Body Acceptance in Chronic Illness

This post originally appeared as an answer to a question on Quora.

How do you accept that your body is flawed? I suffer from chronic fatigue and I have tried every possible remedy I was advised on, to no avail.

Most people with chronic conditions struggle with this.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Has anyone fully recovered from the condition(s) you have, to your knowledge?
  • Are you in any way responsible for your condition(s)? If yes, have you accepted and acknowledged your responsibility, and done what you can to mitigate your condition(s)?
  • How do other people with your condition(s) cope with their limitations?
  • To the degree that your capacity to act on your core values has been affected by your illness, what other approaches could you take that would enable you to live according to your values?
  • How would your life be different if you did not have your condition(s)? Be honest in your response. For example, if you never had a past interest in skydiving and can’t do it now because your condition(s), what is the true likelihood you would take it up if you could?

These questions are intended to highlight that it’s pointless to resent something that cannot be changed, and to challenge you to engage in creative problem-solving to compensate for limitations, especially where others have demonstrated there are solutions.

If I use my own health as an example (I have chronic fatigue due to fibromyalgia):

I know that I am not at fault for my health. Fibromyalgia runs in the family on my mother’s side; there was nothing I could have done, to the best of my knowledge, that would have prevented it from emerging, even if it had been known during my childhood that there was a risk, and no one knew that then.

I am not responsible for the development of my illness but I am responsible for how I manage it. I have investigated and tried most forms of treatment that have credible track records for positive outcomes. By “tried”, I mean I have used the treatment multiple times for extended periods, not “tried” for a few days/weeks and given up when I wasn’t magically cured.

The most important thing in life to me is to be a mensch, a kind, loving, honest person with high standards of integrity. I am able to be this no matter what my level of fatigue is.

My other core values relate to family and work. This is where I have had to make some compromises. If I did not have fibromyalgia, it is more likely that I would have had children, even if it meant being a single mom. Because of my condition and the recognition that children require a great deal of energy to parent, I knew it would be very difficult for me to manage that, especially if I had to do it on my own. I chose to direct myself towards my career. This choice/compromise is one that is very common for women, but having chronic fatigue made it a more stark situation for me.

I think one of the most important aspects of living with chronic illness is learning how to separate yourself from your condition(s). You are not your illness. When you begin to see yourself as more than your illness, it will become easier to accept those limitations that cannot be changed.