too reflexive a response to recognize that social activities might be actually frightening and maybe I could try to titrate that.)

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    • Hm, that’s an interesting thought. I sometimes get GI upset if I’m nervous (say before a trip or a big deliverable for work). But never anything that has lasted this long…

      One thing I do notice is that I’m feeling emotionally calmer now, after having been sick a week and having had to give up a lot of obligations. In fact, I don’t feel either depressed or anxious. And I remember I had that experience in December, too, when I had that respiratory flu that everyone’s been so sick with this year. I wonder if there is something about being sick and being forced to scale back that does me some emotional good? I might bring that up in therapy tomorrow. The implications are a little scary, though. I feel like I can’t really afford to work as little as I have in the past week.

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      • I understand that aspect…I wonder if you could take on more if it were less to start with (Lunch with Rob, but no yoga or whatever…) It took me a long time to understand fear doesn’t go away by trying harder to do things.

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  8. I hope you are feeling better by now. Food poisoning is the worst. Acceptance is hard. Being unwell is hard, when there is so much we want to do. Sending you positive vibes and hope that you are able to find your version of acceptance. ❣️

    Like

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