Accepting Fate Is Good Unless It’s Really Giving Up

I have Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).  It has no treatment, cure, known cause, or hope.  Accepting fate is the key to  my serenity. good attitude, and great quality of life. I live one day at a time to the fullest, still write, and work with Wellness Wordworks and my faith community.  I have wonderful friends and supporters, and I’m just fine with accepting fate.

For me, accepting fate is choosing life in accordance with God’s command, not giving up. Accepting fate, staying active, positive,and productive, not boo-hooing over it, is the key to my good attitude, which is the key to everything positive in my life.

The Serenity to Accept Things I Cannot Change

As a Lou Gehrig fan, I’ve seen the baseball hero’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in newsreels a million times.  When everyone knew he was dying from a rare disease they’d never heard of and could not spell — amylotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, now commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) — he told his admirers, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

He is as well known today for stoically accepting fate as for his incomparable play and baseball records, including 2130 consecutive games without missing an inning.  Nobody approached that record for 60 years.

 

Today, I consider myself lucky, like Lou Gehrig.

Amazing, since ALS  had always been the most horrible death I could imagine.  Your body slowly loses all function, including the ability to communicate.  Then, your internal organs fail, and you die.  The worst part is your mind stays alert the whole time and sees you waste away.     I swore I’d kill myself if I ever got ALS,and not wait to die that way.

What’s changed to make me feel so lucky?

God, granted me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  — The Serenity Prayer

When Accepting Fate Was Bad

I also struggle with mood swings and post-traumatic feelings and behavior.  Accepting fate, according to what psychiatry told me, would have ruined my life, but I never accepted it.

  When I was recovering from trauma and severe mood swings, acceptance was a dirty word.  The docs kept pressuring me to accept fate. The  mood swings were an incurable  chemical imbalance in my brain, the docs said.  What was wrong with accepting fate then was that it was not really my fate.  Accepting fate would make me less angry, the docs said.

The doc said large doses of psych meds for life would control  my extreme moods, and allow me to live almost normally — falling asleep in groups, smoking cigarettes outside the mental health center, washing dishes, sweeping floors, or driving a cab part-time.  I was lucky to live in modern times, the docs said.  Before meds, they would have locked me in a dungeon.

Accepting fate their way would have been giving up, not choosing life, so I pursued my own goal and never gave up.  I chose life then,and I am today.  Only now, I know what I’m going to die of — not when! –unless I get hit by a bus while I’m waiting.

Are you OK with what's going on in your life? This is Ben Stiff, part of the Swim 1000 support team.

Are you OK with what’s going on in your life? This is Ben Stiff, part of the Swim 1000 support team.

I changed that false fate,  I had the power to change it and choose my own. The docs had no idea how important my goal was to me, or how much ability, persistence, faith, and time I would bring to the effort.  Setbacks could not stop me.  They could not see into my heart, but I could.

Yea rs later, when David Hilton and I, with others, were helping to build the recovery and empowerment movement in New Hampshire, we were like pit bulls.  Everything the mental health system did was the wrong thing, the wrong way, too slow, and self-interested.  Acceptance was a dirty word on the system level, as it had been for me on the personal level.

David’s anger killed him; he gave up.  I gave up on convincing the system to change itself, but I’m still here helping Corinna West reinvent the system.

Until a a few months ago,  the only kind of acceptance I knew was  accepting  a rotten system, a furnished room, dead-end job, poverty, a medicated haze, and life without purpose in the “mental health ghetto.”  Acceptance killed dreams,  closed possibilities, and destroyed potential.

The Good Kind of Acceptance

On Jan. 3, 2013, I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a gradual, degenerative neuro-muscular breakdown with no treatment, known cause, hope, or cure.  Most people live with it 5 or 6 years, but some live 10, and Stephen Hawking, the physicist, is still alive and productive 50 years after his diagnosis

My dear friend Megan Wood understood  accepting fate. Her uncomplicated faith in God let her tell me what my intellectual friends could not.   Everything fell into place for me after that.  I calmed down, stopped fighting with myself to do things that had always been simple, like getting dressed and out of bed.  My. back felt better, I stopped screaming at people and objects, and I focused on learning easier ways to do simple things.

I found a serenity I’ve never known.

I’m Accepting Fate, and I’m Satisfied

I’m satisfied with the person I made myself against great odds, with a little help, and a lot of setbacks and discouraging words.  I like the quality and balance of my  life, relationships, and accomplishments.

What's ahead on your journey? This is Brain Gallmeyer riding his bike next to Happy Rock park in Gladstone, MO. He rode his bike to Lincoln, NE.

What’s ahead on your journey? This is Brain Gallmeyer riding his bike next to Happy Rock park in Gladstone, MO. He rode his bike to Lincoln, NE.

When I was 28, I was a homeless cab driver in New York City, intensely suicidal much of the time, isolated, angry, and depressed all the time.  It took patience, discipline, faith, and a little unearned luck to get where I am, instead of institutionalized, in the gutter, or dead.

It’s been a fascinating ride.  My curiosity, gift of words, ability to grasp and synthesize ideas, and the empathy I learned from my own  emotional struggles gave me wisdom and lots of information.  I’ve lived in interesting times, am an interesting person,  and attracted wonderful friends.  If I live another five years, I’ll be 70, and that’s long enough.

Attitude and Acceptance

I wonder if acceptance (not the negative psychiatric kind), and a better attitude would have made my mental distress more comfortable.  I certainly could have been less angry and explosive.  That held me back sometimes, and made me miserable and ashamed.

I have plenty of wonderful friends now, but for years, I was lonely and isolated.  I could have had more friends if I had been nicer, less sarcastic and explosive.  I did not mellow out until just a few years ago.

I might have been re-traumatized less often.

It doesn’t matter now.  I’m happy; I have ALS, and will enjoy the rest of my life every day.  I’m really fine with this.

How do you know if you’re accepting fate or giving up?

 

 

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

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