Acceptance is a recurring theme. When individuals are able to accept their limitations and losses, many are able to identify new avenues to continue to live a fulfilling life. When we struggle with our mind and body, sometimes it’s only going to do more damage. Those who are afraid of suffocating end up hyperventilating. Those who struggle to fall asleep end up wide awake. Those who blame themselves for feeling bad end up more depressed. Those who are angry with their pain end up with more muscle tension… and the list goes on.
If acceptance is such a wonderful thing, why does it still feel awfully heartless sometimes to “help” people come to terms with the fact that they will never be able to see, breathe without a device, walk, dance, or work again? Why do I feel like a guilty accomplice rather than an honest advocate when we encourage individuals to follow their medical treatment regimen despite knowing as well as they do that nothing is going to reverse the disease process and everything is going to bring upon a ton of side effects? Perhaps the assumption is that people want to live forever. What if they don’t? What if their quality of life and self-determination truly matter more than how much longer they get to live?
Even more disturbing is when individuals suffer because of undue stress inflicted upon them by the medical, social, or legal system. We can talk about stress management, assertiveness, positive reframing, and all those excellent “coping skills,” but even the most assertive person can’t usually change the unfortunate reality of being asked to fill out the same form 5 times before the medical secretary finally returns her call. If someone is already lacking physical and mental dexterity because of her illness, why does the burden have to fall upon her to ensure her physician’s receptionist doesn’t screw up her next appointment? Instead of helping people learn to accept the inadequacies of the system and not “over-react” to unprofessional behaviors, can’t we help re-teach some of our colleagues some basic social etiquette as well?
Acceptance may indeed prolong life; and potentially enhance one’s quality of life. It certainly feels good to bear witness to the courage or hope or inner strength or whatever they think we have evoked or instilled in them, once they have come to accept the inevitable deterioration and loss. But acceptance isn’t resignation. The issues they are dealing with aren’t “all in their head.”
The second part of the serenity prayer is as important as the first. Perhaps each and every one of us could help raise awareness of changes that need to be made, and try to make them happen?