by Sarah Myles

I have been pondering the word ‘acceptance’.

It’s a word we hear it a lot in mental health discussion, and the more I think about it, the more I think it may just be the key to everything. Not just in mental health, but in the wider society beyond.

I hope that most people know acceptance. We certainly all want and need it. We actively seek it out in a variety of ways.  Our mental health journey begins with acceptance – acceptance that there is a problem, acceptance that perhaps we are unwell, and acceptance of the need for help.

Then there is the big step: acceptance of a diagnosis. Acceptance that all that darkness and cloudiness of the mind is actually ‘a thing’ and that recovery from it is possible, acceptance of ourselves for who we are as a whole person, and the path that we are on.

Then there is communication of our experiences, and the inevitable struggle against stigma – seeking acceptance of ourselves from other people.

Here is where the problem lies. Acceptance in ourselves is certainly difficult to achieve, but acceptance by others is a real battle. Society functions on a very specific framework of what is deemed ‘acceptable’, and what is not. Anything that does not fit into that framework is dangerous.

I have Borderline Personality Disorder and, on a bad day my behaviour does not fit into the ‘acceptable’ framework, so people regard me with caution, rather than understanding or empathy. As  BPD sufferer, the terror involved with acceptance and rejection is a huge issue for me. However, on a good day, I am perfectly acceptable, and people are more comfortable.

This general unwillingness to accept things outside the ‘norm’ seeps into every aspect of society, though. It feeds every social problem from schoolyard bullying to racism, classism and homophobia, all the while every human being is simply striving to be accepted for who they are.

Moving from a large city to a small town, I have become more and more aware of people’s desire to have other people change to meet their expectations. “This person is this way, and I don’t like it”, be them mentally ill, or just socially-awkward. Be them outgoing or a wallflower. Be them warm or terse. Well, here’s the thing: that’s who they are. If you are made uncomfortable by someone just being themselves, then perhaps you should ask yourself why. Why do you need that person to fit your worldview before you can accept them?

What would the world be like if we all practised a little acceptance in our daily lives? If we just accepted people for who they are, with all their glorious flaws, quirks and issues? Accepting their choices, their beliefs and the paths they have taken? Yes, there are extremes, with violations of law, order and human rights on a global scale that are unacceptable on any level – but how many of those violations stem from lack of acceptance too? Lack of acceptance of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation?

On a smaller scale – how much conflict in your own life would disappear, if you just practised a little acceptance, of yourself and of others?

Once you've learned to accept yourself, it’s not difficult to accept others – it just requires a moment’s thought. In fact, it's probably the simplest choice you'll make that day. We all have our crosses to bear, we are all battle-scarred from life, and we have all been on a tortuous journey to reach this very point in our lives, right now. This exact second. I can’t know your whole story, and you can’t know mine, but we can accept that the story exists and has brought us here. It is the simple act of not dismissing somebody, just because they do not fit your picture of how the world and the people in it should be.

People are people. Our lives and our experiences are varied, chaotic and diverse. A little bit of acceptance goes a long way.  


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