What Is The Acceptance Story You're Telling Yourself?
Going through test after test after test and finally getting a diagnosis can feel like the biggest relief. Does anyone want to hear “oh hey so funny story you actually have a chronic illness that has no cure (yet)”? Hell no. But it sure as heck beats not knowing why you feel the way you do.
But after you get the diagnosis there’s this moment of… “now what?”
Although I believe one of the biggest blessing of a clear diagnosis is that it gives you a path towards healing and feeling better. A diagnosis allows you to start finding what will help you get your life back.
But something I see in a lot of people instead of post-diagnosis hope or action, is post-diagnosis denial. Having a chronic illness isn’t an easy pill to swallow, trust me, but ignoring it surely doesn’t help.
The first step to learning to live fearlessly in the face of chronic illness is accepting that you have it in the first place, which can be the most difficult part. Many times, acceptance brings to mind resignation and giving up. But without acceptance how can you we be expected to make necessary changes that propel us towards healing, growth and, ultimately, feeling our best again?
Ignorance, although it may feel nice to pretend your life is how it used to be, typically ends a lot worse than if you admitted to yourself that your life has changed.
Last spring, I started noticing signs of my ulcerative colitis flaring – blood, fatigue, pain – but almost-college-graduate me decided ignorance was bliss. It had been about 9 months since my diagnosis and up to this point it had been easy to pretend like it didn’t affect me. I popped a few pills each day, ate my SCD meals and snacks and went on with my busy life. I worked out every day, went to class, went to work, hung out with friends, did my homework, went on adventures, drank a few too many vodka sodas at senior bar crawl and ultimately continued to ignore and ignore and ignore my symptoms until one day I couldn’t any longer.
I landed myself in the hospital because I didn’t take action, simply because I was too afraid to accept that I had a serious disease that needed my attention. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to have to worry about my health 24/7. I didn’t want to have to skip out on the pre-graduation festivities. I didn’t want to seem “sick.”
But if I had just paused for ten seconds and thought about the benefits of accepting my diagnosis (or the dangers of not doing so), maybe I would have cut back on running a bit, said no to alcohol, stopped shoving my face with so many raw vegetables, relaxed more and gone to the doctor way, way, way earlier.
Ignorance may be bliss while it “works,” but ignorance can also be dangerous, and it blocks any growth that may occur through having a chronic illness.
So, let’s all agree right now – accepting your diagnosis needs to happen. It doesn’t need to happen quickly. It doesn’t need to happen before you’re ready.
But it needs to happen.
As you learn to accept your diagnosis it’s important to ask yourself – what version of acceptance am I telling myself? Is this form of acceptance helping or hindering me in my healing journey.
Because when it comes to acceptance stories there are two very different types.
Acceptance can look like DEFEAT – “I accept that I have ________ and that my life as I know it is over. I accept that I will never do X, Y or Z like I had planned.”
Or, acceptance can look like EMPOWERMENT – “I accept that I have _______, and I accept that I am strong enough and capable enough to handle it and THRIVE despite it. I accept that this disease may make my life more difficult. I may be tired. I may have to take medication that has side effects. I may have to go to the doctor more often. But I accept that my life will change because it has to in order for me to stay healthy, but I know that these changes are helpful, and I accept that I can make the best of my situation. I accept that although my life will change, my life will still be fulfilling, purposeful and full of joy because I accept that I am still in control of my emotions, my mind and my reactions despite feeling like I am not in control of my health or body at this time. I accept that my body is strong even when it feels weak because it fights every day to keep me healthy. I know that I will find support in my friends and family and will find strength through sharing my story. I acceptance that I have _______ and I accept the growth that will come from it.
In the second example, I state the facts of my diagnosis and disease (tired, medication, doctors), as well as positive facts I know to be true (finding support from family and friends), as well as how I am consciously choosing to approach my diagnosis with positivity and strength.
Does it feel cheesy writing this on paper at first? Sure, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
I have any clients with IBD or other chronic conditions physically write out their acceptance stories and read them aloud to themselves, so if you’re reading this and realizing it’s time to embrace acceptance, I want you to do the same.
When life gets difficult and your diagnosis feels unbearable, reread your acceptance story.
Remind yourself that acceptance means empowerment because acceptance means clear steps forward.
Acceptance means not feeling like you’re hiding your true self.
Acceptance means you can make empowered and necessary changes to your life.
Acceptance means taking measures to getting your life back.
Acceptance means you can openly ask for the support you need and give it to others who may be struggling as well.
Acceptance may feel like the end of your pre-diagnosis life but think of it as the start of your journey towards healing.
Acceptance doesn’t make you weak, acceptance makes you stronger because it shows you’re ready to fight.