Chapter 6

From Denial to Acceptance and Back Again

The most important fact we need to know about the strong emotions that accompany chronic disease is that everybody has them. At one time or another, we've all felt angry, sad, depressed, frightened, ashamed, or lonely. By and large, we've learned to manage the physical changes that come with chronic illness. The more difficult part is knowing how to respond emotionally to something that becomes limiting and that is uncomfortable all the time, according to Dr. Ernesto Vasquez of Columbus, Ohio, a psychiatrist in private practice who has fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

In this chapter, we'll discuss some of the normal but painful feelings that accompany chronic illness. As normal as these feelings may be, they can disrupt our lives. We'll explore some ways to find the support we need, in groups, on-line, and through professional therapy.

The results of our self-exploration may be a hard-fought and sometimes tentative acceptance of our lives with chronic disease. As we'll see in this chapter, this is not a head-in-the-sand approach to some admittedly difficult problems. But given the choice to feel miserable about being sick or to get on with our lives, most of us have made the practical decision to move forward.

Finally, because our feelings don't exist in a vacuum, we'll make note throughout this chapter of the role that family and friends, society, and the media play in shaping our assumptions about ourselves and our disease. Internalizing other's expectations, we may be striving to reach impossible goals. We'll discover that we can and must be a little easier on ourselves, a lesson I certainly needed to learn.