Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Paradox of Illness Beliefs

Illness is often a web of contradictions.
It can be both terrifying and hopeful. Both profoundly difficult and intensely beautiful. Sad and sweet.

Perhaps the greatest contradiction of all revolves around the issue of power and control. I am what they call a "lurker" on a few CF and transplant listserves. This means, I watch conversations people have about their feelings, questions and problems in dealing with illness. One theme seems to weave itself through most issues: how do I take control of this situation?

I think it is human nature to feel as though our triumphs are direct testimony to our actions. Conversely, many people feel our tragedies are forced upon us, despite our best efforts. I see this often with illness.

Some people might decide exercise is the key to holding illness at bay. Others might attribute health to eating well. Some, believe in the power of prayer. For all of these things, there is a sense of control--a belief that if you do something correctly, you will live longer and healthier than those who don't. When those around you fall ill, it is easy to excuse this by saying they did not do all of the things you are doing and this is why they are now sick. For this belief, there must be a winner and a loser.

For parts of my life, I relied on magical thinking to help me feel in control. If I prayed right, meditated properly etc, I held the key to my own health. I am often swayed by the exercise people who tell me I will get sick quick if I don't start running marathons and stuff. If I had a nickel for every time I beat myself up about my lack of exercise...

But then, I see the people who do it all right and they still get sick. The compliant ones who never miss a dose of medication and do it at the same time each day. The ones who exercise their butts off. The ones who monitor everything closely and make health priority one, every day. They still get chronic rejection. They still get lung infections. No matter how hard they fight to stop the barreling train, illness still takes over. So, do we really have any control? Are these ideas about how to stay well mostly a coping mechanism to give us a false sense of control in a random situation? I don't really know the answer right now--there's too many sick people around me to see straight.

Would you rather hold the belief that you have power over illness through some action and risk great disorientation and disillusion when illness creeps in anyway OR would you rather hold the belief that you are powerless over illness and embrace this lack of control, only focusing on today? Perhaps, like everything, it is the search for a balance between these two that is most important...

3 comments:

Jen! said...

As I read the questions in your last paragraph, the answer - it has to be a balance between the 2 - rattled around in my head before I even read your last sentence. I don't think either extreme is helpful. It would be NICE if we had more control over our health, but the reality is, sometimes shit happens. That's when we must accept it and enjoy what we have while we have it.

Anonymous said...

The key is The Secret. It really and truly holds the key.

I urge you to learn about and master it so you too can remain healthy, and achieve all that you desire in life.

Amberr said...

I dont think you could of said it better. Illness is a see-saw of accepting it but also striving forward for better days. I think the hardest part of illness for me was accepting that I wasnt in sole control anymore and sometimes I just have to listen to Dr's whether I like it ot not.
I'd love it if you could check out my blog =)