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It's Time to Stop Referring to Health Issues as Shameful

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Lately, comedians and actresses have been open about different health conditions. One comedian stated in the press that she used to struggle with trichotillomania (hair pulling) and referred to it as shameful.

Whenever a health issue affects someone’s appearance, the person and those around them seem to have to mention how shameful it is to have to look a certain way or go through such hardship. As someone with more health issues than one can sometimes manage, I’ve found that how we think and feel about our bodies matters more than what others think about how we look.

When I was a kid, I had the same problem with hair pulling, which for me was a behavior driven by immense stress and anxiety. I never wore wigs and never cared how it altered my physical appearance until I reached an age where I wanted to stop, not for others but for myself.

Then, I grew out of this problem in my early teen years and began treating my anxiety and depression holistically and with gentleness. My years of counseling taught me that the circumstances that make us uncomfortable can greatly impact our physical and mental health and well-being if we allow them to. It’s the power I’d grant to these health issues.

Essentially, I also stopped shaming myself when my anxiety or depression would take over. Instead, these days, I sit with uncomfortable feelings and emotions using meditation to rewire my mind and thought processes. In recent months, I’ve been focused heavily on changing my diet and lifestyle gradually with the goal of feeling better.

Throughout this exploration, I learned to accept the things about my body I can’t change or alter and love myself regardless of how our popular culture views health conditions in general. For instance, I was once incredibly self-conscious about having open-heart surgery, but I’ve realized the scar is barely visible. People rarely notice it, and when they do, are compelled to ask me,

“What is that?”

And, I’ll reply, “You know what it is,” and grin at them.

They know what a scar is and what a person has gone through to get it. I don’t like to go around advertising that I have heart disease, but I don’t go around hiding it and shaming my body. I’m somebody who isn’t afraid to show my vulnerabilities, though I don’t think having scars means that I’m vulnerable. It means I possess more strength probably than most.

Just in the previous two months of my life, I’ve endured a kind of physical agony and pain in my journey with long-haul COVID-19, and there are some symptoms I still can’t totally shake. These symptoms can and have impacted me socially and I have been able to disguise the embarrassing ones. Back in December, my entire digestive system stalled and froze up, and didn’t think I’d have to go through that again. Unfortunately, in the last three weeks, it happened again. However, I was diligent in ensuring they didn’t get out of hand and discovered we are in control of more than we realize. I gained control of my cravings, my diet, and how I navigate my lifestyle with health and wellness practices at the heart of everything I do.

I appreciate the people who openly share their health struggles through their art or profession, and this is what I do daily. Like anybody else, I don’t love having health problems, but I don’t hate on them either. I’ve learned to accept myself and my body fully, even if symptoms are rampaging through my systems and wreaking havoc on my appearance. I’ve learned to change the things that I can, and most importantly, change my mindset about them.

I believe our health issues exist for a deeper reason; one that is beyond greater than ourselves and struggles. We endure hardship and come out stronger, wiser, and better equipped to handle the stressors life notoriously throws at each and every human being on this floating, rotating rock. Health issues shouldn’t be classified or labeled as shameful. They shouldn’t be labeled as anything. They are what they are, and we can only change what is in our control to change.

Pexels image by Elina Sazonova.

Originally published: April 21, 2022
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