When the 'It Was Worth It' Attitude Is Destructive to Your Health
One of the most challenging parts of having a chronic health condition has always been the fact that, along with some prescriptions, after I was diagnosed with severe idiopathic gastroparesis I was given a list of things I should not do. Most of that list consisted of dietary rules and restrictions — low fiber, no stringy foods, don’t lay down within four hours of eating — but as my condition progressed and my body began to show more signs of wear and tear, that list expanded to include restrictions on what activities I could do. Soon it went from being a general “don’t eat foods that you’ll throw up” to “don’t burn excessive calories, don’t participate in sports or contact activities when you have low calcium” and more.
In addition to gastroparesis, I have a primary immune deficiency. When I was handed that diagnosis at age 14, I was also told to avoid crowds, avoid contact with others during cold and flu season, wash my hands as often as possible, wear a face mask if a family member was sick…. the list truly goes on.
With any list of restrictions, or actions and consequences (“if you eat dairy, you will vomit,” etc.) comes a certain desire to challenge that list and push my body as far as possible. If I am told that I should avoid large crowds of people and close contact with strangers to reduce my risk of infection, then I absolutely will go to as many concerts as possible and get shoved by strangers as we all try to push closer to the stage. If I am told that my esophagus will continue to erode if I lay down within four hours of eating as the stomach acid works its way from my stomach to my mouth, then I’ll promptly take a nap after lunch. If I am told to avoid physical exertion to conserve calories, or that I don’t have enough muscle mass or bone density to do physical activities, I will go skiing.
It’s fun for me to challenge my restrictions for a while and prove to myself that despite my illness I can still function the way I used to, but there comes a point when pushing limits becomes detrimental to your physical health. It may improve your spirits and be beneficial to your mental health when grappling with a life-long diagnosis, but there is a fine line between “worth it” and “destructive.”
I have straddled this line many times in the years I’ve been struggling with my health, through flares and remissions, while experiencing a colorful range of symptoms and trying countless different treatments and prescription drugs. I believe that most people who are chronically ill or facing any sort of disability or disorder can relate. Many of the friends I’ve made through chronic illness groups or at routine hospital treatments, and indeed most of the doctors or nurses that I’ve encountered, share the saying “if it’s worth it, do it” in some form or another. The general consensus seems to be that if you think an action is worth the consequences you know it will wreak on your body, you should go ahead and do it. After all, you will still be sick; you will still be facing the same health challenges; and you will still be facing these issues for the rest of your life. What’s one bite of ice cream, one day of skiing, one night at a concert, and whatever consequences you face because of that one thing, compared to a lifetime of guaranteed pain?
Let me assure you that the ice cream was not worth the 35 hours in the emergency room; the skiing was not worth bruises on my entire body and four days feeling so weak I could barely stand; and the concert was not worth a fungal infection that lasted for months.
Accepting my limitations and actually adhering to them rather than challenging them at every opportunity has been a huge part of finally accepting the lifelong nature of my health problems. It’s difficult to fully grasp that “chronic” really does mean “forever” if you take every opportunity to do the things you have been medically advised to avoid.
Do not misunderstand; there are absolutely situations that are special enough for me to really believe the negative symptoms and possible hospital trips “were worth it,” but they do not occur on a daily basis. I need to take care of my body, conserve my spoons, and really evaluate how my daily life influences my chronic conditions.
If I take care of myself the majority of the time, eating something on my “unsafe foods” list or doing something I know will aggravate my disease every once in a while, when it truly is worth it, will be all the more special.
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