You'd be hard pressed to find someone with a debilitating illness like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome who hasn't been disappointed, time and again, by what they're able to do. Whether it's job performance, a vacation, elaborate Christmas plans, or workout goals, we've all found ourselves unable to fulfill some of our own expectations about ourselves.
This Thanksgiving, I had a horrible sore throat and a 103-degree fever. I couldn't do any cooking, and I couldn't attend the big family dinner. That was the third illness to put me in bed since school started in September. Last week, I was supposed to help decorate at my daughter's school and had to cancel at the last minute because I was, once again, sick. (Thank you, immune suppressants!)
I haven't been on immune suppressants for all that long, but before that something else would come along and knock me down every so often, and before that something else. I've had to accept that I can't always expect the best-case scenario.
It took me a while to accept that, but I've learned that before acceptance, all you get is a sore head from beating it against the wall. I've seen it with myself and with scores of other people over the years: you can have constant anger and frustration, or you can learn to manage your expectations.
Don't think I'm saying it's easy! It's an enormous thing, and harder for some than others. I know my husband still battles too-high expectations of how much of my slack he can pick up when I go down. All it does is cause stress, and you know stress is not your friend!
I'm really goal oriented, and something that helps me is setting a multi-tiered goal: I identify the ideal, the pretty good, and the minimally acceptable, and then, as my health waxes and wanes, I regularly reevaluate as to which of those levels is realistic. I've learned to say no when I have to, when to call for help, and when to throw in the towel.
You may think that accepting your limitations is giving up and letting your illness win. I get that feeling, believe me. Here's an example of finding acceptance vs. giving up:
When I got too tired to fight against my illness any longer, it meant having to give up a lot - including my career. However, my mind set was, "Okay, I can't do that, but what can I do?" I never quit learning about my conditions and looking for things that would help. That's allowed me to steadily improve and regain a lot of functionality.
Compare that to someone close to me, who got knocked down by a similar illness and said, "I just have to accept that I'm going to be like this forever." She went to bed and quit trying, refused to educate herself, and refused to try new treatments because the first ones failed. She gave up, and it's done her no favors.
Acceptance is the place between bashing your head against the wall and giving up on your life. It's the first step toward facing your illness realistically, which is crucial for getting better. You can learn more about that here: Acceptance for Managing Your Illness.
Do you struggle with expecting too much of yourself? Have you worked toward acceptance? What helped? Leave your comments below!