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How Society's Obsession With 'Health' Hurts the Chronic Illness Community

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We are conditioned from birth to have the perspective that being healthy, productive, and creating wealth are very important. When you don’t live with mental health issues or chronic illnesses, this can easily seem perfectly fine and normal. The problem is that millions of people live with chronic conditions, and that way of thinking doesn’t take into account that they are no less deserving of love, respect, and quality of life as those who are considered healthy.

It can be really hard for people with chronic illnesses to hear statements that imply that health, money, hard work, or the ability to put on a façade and act like everything is OK are all that matters. It’s been so ingrained in us that even those of us living with these conditions may have a hard time acknowledging how harmful those kinds of statements can be.

It took me several years of battling this conditioning, as an adult, before I was able to start looking at it from the right perspective. I felt so much guilt when my body started giving me problems that I spent those years, before I understood better, damaging my body even more by pushing myself to keep up with those ideals.

Now that I do understand that a person’s worth is not determined by their wealth, success, productivity, or outward appearances, I do my best to bring awareness so others don’t hurt themselves, spend years feeling like they are inferior, or feel like they have to suffer alone, because speaking up brings criticism. It can be really hard.

A recent article here on The Mighty discussed the statement “as long as the baby is healthy, nothing else matters.” In the social media comments on that article, there were people criticizing the author for bringing awareness to the problem surrounding the statement — that it can make those who live with health conditions feel negative because it implies that health is everything.

Rather than understanding the point of the article, they made comments like “Of course it’s OK to wish a baby is healthy,” and “I have multiple conditions that I would never wish on anyone.” They completely missed the point that it’s not about wishing ill health on the baby, it’s about the very real problem of implying that good health is all that matters, when that simply isn’t the case in reality — no matter how much you wish for good health for yourself, or someone else.

As the author stated, yes, health does matter. Of course, we wish for others to be healthy. Why? Because we know what it feels like not to be. It doesn’t change the fact that we are every bit as deserving of love, respect, and good things as healthy people. Because of this conditioning so many of us have been raised with, there were even people who stated they live with chronic conditions criticizing the article. Maybe it really doesn’t bother some of them to hear statements implying health is all that matters, but the fact is that it does cause many to have negative feelings about themselves when they shouldn’t have to feel that way.

That alone is reason enough for others to have compassion and remember how their wording may affect who they are speaking to, or someone who overhears it, instead of criticizing the person trying to raise awareness about the issue. Especially when that article is published by an organization that has built their community around support for those living with medical and mental health conditions.

Many of us have to fight to get healthy people to view us as equal to them, and deserving of all the same things, but we shouldn’t have to. If it wasn’t for the perspective that “good health is all that matters,” maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to get healthy people to have compassion for those of us who live with chronic illnesses.

There’s nothing wrong with hoping for better health, or hoping your baby is healthy, but there is something wrong with not recognizing that the statement “being healthy is all that matters” can negatively impact someone, and not having the compassion to try to understand how they feel. There is something wrong with reading to criticize instead of reading to understand, especially in a community that is built for support.

The Mighty is a community meant to support and inform, so many people who follow its social media pages have a medical condition and need support. There are millions of us living with chronic illnesses, disabilities and mental health conditions. Many of us have similar experiences, but we are all also unique, and each have different things that hurt us. Just because it doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting someone else. Please  have empathy and compassion, just like you want others to have for the struggles you feel are significant.

Getty image by sdecoret.

Originally published: March 16, 2021
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