This pandemic has been disempowering. I’ve never been through another one, so I don’t really have a point of comparison. I just know that my frustration stems from a sense of powerlessness — made exponentially worse by knowing that a sense of global or even national unity in this public health crisis could end it. Personally choosing to wear a mask and social distance despite being a low-risk individual in a family of low-risk individuals has not helped end the crisis because too many fuckwits are still trying to live their lives as usual to the detriment of literally everyone else.
I said what I said.
Disempowerment is real. Our lives are severely altered because people choose their “freedom” over real, actionable change that could make a difference. What freedom? Travel is still canceled. Life is still in this holding pattern. The only freedom they’re actually protecting is the freedom from exiting this pandemic.
While most of us can relate to pandemic frustration, my personal sense of disempowerment spirals out. My children’s autism spectrum struggles are a challenge that require me to adapt and accept, not change. The relationship I very much wanted to keep chose to opt-out instead. I am hitting a wall of no, and my work has been to find a way to accept what I cannot change but desperately wish I could.
The work of acceptance has had two strong and equal components. First, I focus on what I can change. Second, I learn to navigate what I can’t.
There’s much that I can change. I’ve started with my mindset, shifting my thoughts around to encompass a new reality. I am trying to be gentle with myself as I shuffle old thoughts out and new ones in.
I am hitting a wall of NO, and my work has been to find a way to accept what I cannot change but desperately want to.
I started with my health. I’m training — this time, not for a marathon or obstacle run as I would have done pre-COVID. I am training for my life — to be the healthiest version of myself. Being active is a lifestyle, and exercise is something I get to do, not something I have to do. I’m making food choices that support my level of activity, and while there’s much I cannot control, I can choose to be active, to eat well, and to take good care of the home that is my body.
While I cannot change my children’s diagnosis, I can make sure we’re all getting every possible tool we need to learn to navigate their neurodivergence. I am advocating for my children and making sure they learn every possible coping skill. Most days, it reminds me that I need to improve my own.
And while I cannot make anyone else choose me, I can do a better job of choosing myself. I can move through this stage of grief and healing by focusing on what is meaningful to me. Lately, that’s been a combination of fitness, gardening, and reading — primarily solitary pursuits. But it’s also been having lunch with a friend each week and making time for joy in my life.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” ― Ann Landers
There’s much we cannot control, but by shifting the focus to what we can, we empower ourselves to make progress. Gratitude is one important aspect of this philosophy but so is action. There are many choices I get to make, and even if every option I want isn’t on the table, I still have the ability to shape my life — even without the relationship or travel or circumstances happening in the way of my choosing.
I’m also learning to navigate what I can’t change.
There’s a part of me that wants to convince the person who didn’t choose me to reconsider. I can’t do that. Part of respecting other people is to respect their decisions. It’s acknowledging that we can’t make other people want what we do. We can only accept that is their right to change their mind and to make new choices.
Just like I can’t slap a mask on the face of passersby and remind them not to be selfish, I can’t make someone decide that I am the best possible person to partner. Acceptance looks like being gentle with myself when I feel frustrated, sad, or angry. It looks like making space for all my feelings, even the uncomfortable ones.
It also looks like shifting my mindset to move forward. My heart can want whatever it likes, but my mind is positioning to move ahead. I have loved and lost before and managed to love again. I am confident that love is a renewable resource. I have plenty left to give, and while I cannot make my heart stop loving where it’s not wanted, I can be open to future possibilities.
While I cannot make everyone unite for public health and end the current global crisis, I can make good choices for myself and my children. I can take precautions. I can be part of the solution rather than the problem. I can also learn how to make the most of life even when it’s restricted — shifting my mindset away from what I cannot have or do and toward what I can. It’s a near-constant redirect that helps me face and accept reality.
“When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall apart, you’d stop suffering when they did.” ― John Green
Accepting what we can’t change is frustrating. It’s often a grueling process because it feels so thoroughly disempowering.
I’ve gotten the best lessons of acceptance from my garden. Every day, I check its progress with curiosity rather than expectation. I’m always happy to see new growth, and when I spot new problems, I try to uncover a solution. A setback is not a catastrophic development, only a part of the learning curve. I make mistakes. I make them often. I am still learning to be better and to balance nurturing with healthy space.
Acceptance is starting to feel like this to me. I’m monitoring my progress with curiosity, and I’m working to check my expectations. I’m finding new growth, but I also have days where I simply experience the feelings that come with hard life experiences. There’s room for both. There is a learning curve, and I am finding the balance to this new way forward.
There are times I still feel disempowered and times I feel defeated. I’ve always been a determined sort of person, one willing to power through obstacles and create change. Acceptance asks that I check this impulse and make peace instead.
With nothing to overcome except my own resistance, I can choose to be filled with expectation and disappointment, or I can choose to be curious and self-empowered. Refusing to accept what I can’t change doesn’t change anything, but choosing to accept what is and to love my life anyway — that changes everything.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Engin Akyurt.