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Acceptance is Not Submission

It’s been said that RA patients, along with others receiving a chronic illness diagnosis, often go through the five stages of grief. These stages were first described by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 and include denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. While these stages of grief were originally meant to apply to death or dying they’ve certainly been applied to other serious situations, including long-term illness.

Acceptance is the very foundation of living your fullest with RA

I follow a number of blogs, forums, and support sites where patients have loudly (in all caps) proclaimed, “I WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS DISEASE!” I politely beg to differ because I believe that acceptance is the very foundation of living your fullest with RA.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you’re submitting to RA – that you’re just going to let it control your life. (Although, let’s face it, sometimes it will.) Rather, acceptance is planting a flag. It’s where you start your battle plan. It’s gaining a clear understanding of what the situation is so you can start exerting control – through treatment, through lifestyle, through building your support team.

Beyond that, acceptance takes you out of the other four stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression are all pretty negative situations. Acceptance is the mechanism we use to propel ourselves past that negativity and move forward to positive action. It’s literally impossible, for example, to be in a state of denial and acceptance at the same time.

That doesn’t mean that new developments won’t send us for a tailspin backward on occasion. There’s no question that RA is unpredictable and changes will cause us to revisit some of the other grief stages.

The RA rollercoaster

I’ve been on a number of different biologic treatments and every time I “fail” a treatment I definitely go through the process again. First I deny that the treatment’s failing. Then I tend to bargain to just give the current treatment a bit more time. Then I get really angry that I have to deal with yet another change and more insurance questions and not knowing whether the new treatment will even work. I seldom go through the depressive stage, but I eventually get on with accepting the new situation and moving forward. Sometimes you go through this process in an hour. Depending on the situation, it may take days or weeks to process.

I have to tell you that, even being the realist that I am, accepting RA has been hard. I am RF negative. My labs always come back perfectly normal – even if my joints are swollen and tender. Lots of treatments haven’t worked. I know something is going on, but fully accepting that it’s RA (and not something else) has been difficult. And every time I have those doubts, I go through those stages all over again.

But back to my original premise, that acceptance does not mean that you’re submitting to RA. Acceptance is gaining clarity and power and purpose. You can’t fight RA if you deny you have it, or you’re bargaining with the Universe for something else. You can only fight RA if you accept that it’s your foe.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ann B Wall
    1 year ago

    Thanks for a great article, it is difficult to move to a place of acceptance but critical to managing your RD. I often regress to anger which (of course) is self defeating. You mention dealing with insurance,I have found dealing with forms at work,aquiring forms and medical information to be exhausting ,I feel to have my Doctors constantly fill out forms has changed my relationships to my wonderful Doctors.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Ann. I think many can relate to your comment about regressing to anger. It is great that you understand that the anger can be self defeating, but it is certainly understandable that it sometimes comes. My wife, Kelly Mack (a contributor here), was diagnosed at two and so has had a lifetime to run the gamut of emotions with RA. In this article she writes about dealing with when the anger comes: Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing and commenting Ann. Glad to hear that this article was helpful to you. You are not alone here. Please reach out anytime for support. Wishing you some relief. Best, Kelly, Team Member

  • Indigo2
    1 year ago

    Having joint pain, deterioration for over 20 years & then finally getting a diagnosis recently of RA seronegative, I have been really angry at the medical professionals that missed it, now it is difficult to get to remission, I have major joint damage, 2 total knee replacements & have damaged shoulder & neck joints that need surgery but I need to use my shoulders to use my cane. I am feeling like I am on a roller coaster, especially when one nurse said to me “there is nothing wrong with you”…I lost it, which made her remark null. I am tired of the medical people being on a high horse & not listening to the patient.

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi, Indigo2. I wanted to thank you for sharing so openly with us about your diagnosis experience. I can hear your frustration. You have every right to be angry and feel the way you’re feeling. I’m sure other community members understand your frustration. I’m so sorry that you weren’t diagnosed sooner to get proper treatment. What a belittling statement to say that there is nothing wrong with you, especially knowing that you’ve been in pain for so long! I’m sorry you’re not having a great experience with your healthcare team. Have you looked into finding (a) different doctor(s)? I’m hoping that you can find a team that truly listens to you and your needs. Please come here any time you’d like support, or comfort. We hear you, and we are here for you. Warmly, Alesandra ( Team)

  • Indigo2
    1 year ago

    Thank you Alesandra. We all have to work with what medical insurance coverage we have & with that, who we can be seen by…in a perfect world there would be more options. The medical profession is stretched to the limits & thus the delivery system is broken.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 year ago

    I accept I have it – I just cannot accept me with RA. I feel like I have been pushing me away every since before I was diagnosed. I hope someday I will find me with RA not RA with me.

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