acceptance: embracing the negative

As January fades into the distance, I’ve found myself taking comfort in the shades of gray and quiet evenings that are inevitable friends of the wintertime season. While many of us go into hiding during these bleakest of months, burrowing deep into warm pockets of comfort and companionship, over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to find a small ember of clarity in my life.

Last week I experienced (and wrote of) my first anxiety attack – a combination of chronic Lyme and most likely suppressed emotions that demanded my attention and refused to be ignored. Although I’ve struggled with chronic illnesses for close to a decade, it wasn’t until recently that I truly acknowledged all the years I’ve spent powering through unpleasant experiences. I would rarely pause to look at the emotional consequences of the obstacle at hand. Instead, I would charge through the period of darkness and uncertainty in the hope that this course of action would lessen the impact of whatever was to come.

There’s no doubt that when life ebbs and flows it can be challenging to stay connected to ourselves, especially if we’re tempted to ignore or escape feelings that come from unwanted change.

It’s not surprising that when I was first diagnosed with Lyme disease, my first reaction was one of denial. Of course I had heard the diagnosis, but I was by no means ready to accept it. I was convinced my fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, and insomnia were ongoing symptoms of my previously diagnosed autonomic disorder – that this Lyme disease diagnosis could be dealt with later when I had the emotional and physical stamina to weather the wrath of another chronic illness.

Looking back, I find my sheer determination and naïve optimism to be endearing but misplaced.  I was determined to get back to my familiar, preferred lifestyle – but to do so was at the expense of my health and intuition. Instead of dealing realistically with my emotions and circumstances, I immediately reacted by denying them because I was scared that the life and dreams I planned for myself would be put on hold. Again. 

Today, almost exactly a year after my Lyme diagnosis, I’m beginning to recognize that my mind (and perhaps yours, too) tends to separate the negative from the positive. This has in turn fostered a mentality where anything negative should be buried or discarded.

I don’t doubt that negative emotions can be detrimental to health and healing, but suppressing emotions can be equally as harmful, with the chance of them erupting like a volcano that’s smoldered and sizzled for many months.

Much like trying to avoid doing laundry, avoiding your thoughts is ultimately futile – they will eventually pile up and require attention. Your best defense is to deal with them as they come. So while you can’t always control your external circumstances, you can identify and work on any thought patterns or behaviors that might be triggering any unnecessary emotional stress. For example,

  • Instead of “I’m not enough,” I will remind myself that I’m okay just the way I am.

  • Instead of “I should have handled that differently,” I will remind myself that I’m doing the best I can.

  • Instead of “I’m powerless,” I will remind myself that I’m capable.

Our thoughts are invisible, intangible, and private, yet they have immense power to influence our life. I admit, changing thought patterns takes incredible concentration, determination and courage, but the idea goes that if you can change your thoughts to be more positive, your body and soul will respond with a feeling of lightness and warmth, resulting in a greater connection to your true wholeness, as well as the world around you.

So in the coming year that will likely be filled with both progress and setbacks, victories and defeats, love and heartbreak, I must trust that I can ride the waves of life and remember the following:

  • To stay calm when initial thoughts and reactions are intense and potentially negative.

  • To become more comfortable sitting with unpleasant experiences and exploring them without judgment.

  • To slow down and repeat words of gratitude, compassion and love for doing the best that I can.

While I cannot control what enters my life, I can control which thoughts stay and go. By recognizing and reflecting upon these thought patterns, my hope is that any negative notions about my health, journey to recovery, and overall life trajectory will no longer stand anxiously in the wings but rather fade quietly into the background.