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How to accept your chronic illness

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In this guest blog by Barbara Babcock of Return to Wellness, Barbara shares six things you can do to help you accept your chronic illness and live well. 

The question of how to accept your chronic illness can feel like an impossible one to answer for so many reasons. A chronic illness arrives in your life maybe slowly over time or quite suddenly. Either way, it’s certainly not welcomed. It also feels like it’s stopping you from living the life you want. And given the changes to your body and life and feeling a loss of control and your usual confidence, you feel like you don’t recognise you anymore.

That’s a lot. I’m never surprised when someone like yourself tells me you cannot accept your chronic illness. Why should you? It’s a rubbish thing to have happened.


So you fight

To recover, to get treatments, to get back to you. But this fight is very draining. All you feel like you’re doing is fighting and not getting anywhere. That doesn’t feel like progress.

When clients first come to me, they are often trapped in this kind of fight with their chronic illness. Fighting is seen as the antidote to acceptance. Because if you were to accept your chronic illness, you would be giving in, giving up and giving all control to the illness.

And you don’t want to do that. I don’t want you to do that.

What if I were to say you could accept your chronic illness and not give up or give in to it?

You can. I’ve helped people do just that. When you accept your chronic illness, all that negative energy spent fighting is freed up to be used in helping you move forward with your life in the way you wish to.

Here are six things you can do to help you accept your chronic illness:

I’m just giving you six things for now. So make sure to sign up to the Return to Wellness newsletter to get more tips and ideas on how to accept and live well with your chronic illness. 

What I am sharing with you isn’t a magic wand, quick fix, surface-level kind of thing. I don’t work in that way. These five things are tried and tested methods from a psychological perspective of dealing with a difficult situation.

1. Check what meaning you make of the word ‘accept’ and ‘acceptance.’

Having spoken to lots of people who live with chronic illness over the past ten years in my work as a coach with people dealing with challenging health issues, having led a charity and in my acceptance project, I’ve learned that they commonly interpret ‘accept’ as saying yes to, giving in, giving up and resignation. 

This is due to the commonly held meaning of accept and acceptance in our society – that it means saying yes to somethingagreeing to take something. And as I’ve said already, you wouldn’t say yes to having a chronic illness.

Maybe for you, the definition of ‘accept’ and ‘acceptance’ doesn’t bother you, and you’re happy to find ways to accept your chronic illness. That’s fine.

If these words do bother you, I often offer this alternative – acknowledge your experience. But even if you don’t mind what ‘accept’ and ‘acceptance’ traditionally mean, the following is still good for you to do.

2. ‘Acknowledge’ your experience.

This is about acknowledging the good, the bad and the downright ugly in relation to your chronic illness. Acknowledge how you feel about it – the anger, the sadness, the frustration, even the humour, etc. 

Loss often follows a significant change, such as a chronic illness. So acknowledging what you have lost and how you feel about it is essential.

When you acknowledge how you feel, you are owning your feelings and emotions and validating them and yourself. This is a very psychologically healthy thing to do. You do yourself a world of good when you do this. 

You acknowledge and own your feelings and emotions by saying, ‘I feel angry that this happened to me… I feel so sad I lost this relationship due to my illness…’, etc. And if you feel like you want to get upset, cry even, that is fine. In fact, it’s a good thing to do. 

Because that way, you don’t let those emotions fester inside of you, causing more stress. Stress can negatively impact symptoms, making them worse.

3. Remember, you don’t have to unpack and live in any difficult feelings and emotions you feel forever and ever.

You’re in control here. You acknowledge them as described above. You can spend a little time letting that part of yourself express itself. Use an alarm if that helps you. Do this as and when you notice the feelings bubbling to the surface. Provided of course you can at that time. If not, wait for an appropriate time when you can.

4. Learn how to manage the impact of stress

Given stress can make symptoms feel worse; it’s so important you learn how to manage its impact. This isn’t about eradicating stress from your life. Because you can’t control what will happen. Life throws you curve balls. It’s about how you step out of the way or learn to pass those curve balls on as swiftly as possible with a minimal negative impact on you. 

A fundamental way to do this is to focus on what you can control and influence in your life and let go of what you cannot. When you’re living with a chronic illness, your energies levels are that much more precious. Spend your energy wisely.

5. Become an expert in your conditionGuest blog from Barbara Babcock owner of Return To Wellness, a blog and business that helps individuals with chronic illness to live well.

We often expect the doctors and other healthcare professionals to be the expert and advise us on what to do and what will work. They have their place.

But you are the expert on you and your body. Learning about your condition, how it impacts you, and what helps you to manage your symptoms is essential. Everyone will respond to illness differently. Proactively learning what works for you is you taking control. 

This, in turn, enables you to help the doctors and healthcare professionals to help you.

6. Don’t forget to focus on what is going well.

It’s too easy to become mired in the difficulties to the point it feels like nothing goes well and you don’t enjoy life anymore. I’ve helped clients enjoy their lives again, but it will take a conscious and diligent effort on your part. You have to re-train yourself to do this. The good thing is it’s not rocket science. 

Every day, write down three things you enjoyed or went well, or you are thankful for. They can be tiny things. Or big things. Size is irrelevant. The important thing is you noticing — every day.

Every person’s journey of acceptance or acknowledgement is different. But these six tips will certainly get you started on your journey to accept your chronic illness.

What’s it like for you?

Do you think you need to accept your chronic illness? How do you feel about the words ‘accept’ and ‘acceptance’? What other support would you like on your journey to accept your chronic illness? Or to acknowledge it? 

Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the topics discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no-obligation consultation.

Take part in a project on acceptance.

If you want to take part in my project on acceptance and get a free coaching session in return, click here to learn more and get in touch.

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Know of someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share. 

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019 & Lorem Care.

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