Accepting the Unacceptable

Chronic illness requires us to accept the unacceptable. It is unacceptable to have an incurable illness. It’s unacceptable that science can’t fix what is wrong. It’s unacceptable that treatment is overwhelmingly expensive. In the USA, chronic illness vacuums every spare dollar and it still isn’t enough. Everything about living with a chronic illness is unacceptable. And yet, we still have to accept it. Rage, crying and despair doesn’t change it. It’s here and not going to go away. Accepting the unacceptable is one of the toughest struggles we face.

One thing that has helped me is learning not to obsess. I don’t think about diabetes every five seconds. I would go insane if I did that. Instead I think about diabetes only when I need to deal with it. When my insulin pump runs out, then I think of diabetes. Before I eat I have to test my blood glucose. I think about diabetes when I test. I think about diabetes when I bolus insulin before eating. I think about diabetes when I have to deal with it. The rest of the time, I live my life with diabetes in the background.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy. When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I freaked out. I stayed freaked out for the first year. The list of possible complications from diabetes is long and terrifying. I imagined them all happening to me, and tried to figure out how I would deal with them when they did. I created a mountain of fear and buried myself under it. Then I remembered I have to deal with problems when they happen, not before.

I treat my autoimmune form of muscular dystrophy with weekly chemotherapy. This chemotherapy drug causes cancer in humans. It’s a known side effect. Every time I take this medication I risk giving myself cancer. What a terrifying predicament to be in. If I stop taking my medication, I’ll die. If I keep taking it, I might get cancer. This is unacceptable. It is also the reality I live with.

I live with it by quietly enjoying not having cancer. Instead of visualizing the nightmare that might be down the road, I enjoy not having cancer right now. I enjoy not having diabetes complications right now. I’ve learned to pause and think about the things that aren’t happening. Instead of letting potential problems be an invitation to runaway fear, I’ve learned to shift my perspective. A hundred things could be going wrong right now, but they aren’t. I’m glad they’re not, instead of being afraid they will happen someday. Someday things are going to go horribly wrong. That day is not today. Today is a good day.

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