How Acceptance Taught Me to Cope with Chronic Illness
“How do you cope so well?”
Last week, I was taken aback when a close friend of mine texted me these words. My first thoughts were, “Me? Cope? What? I don’t do that!” My mouth gaped open.
Coping with chronic illness isn’t something that has come naturally to me. It was hard for me to look at my chronic illnesses from an outsider’s perspective and see what she was seeing. After a few moments of reflection, I worked up the courage to write her back. This is what I said:
“It’s been a long process for me to learn how to cope and I still struggle some days too. More than you think.
It’s normal to feel like you can’t cope when you don’t feel like yourself for days or weeks on end, when you don’t feel like everyone else who’s sitting in coffee shops working away and when you can’t do daily activities.”
Then I told her, “The biggest breakthrough happened for me when I accepted migraines were a part of my life and I stopped fighting them. When they happen, I allow them to happen. I do what I can to be comfortable, I don’t apologize for cancelling or rescheduling, and I let my body do what it needs to do.”
After I pressed send, I was immediately taken back to the moment I had that revelation in my psychologist’s office a few years ago. I can remember it so clearly. I was wearing my favourite sweater, I already had a handful of tissues balled up in my hand, and the realization hit me — What I if stopped the uphill battle I fought inside myself every time I had a migraine and accepted migraines were a part of my life? What if I stopped the “Why me?”
As soon as that mind shift happened, a wave of calmness and peace crashed over me. It was what I had been waiting for. What my body had been waiting for. I had taken away the stress of finding the next magic pill to cure me. I had taken away the punishment I was putting myself through for waking up each day in pain. I had taken the power away from migraines.
Since I made this change, having a migraine is easier. While I still have 7-day migraines, I don’t find myself fraught with tension and frustration over it occurring as often. I’ve been able to work out a migraine game plan that my support system is well aware of and helps me move through. I don’t toss and turn because of the internal fight raging inside me; I turn on a meditation or audiobook and let my body do its healing work. I’ve stopped wondering what I did to deserve this life and focus on what I CAN do because of the life I’ve been given instead.
It’s given me the confidence to know that migraine is a part of me, but it is not all of me.
Now, the battle is not over. It was not won on that day; it’s a constant, less present fight. It still creeps in every once in a while but the arsenal of negative thoughts my brain had stored isn’t as strong. And, now I have my own long list of stronger thoughts to fight back with.
Honestly, I even fought it off a week ago when I broke through a migraine, had anxiety and landed straight into a sinus infection. After a few days of fighting, I ran to my doctor’s office wondering if we needed to change my medications because I had an “I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE” moment. You know what she said to me? “I think you need to learn to accept anxiety is a part of your life.”
Cue the light bulb moment and tears again. I was even wearing the same sweater.
Rather than filling out a prescription, she taught me how to apply acceptance to anxiety as well. Now, when I feel it building, I tell myself, “Hey Anxiety, How are you today? I see you there but guess what, I’ve got bigger and better things to focus on. So, let’s find a way for you to chill out in the back, ok?”
3 Steps to Acceptance and a Healthier Way of Thinking
1) Focus on recognizing and accepting the situation or problem for what it is. Learn what is and what isn't in your control.
2) Accept your emotions, illnesses and pain completely with your mind, body and soul.
3) Know that your life is worth living even with chronic illness.