I was reading Leo Babauta’s most recent blog post on Zen Habits (definitely check it out if you have not already; it’s well worth your time) and felt inspired to expand on what he was saying in that post and apply it specifically to those of us with celiac disease. So take a minute to go read his post; I’ll wait for you here.
Back? Okay! So let’s go ahead and build on what he was talking about – specifically what he is driving at with this paragraph:
“Either way, you take action towards your aspiration, but it can be either from a place of dissatisfaction (and wanting to change something crappy) … or a place of acceptance and peace, and wanting to do something good for yourself (or others).”
Acceptance is a topic and a practice that I have been musing about privately for several years now – one that I feel is incredibly important, and also incredibly difficult to apply. After all this musing though, I have come to realize that it is particularly important for people who struggle with an on-going issue that requires a high level of patience and flexibility in dealing with it, which celiac disease does.
For many years post-diagnosis, my ideal of what I thought I should be able to do and wanted to be able to do were a far cry from what I was able to do on any given day. Instead of taking time to practice acceptance of myself, the realities of my health and abilities, and giving myself permission to practice the self-care I really needed, I mentally punished myself for not being able to keep up, refused to accept reality, and instead cultivated a nice hefty dose of self-loathing. If I’m really honest, this is an area in which I still struggle on a regular basis, though I’m more aware of it and I’m moving in the right direction in my practice.
I can say with absolute certainty that self-loathing is not a motivating force. I’m not sure that there is any force less motivating than complete dissatisfaction and even hatred towards yourself or any of the conditions of your life.
I am finally now learning to see things for what they are and practice acceptance towards those situations and limitations. I am beginning to notice that some days I have more limitations than others. I’m also beginning to really accept that this is a part of the way my life is with celiac disease.
For example, when I get accidentally glutened, I have a whole series of issues to cope with, including crippling fatigue for several days. If I try to ignore the reality of those symptoms and push through, insistent on keeping up my usual pace, I will make things much worse for myself and for my family when I inevitably crumble from the exhaustion and stress of ignoring my present needs and punishing myself instead of caring for myself.
A much healthier approach would be to go through the process that Leo describes of noticing both my dissatisfaction and the ideals that I’m clinging to, then loosening that tight grip and returning to the present moment and the reality of how things are right now.
Moving on to his next step, I know that for me, when I’m in the throes of a glutening, it can feel particuarly difficult to find something to appreciate, but it’s an important step. Maybe it’s the fact that I have a spouse who will be coming home later in the day and helping me to get some much-needed extra rest, or maybe that my children are extra-sweet to me when I’m feeling sickly – those are things worth appreciating that I can easily overlook in my misery. Cultivating that gratitude can inspire a feeling of love that you can use to fuel your acceptance though, so it’s worth taking the time to slow down and go through the exercise.
The last step is important too – accepting that I’m glutened in a given week doesn’t mean that I decide to give up on trying to be my healthiest self, or that I can’t do anything. It just means accepting that I need to scale back more than usual to be able to focus on the most important and critical things that need my limited energy, making self-care a higher priority, and perhaps spending a little of that limited energy on making a plan to avoid another glutening in the future. When I work from a place of love and acceptance of myself and my limitations, it stops being about blame – self-blame or placing blame elsewhere – rather it’s about loving myself and practicing the ultimate in celiac self-care: having a plan to follow to keep myself healthy and safe.
If you have just been diagnosed or you’re still struggling to maintain a consistent energy level or state of good health, acceptance is even more crucial. If you pair with that acceptance the core tenets of minimalism, what you get is a healthier, saner approach to managing your disease over the course of your life. One of the most important things you can do is accept where you are now. Accept that this is a process of learning and healing. Consider that it’s worth accepting that if you pursue a path of removing from your life every non-essential thing (more on how to define what are essential things in another post) that you will find it easier to cope with your lower energy levels, fatigue or bouts of illness. Accept that you will experience set-backs and regressions on your journey to health. Accept that normal may look a lot different now than it used to, and that is completely okay. It’s also okay to feel however you feel about it, whether it’s anger, frustration, discouragement, or any other emotion that we commonly feel is unacceptable.
Acceptance truly frees you emotionally to find productive ways of coping with what is in front of you in the present moment. Fighting against reality spends your precious energy; acceptance releases that energy so that you can channel it into other more productive endeavors. Endeavors like gratitude and self-care, which will lead to more energy and wellness that you can use to improve your quality of life all around. If you can couple acceptance with an eye towards removing the excesses from your life, you will be able to carve a clear path for yourself towards living the best life that you can, in spite of the limitations that you experience with celiac disease.