Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

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Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

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I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

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This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

Can You Accept Yourself Without Being Complacent?

If there’s anything close to a bible in the self-improvement sphere, I’m sure there will be two verses which seem completely contradictory.

1. Accept yourself.

and

2. Never stop trying to improve.

Acceptance doesn’t seem to mesh well with the desire to improve.

Acceptance gives us the impression that we can be happy with how we are now.

Improvement implies there is something wrong with us and it needs to be bettered. If we accept ourselves and our flaws, then we reduce the motivation to become a better person at the same time.

A large reason why “acceptance” of personal flaws and so on may be taught is because it reduces the amount of needless self-criticism we throw at ourselves. Many efforts to improve ourselves come from a dissatisfaction with how we view ourselves. I’ve tried to show that it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.

But, if we accept ourselves, how do we stop ourselves from becoming complacent?


Are acceptance and complacency the same?

I view it as scale. If you have Dissatisfaction on one end and Complacency on the other, Acceptance is around the middle:

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Scott Miker makes the subtle difference clear (he uses content instead of acceptance):

Being content means being happy.  Being complacent means refusing to work to improve.

There’s more to this than meets the eye – I believe you can accept your situation without being happy but that’s for another blog post.

However, it is helpful enough for now. With the definition above, complacency implies reaching a comfort zone and taking it for granted. We may even see something that we dislike about ourselves or the external situation, but because we are just comfortable enough, we refuse to do anything about it.

We can liken it to choosing to stay in bed all the time, while disliking the idea that we aren’t being productive.

Acceptance on the other hand is an active emotion. It involves gratitude and honesty. And, quite frankly, it can be incredibly difficult to accept things. It’s normal to resist things that don’t go 100% our way even if all it causes is more mental anguish.

Acceptance is tough because it forces me to see the limits of my days and the limits of my abilities (at the moment).

We don’t always realise it but failure to accept things is often a problem with the ego. “don’t want to accept that am finding this more difficult than expected.” Really, there isn’t anything wrong with that and it might help us to address these problems if we accept they exist first.

Returning to the main topic:

Improvement is just what you do. 

To understand what it is like to mesh acceptance with self-improvement, imagine yourself as a plant.

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Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

Plants just grow. They look at the sun, ask “hey can I have some food”, then stretch as much as they can to get it. The sun says “yeah sure, just give my human friends some oxygen” and bam, the plant grows.

If the sun is taking a day off, the plant chills for a bit. It’s just fine being a plant.

I may be off with a few details. I haven’t taken biology since 2011.

The point is, you can accept yourself at each stage of your development while continuing to grow and better yourself. It’s just what you do.

Self-improvement (and I’d hope, improving the world comes along with it), does not need to stem from negativity or hatred centred around a particular aspect of your life. It often starts that way, but it doesn’t need to continue that way.

Like a plant, you can just enjoy being a plant.

Like a plant, you can also just keep on growing.

I’m going to leaf the plant analogy alone now…

How can I accept myself without becoming complacent? 

Now we can appreciate what it means to practice self-acceptance without becoming complacent and never choosing to improve.

What does this look like in practice?

1. Leave the ego at the door

Your ego will tell you, in all sorts of ways, that you’re perfect and shouldn’t find things difficult.

It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in some kind of narcissism. You can prevent yourself from improving because you refuse to see yourself make mistakes. It’s safer to never try if you never want to make a mistake.

We’re all working drafts. Making mistakes is often fine.

2. Focus on the process, not the goal. 

 The end goal doesn’t always define you. Sometimes, they’re out of your control. What you can control to the best of your ability is the process you use to reach your goals.

If I’m trying to lose weight, I can set a goal but place all of my attention on ensuring I have a good diet and workout regime.

If I’m trying to become a better writer, I can set a goal of some kind but I can make sure I sit down and write every single day. When I write every day, I can make sure I keep on challenging myself.

3. Take time to be grateful 

Intertwined with acceptance comes gratitude.

You can find something, however small, to be thankful for. So despite our challenges and moments of difficulty, we can still find people, events or things we value deeply.

It helps us stop becoming overly disappointed with every tough time we experience and blame everything either on ourselves or something external to us. When we do this, we yearn for our comfort zone because it’s the easiest place to be. It shields us from potential failure and criticism.

Yet, when we take the time to be thankful for something, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to acknowledge something we want to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.

A person who keeps growing.

Acceptance to me is seeing the limits you have at the moment and using them to your advantage.

Complacency is giving up in face of them.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What progress have you made towards accepting your flaws? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!