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What Does It Mean to Be 'Healthy' When You Have a Chronic Illness?

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The word health means different things to different people, depending on the situation. The most famous definition of health is The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition in 1948:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

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This definition has been criticized a lot and most criticism concerns the absoluteness of the word “complete.” This requirement for complete health would leave most of us unhealthy most of the time.

A year ago I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which is a hereditary connective tissue disorder. I had been living with some serious health problems and chronic pain for a long time so I was relieved to finally have a name for my symptoms. At the same time I was in a huge crisis, thinking I would never be healthy again. Can you be healthy with chronic illness? Since I have a genetic disease, have I always been ill? Even in the times when I have felt myself to be healthy?

After some soul-searching I refused to see myself as ill and “unhealthy” the rest of my life just because my illness can’t be cured. I started to think of the word “health” more like an ability to adapt and face my physical – and emotional – challenges. Nowadays health for me means a constantly changing state, which is affected by diseases, symptoms of chronic illnesses and physical and social environment, but above all experiences, values and attitudes. Each person determines their health in their own way, and this definition is ultimately the most important thing.

Losing my health and my concept of health for a while made me readjust my life and lifestyle. Even though I thought I was living relatively healthily, I was demanding way too much from myself and my fragile body. My lifestyle had been very hectic and stressful for my whole adult life. I realized I needed to slow down and respect my illness, not fight with it, in order to feel myself healthy and well. This realization has improved my health more than anything else and it has been a starting point for me to seek health and wellness again.

With love,

This post originally appeared on Chronically Janni.

Originally published: May 17, 2017
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