Acceptance part 1 – achievable peace or the Holy Grail of pain?
I’ve been thinking a lot about acceptance. I’ve held off writing this as I really hate coming from a doom and gloom standpoint and so wanted to be a bit more balanced (?!) before approaching this subject. It’s not very fair to you lot if I am sat unwashed and unmotivated, cramming chocolate into my cakehole while moping in my ‘jamas about just how terrible my life is, ha ha.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of people advise me about acceptance and its role in coping with chronic illness/pain. Having had chronic pain for over 4 years now, I’m surprised that I’ve never come across this trend before – maybe my brain shut it out. ‘Trend’ is probably the wrong word, but you follow me. It seems commonly believed that the key to coping with chronic pain in particular is the acceptance of the hand we’ve been dealt. You’ll see the idea discussed a lot on web forums and Facebook pages related to chronic pain and specific conditions thereof. I’d be surprised if you could scroll through a page without it being mentioned at least once, but that alone is no judgement by me on the concept.
Now I’m a skeptical creature by nature, some might argue a bit cynical although they’d be wrong as if anything I tend to be a bit too optimistic and rose-tinted about life, which my family have a good laugh about. Many a time I’d be gutted as a child when my Dad would point out the obvious mistakes in movies, I always wanted to believe. I’ll admit that at first I read about this elusive acceptance and wrote it off as Dr. Phil/Oprah school of thought which I don’t much go in for (no offence intended to die hard Dr. Phil fans!). I can just see either of them telling Americans to “Just OWN your pain”. You know exactly what I mean so don’t pretend you don’t! Perhaps I just struggle with abstract notions such as “owning” – as soon as I think of it I wonder how much I could sell what I’m meant to “own” for on eBay.
There does seem to be some clout to this acceptance malarkey though – I found (among others) a 1997 study by Lance McCracken for the University of Chicago that suggests greater acceptance of pain leads to less depression, less disability and even lower intensity pain scores. Indeed many pain clinics are focusing their pain management programmes on aiding people to accept and therefore cope with their pain better. That said, the idea of accepting anything bad just seemed inherently alien to me, sure that would be giving up? Not so, say those who advocate it, acceptance is not about accepting defeat, but is about continuing to live life and be happy, instead of letting pain put life and happiness on hold. Well, once it was put that way it made a bit more sense although it did sound suspiciously like an end goal that was more of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than anything tangible. At this point I was convinced I’d turned into my Dad, looking for the strings in the special effects.
A little while ago, I got what I thought was an end to the search for a diagnosis and with this came a sense of relief – not at having CRPS, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but for an end to wondering and worrying why I was so unwell and losing my ability to walk, and what the future held. At the time a couple of doctors, independently of each other, suggested an operation which they felt could offer me substantial pain relief and even my legs back to normal. One even wrote to my pain consultant suggesting he referred me to the surgeon. Now this was an outcome I could accept, finally I could understand what I’d been advised about accepting my pain and getting on with life. I revisited the idea and decided, yes, I’d finally got there – things were going to be fine as I had ACCEPTANCE. At long last I could stop being a miserable git and start living life to the max – like I was finally living the old Bodyform adverts or something. I mean, come on, those girls could rollerskate in circles AND rock-climb and they only had an intimate disposable product on their side – can you imagine what they could do if they had ACCEPTANCE too?
On Saturday I had my pain clinic appointment. Now there was no negativity from the consultant, he was great, which was more than I was expecting from our first meeting after having moaned to him in a letter previously. However, I came out of there and broke down on the roll home. I moped for 48 hours solidly and completely ignored the good that came out of that appointment, like the place on the Pain Management Programme I’d wanted, and the go ahead to come off two drugs that have given me pretty significant side effects. What had me moping? All it took was the advice not to get my hopes up for the operation I was pinning my hopes on, and the advice that medicine wise there’s nothing left to try. There was also the knowledge that all they could do for the loss of sensation in a rather delicate area was offer me counselling to learn to, yes you’ve guessed it, accept my problems.
Now in hindsight it’s clear to me that my acceptance was a fair-weather friend – there while the future was looking rosier and *poof!* gone at the first sign of hurdles. It’s certainly true that while I thought I had that acceptance, I was coping with my pain better. However, accepting and embracing are two different concepts and my God I can embrace pain when I’m miserable, but I can’t accept it. I spent nearly two days positively relishing my higher levels of pain as it reinforced my miserable attitude that life was again, totally pants. Acceptance and I were on a break.
I can hear you thinking that I wasn’t going to be miserable and down in this post – well that’s the miserable bit over and I’m only being honest. I am not posting this for sympathy or for anyone else to give up trying to feel better. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel like I felt on Saturday afternoon, but I do wonder if it’s better to be prepared than to be blindsided by believing we’ve got there only to have it crumble? I haven’t given up the hope of accepting and managing to feel okay about things more regularly, and I’m going to keep posting back, honestly, about how that’s going. What I hope for out of this post is that anyone else struggling to accept their pain reads it and thinks to themselves that others are out there struggling to accept too, and that’s okay – hell maybe it’s even normal. There’s no point in us adding to the list of things we already beat ourselves up about by worrying we’ll be seen as pessimistic or revelling in being a victim, and perhaps, just perhaps, there are more practical ways to improve our situations at least in the short term while we get our heads round things or wait for a clearer picture of the future? Maybe acceptance will creep up on us when we least expect it. In the meantime maybe it’s just as good to accept that we don’t accept……yet?