Life Isn’t Always Fair: 5 Steps to Accept Tough Situations

“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.” ~Sonia Ricotti

I hate my life! It’s a phrase that's used by teenagers and adults alike. Sometimes we use it for dramatic effect and sometimes we mean this literally.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago and said “I hate my life!” I meant every word. I hated it so much that there were times I didn't think it was worth living.

The depression was incapacitating. The hypomania disguised itself as extreme anxiety and irrational fears.

In order to stay alive, I had to accept my illness, let go of what I wanted my life to be, and have faith that the future would take care of itself.

Here are five things I’ve learned so far on my journey of accepting a life that isn’t fair and never will be.

1. Recognize the problem.

Right before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I tried to be everything to everyone. I gave 100 percent at work, I gave 100 percent to my family, and I gave 100 percent to whatever else needed me.

I came to find out that giving 300 percent is impossible. Something had to give. That something was me.

I had a breakdown. Several of them, actually, because right after I recovered from one, before long I found myself going back to giving 300 percent. I lost count of the number of times I was admitted to an acute treatment facility for days at a time.

At last I realized that living life this way was going to kill me. I couldn’t accept that I had an illness. I couldn’t accept that I had to slow down. I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t perfect.

Because of that I didn’t want to be alive. The pain of living with a mental illness can result in that type of thinking.

Sometimes we have to make a choice: pretend that nothing is wrong and then continually deal with the consequences, or acknowledge the problem and face it head-on.

2. Do something about it.

Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t like many people who can handle work stress, be a part-time single parent, and do whatever else is needed, I grudgingly started making changes. I resigned from my job as a newspaper reporter, left co-workers who had become good friends, and started working at home.

I spent more time taking care of myself. I started meeting with a meditation teacher who taught me how to accept what is. She showed me ways to calm anxiety and ride the wave of depression, knowing that it would eventually pass.

When life changes, we need to become aware that there are always more choices. They might not be the choices we want, but there are always choices. Open your mind, look around, and you’ll find many more courses of action than the obvious ones in front of you.

3. Let others help.

When I was going through depression and was unable to do everyday tasks or even take care of my children, it was hard for me to ask for help.

“I should be able to do this on my own.” “I don’t want to bother anyone or be a bother.” These were my thoughts as I beat myself up after I had to ask for help.

It occurred to me after awhile that most people enjoy helping others. It makes them feel good. I know whenever someone comes to me asking for help, and if I’m able to, I feel good about myself afterwards.

In fact, altruism is one of the main factors in achieving happiness, according to a book I read called What Happy People Know by Dan Baker.

Just think, by asking for help you may actually be helping the other person.

4. Take ownership.

After I sought out psychiatric help for my illness/behavior, I expected my therapist and doctor to make it change. I insisted they make it change. I got angry because they couldn’t change it.

“They weren’t trying hard enough.” “They didn’t understand me.” “If they would just listen!” These were the thoughts that I had as I struggled during the roughest times of my illness.

Finally I was able to grasp the fact that they couldn’t change it. At first it frightened me. These were professionals. They studied, worked, and knew more than I did and they couldn’t fix it.

Wait a minute. Then why even bother dealing with them? It was useless, hopeless. I wasn’t strong enough to handle this.

These were all lies I told myself. Because after eight years of therapy I actually knew quite a bit. I learned skills that had helped me through the darkest moments of my life.

Just like a teacher can’t follow a student around for the rest of his or her life reading books to them and watching over them as they write a paper, my therapist couldn’t come home with me and hold my hand through every problem I faced. She is the most supportive person in my life, but she couldn’t do it for me.

Eventually it was up to me to use the skills I had been taught.

When my anxiety rose to excruciating levels, I remembered to go to a quiet place (usually my bathroom) and breathe through the panic until it subsided. I learned that it wasn’t going to last forever, eventually it would pass and I just had to ride it out.

It’s important to learn skills from people who have more experience with your problem, but it’s up to you to put them into action. It will be scary at first doing them on your own, but the more you do it the more confident you will become.

5. Change what you can and accept the rest.

I was forced to make changes to my lifestyle in order to achieve and remain stabilized. I may have lost my job, but I gained a life.

I accepted that I have an illness that isn’t going away. There is treatment but no cure for bipolar disorder. I have faced the fact that I will have to deal with depression, hypomania, and anxiety throughout the rest of my life.

I learned coping skills and take prescribed medication to minimize my symptoms, and it’s made living with the illness bearable.

Acceptance didn’t make my illness go away, but it relieved a big part of my suffering as I became aware of the steps I had to take. I have faith that I will be able to live with the unpredictability of my illness.

These are five steps to accept you are not where (or who) you want to be.

Acknowledge the fact that you might have to come up with another plan. Before you know it, you may find yourself thinking about the past and wondering why you didn’t want it to change, because your present definitely works better.

About Paula Bostrom

As her stability increases, Paula Bostrom is writing freelance articles on many subjects that interest her, but is most passionate about helping to eliminate the stigma of mental illness.

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  • Hi Paula,

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a guy who struggled with mental issues for many years, your tips are spot on. Meditation is a life saver. Once you see a bit of the truth, that you are not your feelings, but the awareness attending to those feelings, the feelings leave quickly.

    Getting to that point takes some deep, persistent meditation, but it is well worth it. Pushing harder is not the answer. Going within to cut out the root of the problem, through meditation, and thinking, and reaching out for help, is the cure to accept tough situations.

    Thanks for sharing buddy!

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing your journey, insight, and experience. Acceptance is so vital, then working with what you have, instead of resisting…beautiful lesson! I’m happy you are in such a peaceful place, beautiful! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Wow, Paula. How strong you are, to have come through all that and be able to articulate the lessons you’ve learned so clearly.

    I can strongly relate because I’m so much like you—wanting to be all things to all people all the time, and not wanting to accept help because I think I should be able to do everything on my own. (I laughed where you said, “I gave 100 percent at work, I gave 100 percent to my family, and I gave 100 percent to whatever else needed me. I came to find out that giving 300 percent is impossible.” Because that’s exactly where I am today.)

    My own issue isn’t manic-depressive disorder, but extreme sensory sensitivities; the result is the same. I can’t be the outgoing, helpful, “always on” person I want to be. I have to accept the fact that my nervous system puts strict limitations on what I can do in a day, a week, a month. And I have to ask for help.

    The hardest part, though, is simple acceptance of what is. And part of what’s helping me there is some radical honesty—I’ve realized I don’t have to *like* something to accept it.

    Thank you for sharing your story…it’s so nice to realize, once again, how alone I’m NOT. 😉

  • Leslie

    Thank you for your words, “I learned that it wasn’t going to last forever, eventually it would pass and I just had to ride it out.” I have to be reminded of this as well when I have a difficult time with change and transitions in my life. What a great article!

  • reedeeda

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing. The last year for me has seen many disappointments and change as I learn to accept my new limitations due to health issues. I look the same from the outside but my insides are a mess. I can’t do things like I want to and eating has become a micro managed challenge. I love to eat and now the ability to eat what I want has been compromised.Some days I feel up to it and some days I want to give up. I have said those exact words, “I hate my life.” In fact I said it this weekend. After it comes out of my mouth, I regret it. I don’t hate my life; I am just frustrated, but I don’t want to keep saying those things. Words have power.
    Good luck to you!

  • flwergrl

    Thank you, I needed this message today and when I stumbled upon it accidentally I knew it was a “God thing” for me. I need to make a major change and I am terrified. It has to do with codependency after a lifetime of living it, and having given my identity away time and time again. Thank you for helping me recognize that it comes down to me, I am the one who has to make the change and then doors will open around me, once I am willing. God Bless you!

  • Jo

    Love this post. My mother is bipolar and I had a bit of a tough day with her today (some pretty irrational arguments). I read Tiny Buddha daily and it’s pretty interesting that this was posted right when I needed it. Good luck to you!

  • sosad

    The love of my life was diagnosed with HIV three weeks ago (but was already depressed). He tried to stick it out with me but the depression has gotten the best of him and he has decided to leave the relationship and devote his energy to healing his depression and learning to live with HIV. However, the last three weeks, he has talked about suicide, has a plan and has been giving away his things. He gave me all of his beautiful Buddhas and his meditation mat that he used while he was taking transition at a Zen monastery. He prefers not to have contact with me so. Although I understand his decision (I have a history of anorexia and depression and two suicide attempts) I am still completely devastated. Im trying to be supportive by leaving him alone and praying that he finds some peace. I am very strong and reach out when the shit hits the fan. I will survive this break-up.I have to let myself be sad and accept his decision and keep on living. I was blessed to have the time I had with him. Thank you for your words of wisdom. They will help me as I transition back to happiness.

  • Luca Samson

    Nice post Paula,

    I like tip 5 the most, acceptance. I think acceptance is something that everybody should learn in order to move forward in life. It is something that is truly underrated.


  • Jackie

    Thank you for sharing your story Paula. It’s exactly what I needed to read this week. I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and after a really tough month of dealing with others’ ignorance towards it, I got fed up. I didn’t want to have to deal with having this thing I was born with anymore or have to deal with the way people can treat me sometimes (no matter how nice I might be to them) because of it. I know I’m always going to struggle with it and sometimes I’m going to wish I didn’t have it but your 5 tips are a great way to help cope and make it through those rough patches a little more easily 🙂

  • StephO

    Thank you so much for sharing Paula. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago this November. I also was forced to leave my place of work and my coworkers that became my close friends and work family. Though I am working on accepting my diagnosis and not pushing myself so hard, I still find myself trying to give, as you put it, 300%. I will definitely take your advice, and thank you for sharing your wisdom. After a trying anxiety ridden last couple of weeks, I really needed to read this. Again, thank you so much for sharing.

  • Ashley Shott

    Thank you so much for sharing, Paula. I have been dealing with depression since I was 11 years old, and now I am 25, still feeling like there is no end to this everlasting dark hole that I seem to end up falling back down again. Sometimes I feel like I should just be able to get over everything and do things like everyone else does. The truth is, I just can’t handle the overload of stress! I can instantly feel the stress that comes off of other people, and it becomes very hard to deal with that, along with my own troubles. I’m glad you were able to be so open about your struggles with mental health, it takes a lot of courage to open up to the world about something that is still no really understood by a lot of people.

  • Ashley Shott

    “I’ve realize I don’t have to *like* something to accept it.”

    This is so refreshing Michelle. I find that, too often, I feel like I have to change everything so that it makes sense. In reality, I won’t like everything that happens, and it is hard sometimes to accept things that hurt. Thanks for sharing this though!

  • Michelle

    Ashley–yeah, it’s hard enough accepting the difficult things without having to force-fit them into some sort of Pollyanna-ish “positive thinking” mold on top of that. I’m gradually learning to say, “This is really awful, and I don’t like it, but I’m accepting it anyway.” 😉 Glad that thought helped you, too!

  • brad

    I will pray for you.

  • Just yesterday I was thinking ‘are there others who go through these kind of issues and how long do they deal with it? Do they ever come out of it?’ when I found myself stuck again in my old patterns which I thought was getting better only to be fooled again.. I feel so alone because everybody else around me seem normal.. After reading this article, I realize that i need to connect with people who are more understanding of these kind of issues and are in a position to help me.. You’re doing great work!

  • black

    Im 23 my mom wont let me drive its not fair i ask at 17 when my sister was driving but they didnt care and now since in 23 now they still wont let me and every one in my family is having kids my brother had 1 and my sister has 3 and they dont care about what i want my other brothrr is 17 and hes learning to drive soon they never gsve me a chance please help

  • Barb

    I am alone! no friends or family. Old and running out of time. Karma won’t work if you just have yourself to talk to.

  • sueshe

    None of this gets to the root of the problem. The why is life worth living problem. Why stick around if coping is the best you can hope for?

  • Harsh Biswas

    Life is no getting better, life is a constant bitter truth that is revealing my time and open wounds.