(note: apologies for the long gap between posts. I’ve been overwhelmed lately, but I have so many ideas and also personal updates, so I’ll catch up, I’m sure!)
I was born at the very start of the 80s, the height of the low-fat and jogging obsessions. The adults in my life were profoundly scathing of “wankers” who cared about health, seized on any vaguely fluffy research that declared red wine was good for you, and loudly proclaimed that one had to die of something (while, by the way, being very anti-smoking and anti-drugs, based on their own personal experiences).
This attitude has waned a little (along with the low-fat obsession, and thank fucking god for that one) and it’s a little less prevalent, but now it emerges in a different way. It feels like there’s a constant tug of war between the gluten-free-meditate-yoga-wellness crowd and the oh-for-fuck’s-sake-you-tosser crowd. I admit, I don’t have a huge amount of patience with the former, because a lot of what is promoted isn’t actually supported by science, and I don’t want to waste my time and money.
(Note: yoga, when performed correctly, seems to be very good for muscle development, balance, mood, flexibility and strength. It does not – as some of my yoga instructors have claimed – balance my pituitary gland. In the same way, a good chiropractor can help ease back pain. They cannot cure or prevent viral disease.)
But I’m not entirely sure I have a lot of patience for the second crowd either. I’m not talking about people who have just decided what matters to them and what doesn’t. That’s what everyone has to do. No, I’m talking about people who feel judged the minute you excitedly share that you got a personal best at the gym (and I don’t even mean when you talk to them directly), or that you’re excited about a new low-carb recipe.
This is the “You gotta die of something” and the “Who wants to live forever anyway” and the “you won’t live forever, it’ll just feel like it” crowd.
I’ll take “Appalling Logical Fallacies and Over-Simplifications” for $500, Alex.
The amount of time and money I spend on my health is legitimately ridiculous. I’m exercising constantly. I run 2-3 times a week. I lift weights at least once a week (preferably more, but I’m having some scheduling issues at the moment). I go to clinical pilates once a week. I have a sports podiatrist that I see regularly. I scuba dive (although I could argue that’s a net negative for my health; another story). I go indoor rock climbing. I try to sleep a sensible amount (I’m so bad at this one right now). Most of the time, I eat a very strict low carbohydrate diet, in order to reduce the nausea and pain from Crohn’s. That means no sugar, no wheat, no rice, and almost no fruit. Sugar-free everything. I also take supplements, because it turns out that when your gut isn’t good at absorbing nutrients (thank you, Crohn’s Disease), and you’re required to cut a bunch of stuff out of your diet for various reasons, you miss a few things. Also, when you’re hypermobile, taking fish oil for your joints goes from “might as well” to “actually, you really notice when you stop.”
I’m that person who will occasionally order the almond milk decaf cappuccino and then add in two packets of artificial sweetener, because I’ve finally admitted that I actually don’t like almond milk decaf cappuccinos very much, I just want the psychological crutch of a “coffee” in the evening without staying awake all night and getting the gut discomfort of lactose consumption.
I turn down alcohol because my reaction to it isn’t worth it, 95% of the time. I don’t want to lose my entire next day to fatigue and sore joints.
I am, in the parlance of the adults around me when I was a little kid, a total wanker.
I’ve given up things I really love eating (not forever; I break keto for extended periods due to travel, and then I get to have pizza and almond croissants and yum cha and also feel very sick).
This was all my choice, but I sometimes feel taken aback when I end up talking to one of the “gotta die of something” crowd, because I always want to reply, “That’s true. How soon would you like that to happen? How much would you like it to hurt when it does? Do you want to be able to move in the meantime?”
I don’t reply that way. It’s more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s important to leave people to their own priorities and decisions. But I want to.
The fact is that I’ve given up some things, and forced myself to do other things (all that working out is time I could spend doing other things) and in that sense I’ve missed out on some fun. I’ve reduced my quality of life from that measure.
But in another sense, my quality of life is profoundly better because of this.
I can walk straight, now. Pilates has repaired my posture to the point where it doesn’t hurt to sit at a desk or go for long walks.
I can lift heavy things without whimpering. Basic everyday tasks are easier. Chores are less overwhelming. My energy levels are still profoundly shithouse, but I do have two chronic illnesses, so that’s not surprising. They are, however, better when I’m eating right and working out than the rest of the time.
I don’t feel sick all the time. I am in pain, but again: my Crohn’s Disease is not being effectively treated (that’s another whole story) and that’s an expected outcome.
I get less abscesses and less of certain other very unpleasant recurrent conditions because of the shift in my eating. I am less bloated.
I get less sugar cycling, less fatigue, less afternoon crashes.
I get less mood swings and less anxiety.
And I’ll take missing out on booze, on almond croissants, on office birthday cake, on indulgent take-away dinners. I’ll take that, because now I can move. In a way, I hate that it all works so well. I hate that exercise really does help with the pain and fatigue of EDS, and I hate that the diet mitigates my CD symptoms. It’s great that it works – because oh my, something that works? Gives me power over my life and my illness and my body – but I kind of wish it was a beat-up, and that I could stop doing it, because it all takes a great deal of mental and physical effort (and cash. Much cash).
The price is high.
The pay-off is so good.
I’ve decided that feeling awake and mobile matters to me more than those things I gave up. Most people I know have picked out their priorities, and decided that some things give them enough joy that the health costs are worth it – and I’ve made that decision for a few of my activities – while other things aren’t worth it, so they’ll take the hit there. This seems very sensible to me, because there are so many different kinds of quality of life. There are things that give you joy, and things that make you healthy and reduce long term pain, and most of the time in life you don’t have to decide between them; but sometimes you do.
And it would be nice if we could stop calling people wankers for making that call.
On the personal side? I struggle with smokers. My step mother died of terminal lung cancer, with six months from diagnosis to death. It’s hard to watch the people I love smoke. But when it comes down to it, that’s their call. They know. I respect the people I love. I respect their adulthood, their intelligence, their own priorities. They’ve made the call.
The hardest thing I find to deal with is where ignorance is involved (obviously, smoking is not a culprit here; everyone knows it is profoundly linked to lung cancer). People who don’t do what their physiotherapist tells them because they “get enough exercise” (and then wonder why they’re not getting better). People who don’t vaccinate because they think it causes autism (yes, being like me is much worse than dying of measles-induced encephalitis). People who don’t know that they should get the pain in that joint or muscle investigated, because it could be an easy fix and then they won’t have to deal with it any more. People who are bloated and complain of constant gut pain but won’t get checked for an allergy or an intolerance because they might have to give something up. That’s not an informed choice.
So yes: I struggle with this too. I want everyone to have all the information they need to make the choices that will make them happiest, whether that means giving something up or doing something extra to stay healthy, or whether it means deciding they can tolerate a risk or a discomfort because something makes them really happy. And it’s hard to get that information sometimes. Not everyone has a background in science. Not everyone has a fantastic medical team that they can trust to listen to them and tell them what they need to know.
And that infuriates me most of all.