Tag Archives: illness

The Health Continuum

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The day before I woke up in excruciating back pain, I gave a keynote address at a health conference.  And during that keynote I talked a lot about how we need to make the ideas of health and wellness more inclusive.  We need to have a bigger tent where every BODY can participate.  We need to imagine a spectrum where we can all experience health.

I asked people in the audience to close their eyes and envision health.  What does a healthy person look like?  Then I asked them, if by any chance, their vision of health looked like a skinny white woman eating yogurt?  How about salad?  Does she look like she’s feeling orgasmic over these food choices?  Several people in the audience smiled or laughed.  Yup, that was exactly what their vision of health looked like.  But I told them they shouldn’t be surprised.  As a culture we are taught by marketing and advertising and Photoshop that this is what health looks like.  But what happens, I asked, if you are not white, or a man, or not thin, or not conventionally beautiful? What if you really, really hate yogurt?  Do you not get to be well?  Do you not get to experience health?

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At this point, I took some time to define health and wellness.  I suggested that there is no particular state that a person achieves that call be called healthy or well.  While tons of money is spent convincing us that if we just buy this thing, use this product or service or spend money in a particular way, we will arrive at the ultimate hereafter picture.  There is a place that is nirvana.  We call this place perfectly healthy.  Except there is no such place.  If we are alive, we are aging.  If we are aging we are headed towards our ultimate demise.  No matter what product or service we use, we are still, in the end, mortal.

So I went on to describe health as a continuum.  Or you can call it a spectrum.  (I like continuum because it’s one of the only words in the English language that has to letter “u”s back to back, and like the word banana, it’s nearly impossible to stop saying once you have started.  You know, like continuuinuuum…)  A continuum is a scale.  It is a line with no beginning and no end.  The scale increases in a particular value as we go one direction and decreases in a particular value as we go the other direction.  As we move along the scale towards healthy or well, we get more capacity and energy to do the things we need to do as well as the things we enjoy.  We feel better.  We have more energy.  We sleep better.  We are able to relax sometimes and experience peace.  As we move down the continuum away from health and wellness these things (like energy, enjoyment, peace, sleep) are more difficult for us to access, or we experience them less often.  But again, the line has no beginning and no end.  There is no destination called perfect health where we get to arrive.  And there is also no perfect place which we cannot access.

This is important for a lot of reasons.  One reason is that we are all born at different points on the continuum.  Based on genetics and parenting and socioeconomic status and friends and other family and cultural values and lots and lots of other stuff, we all land at different points on this continuum.  And as we go along and live, circumstances will change our location on the continuum.  We will experience stress.  We will get sick.  We might win the lottery.  We might lose our jobs.  We might get married or be in a car crash or fall down the steps.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes that stuff is wonderful and eases the way towards increased health on the spectrum.  Sometimes stuff is downright catastrophic and vaults us towards decreased health on the spectrum.  Were we to look at health and wellness as a state of being or as a location, most of us just wouldn’t be able to get there, let alone stay there.  Most of us would be on the outside looking in.  And most of us have been taught that we should be consumed with guilt and self-loathing for not being there or staying there.  But if we look at health and wellness as a continuum, there is a sane and guilt-free place for everybody.

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No matter where you land on the continuum, there are things you can do to help ease the way towards better health.  Those things you can do might be wildly different from what somebody else can do.  You might be creeping along towards health at a very different point on the spectrum than somebody else.  But everybody can play.  And we can play with the knowledge and understanding that sometimes fate rolls the freakin’ dice and we land in a different spot on the continuum that we neither desired nor planned for.  But from every place, we can strive.  We can move towards the healthy/well side of the continuum with whatever resources we have at the moment.  This is with the understanding that sometimes those resources will be very low.  Sometimes the movement will be very slow or even imperceptible.  And sometimes, it’s okay to just rest there at our spot on the continuum until we have the resources and/or the desire to strive again.  Sometimes we can be there and just breathe out and in for a while.

You know it’s funny, in a physician heal thyself sort of way, how I gave this talk the day before I found myself tossed violently to a very different spot on my own continuum.  As I woke up, dazed and in pain, I looked around.  Oh, so I’m here now?  This is my spot on the spectrum today?  Okay.  I’ll just have to see what I can do.  Maybe tomorrow.  After I take a pain killer and watch some telly and gather my forces.  It has made all of this a lot easier to bear.  And I offer this in the hopes that it will be a useful visualization tool for you as well.  Or not.  Because we’re all different.  And just as there is no place called health, there is no single immutable path towards wellness either.  There’s just all of us, muddling along in our own way, as best we can.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick

P.S. Want to book me to speak to YOUR group about the wellness continuum?  Click HERE!

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Feeling Poopy without Feeling Guilty

Over the last few days I haven’t been feeling very well.  I’m not saying this because I want you to feel bad for me and try to make me feel better.  (Well, okay maybe a little.)  After all I don’t have a man flu.  But as I was trying to get a little rest yesterday, I found myself thinking in a familiar pattern.

I started thinking, “Well maybe I’m not eating the right stuff and that’s why I’m sick.  Or maybe I’m not feeling well because I have too much repressed anger.  Maybe this is because I didn’t get enough sleep.”  And in my rambling way, I went on to think, “Maybe it’s nobody’s fault I’m sick.  Maybe I just AM.”

I remember now that I used to often think that if I lost weight I wouldn’t be sick any more.  I used to think that no matter why I was ill, it was my fault because I was fat.  And then for a while (like a minute) I got thin.  And you know what?  I still got sick.  And so did all of the rest of the thin people I know.

And you know what else?  While it’s a great idea to do everything you can to be healthy there are no guarantees.  You will still get sick from time to time.  While it can be tempting to believe that we can control whether or not we get ill we can’t.  We can give ourselves a good chance of being healthy by doing healthy things–but we are still likely to feel lousy from time to time.  And unless you’re talking about a hangover, or going without sleep for four days, you aren’t going to know exactly why and there isn’t much point worrying about whether or not it’s your fault.

It’s especially important to get this straight in our own heads because there are plenty of people out there ready and waiting to tell us that it’s our own fault for being sick or even that we deserve to be sick because we’re fat.  They rail about the costs we “add” to their health insurance.  Doctors do the slow, sad head shake and tell us that we wouldn’t “have this problem” (whether it’s strep throat or carpal tunnel syndrome) if we weren’t so darn big.  Our friends and family seize on every illness as “proof” that they are “right” about the fact we need to lose weight.  And before you completely lose your Zen and want to stop talking to these folks, let me remind you of something.  Remember when I said, it’s tempting to believe we can control whether or not we get ill?  Well it is.  It’s comforting to think that if we don’t drink too much and we don’t smoke and we don’t get fat and we eat our broccoli that we will never get sick and we will live forever.  We know intellectually and rationally that this isn’t true.  But who the heck is going around being intellectual and rational all the time?

The truth is that people get sick and while there are certain issues that make certain populations more likely and less likely to be sick, nobody knows for sure why we get sick when we do.  After all, one of the greatest risk factors for illness is getting older but I’m not sure the alternative is a health path I want to follow.

So my little chickadees, by all means eat your broccoli.  Sleep well and go out and play with your friends.  Do your best to manage stress and anger even when your friends and family drive you crazy trying to “help you lose weight”.  But when you get sick, and you will get sick at some point, my prescription is to stop worrying about who’s fault it is and just worry about feeling better.

Love,

The Fat Chick