Acceptance helps us to accept the difficulties that come with life and what is out of our control, whilst at the same time committing to action that will improve our quality of life.
Life brings joy and pain and learning to accept things as they are without evaluation or attempts to change it can bring freedom and help us to become ‘unstuck’. It is about living with painful and negative thoughts and feelings, understanding that they are part of the unhappiness of the life challenges we are facing, and not being overwhelmed by them to the extent that we become trapped and unable to move forward in our lives.
Accepting that you are fatigued can allow you to move forward, whereas obsessively and unhappily playing things over and over in your mind keeps you stuck. So for example, if you are frustrated and angry because you can’t do the things you used to do may mean that your frustration and anger become the focus and this is using energy you could be using more positively. By accepting the reality of your fatigue and working with what you have now, living in the present rather than constantly asking “why?” about the past, reduces helplessness and despair. It can open your eyes to new opportunities, new ways of doing things, new hobbies, new forms of exercise.
Acceptance means allowing the painful feelings and sensations to come and go as part of the natural process of loss, while dropping the struggle with them. By giving the feelings permission to exist in the present moment, but not getting caught up in them and dragged back to the past, the easier it is for your feelings to come and go without you becoming stuck within them. And so, over time, they lose their impact on your everyday psychological and emotional wellbeing.
How do I learn acceptance?
One way to do this is to use a metaphor of a sailing boat1. Imagine that life is like sailing a small sailing boat. During your life, you have picked up the skills necessary to sail your boat and you have a sense of where you are taking this boat. At some point in your learning to sail, you have learned that from time to time, waves may wash over the bow and you will find yourself with wet feet. The usual response that people have learned is as follows: When you’ve water around your feet, use this bailer to bail out the water.
So you’ve learned about the bailer, but when it has not been needed it has been put away in locker, ready to be used if needed. And at some point along your journey you have had waves come over your boat and there is now water in the bottom of your boat. So you have started to do the thing that is sensible and logic to do: get rid of the water. You have been using that bailer a lot, sometimes bailing quickly, sometimes bailing carefully, sometimes bailing wildly, sometimes bailing desperately. In your experience, have you managed to get rid of the water yet? And all this time that you have been bailing, what has been happening to the direction and progress your boat has been making? Is it fair to say that you have been bailing more than you have been sailing this boat?
Now – what if you were to one day really look at the bailer and to see that it was full of holes? What if it was a sieve? What would you have to do first? You’d have to find a different bailer, one that is more effective. It maybe that you have already tried different bailers and none of them are effective anymore. So you need to develop a different approach to the water in your boat. What if this approach could be about accepting that there will always be water in your boat, and the time has come to put a hand on the tiller and to choose to pull in the sails and getting the boat moving in whatever direction you choose? Once you get the boat moving, then you might be able to investigate some other ways of bailing; if they prove to be useful strategies in helping you to take this boat where you want it to go.
The question to ask yourself is this: Which would you choose?
- to have this boat with only a little water in the bottom, but the boat is drifting because you are bailing so much and you do not have the capacity to look up to steer the boat. In other words, you are not choosing the direction you sail.
- the boat has water in the bottom, maybe sometimes so much water that you wonder how it is still afloat, but you are taking this boat, however slowly, in the direction that you would most want to take it.
Acceptance can allow you to move forward, whereas obsessively and unhappily playing things over and over in your mind keeps you stuck. By accepting the reality of living with symptoms and working with what you have now, living in the present rather than constantly asking “why?” about the past, reduces helplessness and despair over time. If you feel unable to adjust to the consequences of having a brain tumour to a point where it is significantly impacting your day to day life you may want to think about accessing professional support, through brainstrust or your GP.
1 Gillanders, D. 2011 https://actsig.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/the-sailing-boat-metaphor/