I saw an article posted on an RA discussion board recently. The headline read, “Acceptance of Chronic Illness Helps People Move On: Hoping for recovery may actually prevent happiness, researchers say.” The article went on to explain that there is a “dark side” to hope, since it sometimes keeps people from getting on with their lives and making the best of their situations.
This leads me to a question I have often pondered: What is the difference between acceptance and giving up? People use words like “fight” and “battle” to describe illness – as in “So-and-so passed away after bravely battling cancer for years.” As seen in the example I just gave, “battling” is no guarantee of winning. Yet society seems to expect it of sick people. It’s seen as “braver” to “battle” a disease rather than accepting it. But with a chronic disease like RA, is this really the right idea?
On the other side of things, dealing with RA is often viewed as a grieving process. Since the disease is progressive, the stages of grief are sometimes visited again and again as we lose abilities. The five stages of grief, as defined by Kubler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve shuttled back and forth between the first four, never quite reaching the fifth. But the article I just read suggests that acceptance is an important part of being able to move forward. A lot of other people with chronic illnesses agree, and say that their lives are better and happier since they have stopped fighting reality and decided to adapt instead.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about my RA for the first time. She was very understanding, since she had known someone with RA. But when I mentioned that I had a cane now that I rarely use, she exclaimed, “Don’t use it!” Then she explained that using the cane would send a signal to my brain that I needed it and make me dependent on it. She talked some more about the power of the mind and spirit to influence the body, and urged me to fight the disease.
Sometimes I agree with this. This is why I fought so hard when my physical therapist urged me to begin using wrist braces and a cervical collar. (Well, that and my denial.) I also fought the concept of getting a disabled parking permit, which I now use and appreciate. I fought the concept of buying clunky but comfortable (and expensive!) Dansko clogs, which are now the only shoes I can wear without terrible foot pain. Did the shoes create dependence?
My husband would say no, and remind me that I was limping around, unable to walk any sort of distance, until I got those shoes. He reminds me that all of the adaptations I mentioned came about because they were NECESSARY. The cane, too, was necessary when I got it. It isn’t anymore, and it sits in a corner. Doesn’t that prove that I didn’t become dependent on it?
I don’t know where the line is between “battling” the illness and just plain denial. I don’t know where the line is between “acceptance” and giving up. I know that I would like to settle these issues so I can choose a path and commit to it. Right now there’s a certain amount of waffling around and second-guessing that wastes mental energy. I think I am afraid of choosing wrong.
I think that something exists out there that embraces the best of both – accepting the reality of the illness while still hoping and working towards a possible future without it, or at least with a lasting remission. I have no idea how to get to it. I know that it’s not much fun for me, going from denial to anger to bargaining to depression and back again. I’m clear on the fact that it’s not healthy for me to chase pipe-dream “cures”. I know that whenever there’s a med change and I tell myself, “This time it’s really going to work for good,” the disappointment is sharper when it doesn’t. I also know, though, that positive thinking is good.
I have no answers here. I guess I’m just using this space to wrestle with these thoughts.