Why I’m Sick of Hearing “Never Give Up”
Some people say giving up is not an option. They don’t just say it, they shout it at themselves through clenched teeth while lifting something heavy over their heads for no particular reason.
Then they write an ebook about it, and before you know it there’s a whole bunch of freshly motivated individuals out there shouting slogans and lifting heavy things over their heads for no reason.
Never give up. Ever. No matter how bad things get. No matter what the pain. Hang in there and fight. On your feet soldier, on your feeeeeet!
Normally I’d say to each their own, but sometimes people with chronic illnesses read slogans like these and can feel bad about themselves. They can feel like failures for not getting out of the house, or out of bed, and doing more with their lives.
“When was the last time I lifted a bunch of heavy things over my head for no reason” a young person with IBD might ask themselves, while slumped in anguish on a toilet seat trying to navigate a bowel movement through two strictures and a fistula.
So today I’d like to offer you some alternative advice, which I wish someone had given me during the times my illness was kicking my ass on a daily basis, and it’s this: if you’ve never given up, maybe it’s time to give it a go.
“Just give up”
There, how’s that for a motivational slogan!
Because there are some days where getting to your feet and enduring the pain is totally worth it. Visiting your specialist, going to see a dear friend, the fact that it’s sunny out and you feel like a stroll.
But there are other days where curling up into a ball on your bedroom floor and crying “why me” is totally the best decision you can make.
Some days where saying “no” to a friend’s engagement party and staying on the couch watching Netflix in a haze of painkillers instead makes you a hero!
Seriously, what does “giving up” even mean?
Is it an action? An attitude? A philosophy? If you give up just once, does that mean you’ve given up forever? Can you un-give up? If you end up doing the amazing thing you’ve dreamed of doing but someone finds out that you gave up a bunch of times on the way, are you automatically disqualified from being awesome? Does a little man in a referee uniform come and take your trophy away and then send you to prison? Is giving up a form of cheating? Is it a betrayal? Is it FAILURE?
My own experiments in giving up have convinced me that it’s not at all what people think it is. Far from being a step backwards, giving up can sometimes be the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.
Back in 2009 I gave up on my music career. I had to. I was too sick to leave the house. There was nothing I could do about that. There was no way I could get up on stage and perform, and no sense in trying. What would I be proving, and to whom?
But that was just the beginning. After that I started reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and giving up on life itself. I don’t mean that I wanted to die, I just mean that I could see the elegance of death as a way of ending my pain and suffering. It made me feel oddly hopeful.
What I gave up next, as a direct result of giving up the idea that I had to fight against my own mortality every day, was a bunch of stuff that had been making me miserable for over a decade. My ambitions and regrets. My harsh self-criticism. My belief that I had failed at life for not achieving certain things by certain times and the toxic idea, attached to it, that I was only worth loving if and when I achieved those specific things, and not before or otherwise.
Giving up that nonsense made me the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.
It was like hitting “reset” on my relationship to myself.
After that I spent 11 nights in hospital being prodded, poked, drip-fed, blood-transfused and colonically penetrated in order to stay alive. My happy bubble burst, but I emerged as a new man. I gave up on preparing to die and started preparing to get even. Two years later I turned those 11 nights in hospital into the inspiration for an award-winning (alright, award-nominated, sheesh) musical comedy show called “Chronic”. In doing that I had to give up my sense of fear and shame, and I must say I haven’t missed them.
Giving up brought me self-acceptance, self-love, even self-transcendence. It helped me break out of negative patterns and old thoughts. It helped me be at peace within myself. Giving up on being a musician working in the music industry turned out to be the springboard I needed to start being a musician working in health and education.
So the next time you hear someone say “giving up is not an option,” remember this:
Of course giving up is an option! Choosing NOT to give up wouldn’t be worth anything if it wasn’t. Sometimes it’s even the best option. Just ask the Japanese in World War 2. Knowing when to fight and when to surrender is not called quitting, it’s called being smart.
Giving up can be an act of kindness to yourself. Giving up might even be an act of love. And, like all acts of love you perform upon yourself, it’s nobody else’s business but yours. You can give up as completely and as often as you want. Give up for a couple of minutes each hour. Give up for two hours at the start and end of each day. Give up for a week or a month. Give up for a whole year if you have to. Give up for exactly as long as you need to, to get giving up out of your system.
That’s right, the coolest thing about giving up is that you don’t have to keep doing it.
You can give up giving up whenever you want, and start doing whatever the opposite of giving up is. Hopefully it’s living the life you really want to live, not just the life you thought you should be living but were too scared to give up on.
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