The onset of any serious illness can be like a tidal wave. When illness turns chronic, it can threaten to overwhelm you with wave after wave of loss and grief. .
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, and in her work with terminally ill patients popularized the notion that dealing with any loss comes in stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance..
I have churned within these stages of grief since my doctor diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome some twenty years ago. At first it was like a giant tsunami threatening to overwhelm me. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression all came so fast and so repetitious that settling into denial or anger was almost merciful. Ignoring it or being angry about it was better than believing this was to become my life.
Denial felt like holding my breath while jumping under a big wave in the ocean, one can ignore there is turbulence going on above you. Denial made me try to pass as “normal,” and has kept me from getting the support I need. Denial may be helpful in the beginning when one can’t possibly understand the ramifications to one’s life when a doctors states, “You will always have some degree of this.” Denial only lasts so long before one realizes it isn’t helping, as I am flung back into the next wave of symptoms.
Anger is an easy place to get stuck in. Who wouldn’t be angry when their identity as a healthy productive person has been threatened? Who wouldn’t be angry when their ability to support themselves has been diminished? Who wouldn’t be angry as in the case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome most doctors don’t understand it or worse yet, don’t believe it? Who wouldn’t be angry when in a country where we pride ourselves on good medical care, you are treated like a guinea pig, misunderstood, or considered mentally ill? Anger needs an outlet, or it will spill over on those around us, or be turned inward on ourselves. If not dealt with it has the potential of sucking one down, like a whirlpool.
The final stage of grieving is acceptance. Acceptance as defined by Webster’s dictionary is the willingness to accept something willingly or gladly. In the case of a death, for example, acceptance can mean closure as we realize the loved person is truly gone. We adapt and move on with our lives. What does acceptance mean for someone facing his or her own death, a resignation?
People who suffer from Ms know that the key to acceptance is willingness.