Ian Cleary

Acceptance and Hopelessness

Theres some really interesting discussions taking place around the impact that a diagnosis can play in the path of physical conditions.

That’s a fascinating concept. How can ‘naming it’ change anything for a physical condition?

Clearly a diagnosis can be valuable in knowing what the appropriate course of action is. However, with many of the conditions I work with, a diagnosis offers no clear course of action, or begins a long journey of ‘failures’.

Often people remember how they responded when they first got their diagnosis. Many people talk of feeling relief (and often vindicated) when they finally get a diagnosis. Finally there is an answer and proof that it isn’t all in their head. However if the diagnosis also comes with news that ‘there is nothing you can do about it/there is no cure’ etc then that relief can very quickly give way to hopelessness.

Hopelessness is an ever present stressor. How does hopelessness impact physical health? The strongest example I know of the physical impact of hopelessness is in Australian Aborginal culture. When the Kurdaitcha man (or sorcerer) pointed a bone at someone, they died. In that moment they loose hope and a healthy person dies.That to me highlights just how powerful hopelessness can be on our physical health. After many failed attempts at recovery, with some things working a bit, working for a while or a complete waste of time and money people often give up the fight and move into ‘acceptance mode’.  Acceptance is very different state to hopelessness and is seen by a some as an appropriate path in illness.  That is fine IF, and there is a BIG IF,  no other person with the diagnosis has successfully recovered. Then acceptance drops the unnecessary fight.BUT….. if other people have recovered from the very thing you have, that is a very different story.Acceptance has become part of some new psychotherapeutic approaches and of course some very ancient traditions. For me, going into ‘acceptance mode’ for things like ME/CFS or fibromyalgia is like accepting that a car that has run out of petrol will never go again.

So both hopelessness AND acceptance can be influence the course of an illness.

As the serenity prayer**  points out that the wisdom is knowing the difference between what you CAN influence and what you can’t.

When it comes to the conditions I work with, I would put them in the category of things you absolutely can have an influence over. The people I work with are courageously changing the things they can change – their health.



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