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Notes on Acceptance

Monday March 14, 2016

Many of us, PwP’s, share a similar story. Once upon a time all was well. Our lives were on course, responding to the expectancies outlined in our life goals. We felt safe, secure, content, confident, motivated, engaged.  Our lives had a discernable purpose and direction. Then one day, PD motor symptoms appear. Shortly after comes the dreaded diagnosis,” You have PD.” We are shocked and confused. We protest that this is not fair; that it was not in the cards; there must be a mistake. A second opinion yields the same findings.

Anxiety, fear, despair, anger, negative emotions overtake us. We lament and ruminate over the damage that PD inflicts on our physical and mental abilities, on our sense of purpose, our personal control and independence. We isolate, avoid, evade. When in the presence of others we dissimulate or hide our motor symptoms. In short, we are suffering and more often than not, alone and in silence.

Time goes by--weeks for some PwP’s, months, or longer, for others. At one point most of us, whether assisted by health professionals, fellow PwP’s or helped by our own individual efforts, we conclude that:

  • We must come to terms with PD, put an end to protests, ruminations, emotional/social isolation, denials or avoidances. These strategies are ineffective. They do not bring back the abilities PD took away from us. Instead, we feel emotionally distressed, whether anxious, fearful, angry or depressed. So, we must accept the painful facts in front of us—we have PD, a chronic, progressively debilitating, incurable brain disease.
  • We are shocked, confused; our premorbid self is shattered. For a while, we feel paralyzed.
  • We realize we have to move on, move forward. We must cease grieving our losses and focus on the abilities we have left. It is with them that we reconstruct ourselves.
  • We notice that when we stop denying and, instead, we accept our predicament in all its painful reality, positive change unfolds. Our distress begins to dissipate; we are able to trace the emergence of a new attitude, a new mindset. We feel energized to find new meanings, new purpose and new life goals.

These shifts in mindsets are hardly rare and occur, precisely when we are in the midst of major crises. We consider acceptance when our strategies of resistance are spent and we are feeling most vulnerable--and therefore more receptive to change. It should be noted that this is not a case of embracing naïve positive thinking. It is about shifting our perspective; it is about adopting positive reframing.   

These notions may appear new but they aren’t. Roman philosopher of antiquity, Epictetus among them, already had observed that “People are not disturbed by events, but by the view they take of them.”

Neither is new the perspective that full acceptance of one’s predicament precedes attitudinal change and renewal. Admittedly, the proposition seems counterintuitive.  In the minds of many ” acceptance” appears to recommend passivity, resignation and giving up.

All to the contrary, acceptance is an active proposition or practice. We do not simply accept or reject. Acceptance is nuanced, qualified. As noted by Reinhold Niebuhr several decades ago, we accept that there are things we can change and things we cannot. The discerning is not invariably easy to effect. But the distinction is there -a distinction that makes a real difference; one that propels us to end passivity and embark in positive attitudinal, mindset change. Recall that we are affected by PD but we are not defined by PD. Acceptance is not resignation but the embracing  of our life as it is, in its present reality. Painful as that acceptance might be, it is the firm footing for positive change to unfold.

Now let us give it a try:

When I consider my present life situation as a PwP or caregiver or family member:

I find I cannot change_____________________________________

But I can change________________________________________________

Julio F. Angulo, PhD.
Official Blogger: NWPF
Official Blogger: WPC2016

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Julio F. Angulo, PhDJulio F. Angulo, PhD
NWPF Blogger

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