The Challenge of Balancing Environmentalism With My Chronic Illness


Some of my earliest memories revolve around nature. I was the child with dirty soled feet and scuffed knees who thrived on trees and grass and fresh air. My mom raised my brothers and I to love the natural world, and love it we did. She began taking us camping before we could walk, strapped us to her back for long hikes through winding New England trails, dipped us in the ocean way before we could hold our heads up. We learned a deep respect and love for all things living. I loved trees, flowers, dogs, cats, cows, horses, rivers, and stink bugs equally and fiercely. It became a huge part of my ethics and core.

At the age of 12 I became a vegetarian because I didn’t ethically agree with how meat in the United States was raised. In seventh grade I wrote one of my English composition essays on the cruelty of circuses. In high school I worked on my school farm and became deeply invested in learning where my food came from. I found joy in watching my source of nourishment grow before my own eyes, and by my own hand. I got my mom into worm composting one year, in our small one bedroom apartment. I spoke out about animal cruelty and proper farming methods. I attended protests against fracking and environmental injustice.

I still hold those beliefs, but I’ve come to a crossroads. How does one balance their ethics and a chronic illness? I follow a blog that encourages minimalism. Cut out all plastic. Buy reusable napkins. Bring your own containers to stores. Shop in bulk. Cook from scratch. Hang your clothes to dry. I love the ideas, and I believe in most of what she writes. However, how do I cut out all plastic when some days I need to use paper plates and plastic silverware for meals because I do not have the strength to wash dishes? How do I cook from scratch when some days I am in too much pain to even put the kettle on to boil water? How do I grow my own food and marvel in the miracle of life when some days I cannot get out of bed? How do I keep up with my beliefs and my ethics when my health seems to hold me back?

The answer is, compromise. Yes, some days I need to order takeout from the Indian restaurant down the street. And the produce in the fridge doesn’t get eaten and goes to waste. And the delivery man uses gas to bring me my dinner. And I eat it out of plastic throw-away containers.

But, then I might have the energy to research ways to cut my electricity bill. Or I might have the strength to put my name on an online petition. Yes, some days I ask my mom to drive me to work, and I don’t walk or take the bus. But, when my strength comes back and my body hurts a little less I might walk with my girlfriend to the local farmer’s market and buy produce from hard working neighborhood farmers and revel in the freshness and beauty of peaches grown down the road. Yes, some days I leave the air conditioner on all day and lay in bed watching television and soak in a hot tub and break all of the environmental and ethical rules, but my beliefs are still there. They have not gone away because of my illness.

I still love this planet and its creatures and life equally and fiercely. I still speak out about wrongdoings. I still stand up for those beliefs. I just have to get a little creative with it some days.

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Thinkstock photo by Grandfailure


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