Yet, even in 2011, pockets of the population face discrimination, have their “choices” (or lack thereof) dictated to them, and face judgment, regardless of the leaps and bounds of progress we’ve made since King’s famed, “I Have a Dream” speech. We still have quite a long way to go. In short, some people still have a hard time getting along with, or accepting, others.
I have a dream. I’ll tell you what it is. I dream that, one day, people living with illness and/or disability will not be looked down upon. People with handicaps will have equal rights and opportunities. No one will be “blamed” for their illnesses. Those of us carrying the cross of chronic illness will not become further burdened by guilt or judgment. We will not be pitied or miss out on the beautiful things that life has to offer us. People will be sensitive with their actions towards us, and mindful when choosing their words.
Today, a health “guru” who promotes a drug-free, raw foods, clean lifestyle ripped into me for my personal beliefs regarding medicine. Before I proceed, let me state here and now that my views are my own and do not reflect that of the Arthritis Foundation or any other entity. What are my views? I believe in an integrative, and, I believe, quite modern approach to healing. Yes, I take some medications. But I’m down to a few pills a day – if that – when I used to take nearly 20. I “could” foreseeably live on pain medications, every day, based on the pain I face. Do I ever take them unless after surgery? No. So while I’m not “anti-drugs,” I believe in minimal usage only when needed. I’m educated enough to acknowledge that some conditions – RA for example (though there are many others) – NEED to be treated with modern medicine. Let me also say that I know there are exceptions to everything and that some people do not need the meds. I am on a biologic and an immunosuppressant and judging by past experiences of trying to go “drug free” – I DO need them. To each their own, is what I say – every person’s bodies and experiences are different. That being said, while I rely on some medications, I do not eschew other beliefs. I’ve done acupuncture and chiropractic. Massage therapy, a detox body wrap, mindful meditation, and biofeedback. I have seen naturopathic doctors and nutritionists. I believe in aromatherapy. I believe in prayer. I take supplements/herbs/vitamins in addition to my meds. I am gluten-free, and avoid soy and dairy as best I can. I have food allergies and avoid the “trigger” foods. Save for 1 or 2 guilty pleasures, I have a healthy diet and do not overeat. I exercise when I can – yoga, walking, elliptical, etc. So, I’ve tried a lot and I believe in a lot. So, I have an open mind. I am not afraid to share my opinions and I share them freely. I am an “open book” when it comes to my health and, while I have bad or “down” days, I encourage a positive mindset. For better or for worse, I try to promote a healthful lifestyle of wellness to my fellow “spoonies” and to advocate for people suffering from chronic illness/disability, especially the younger set. I am careful to not judge anyone’s choices. I am accepting of every lifestyle and am respectful. Therefore, it hurts when someone starts to put me down or be mean to be, simply because of who I am and how I handle my health.
For example, today, I was faced with the above-mentioned individual who said that my “advocating digs people further into the mud” and that “judging by my Twitter bio [which lists my conditions] there’s NO HOPE” for me. He said that “big pharma and the AMA must LOVE ” me. “What a gem you are!” he said to me, and also called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Why? Because I don’t personally believe in all of his beliefs (Raw beef. No meds. We are responsible for our ailments, etc.) and so I must be sending the wrong message! I am still sick, so I must want to be a sick person, and want you all to be sick with me! (his words.) I disagreed with him when he said that we cause our illnesses. I asked if I caused my conditions as a baby. He said no my mom did. I’m sure other parents of children with Juvenile Arthritis appreciate that. He apparently believes that we all cause all of our own health problems. Cancer, arthritis, ADHD, you name it. He said that if we “aren’t better” then we “don’t want to be better.”
Really? The amount of time, effort, and money that myself and my family have spent on BOTH traditional and nontraditional treatments and cures would speak otherwise. As would my devoting my life, pretty much, to advocating for health causes. When I politely pointed out that he was profiting off of his book just as he claims the medical field profits off of our illness, he lost it. He then sent me a judgmental, condescending email telling me that while I may be educated, I’m blind to what’s “going on around me.”
I’ve never spoken to or engaged with this man before today. Yet he judged me based solely on the fact that I have chronic health conditions, because, to him, that is a weakness and an unfortunate situation that I brought upon myself.
Well, “what a gem” this gentleman was. The irony is that, I do try to help others be well, and encourage people to NOT solely identify themselves with their illnesses. In fact, it’s pretty much my message every day, and with every blog. Sadly, I agreed with this gentleman on some things. I agree that diet plays a huge part in our health. I agree that SOME (*some* – not all) health problems are caused by habits. I agree that some drugs are dangerous and that some people use medications unnecessarily.
I agreed with some of it. Some. Not all. But, it really doesn’t matter – I am sick of people judging us. I wanted to write this blog as a way to stand up not only for myself but for all of you. And the fact that this hateful act occurred on Martin Luther King Day? The irony is not lost on me. There’s still racial profiling and discrimination out there in the world today, that’s for sure. It’s hard to rid the world of prejudice. But, I’ve seen another type of discrimination and it is discrimination and prejudice against those of us with health issues.
I’m not weak. Taking a medication didn’t CAUSE me to have an autoimmune disease. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. Not everyone with a chronic condition is dependent on medications. I’m not a waste of life or a loser because I’m sick. If you’re healthy and you’re opposed to traditional medicine that is great, that is fine, and I’m honestly happy for you. I’m intrigued by alternative treatments, love learning about ALL aspects of health, and will continue my integrative approach – but you’re no better than me or than the person who practices a strictly traditional Western medicine regime. While I love to learn others’ points of view, sometimes, they aren’t welcome. If you aren’t a doctor, I don’t want your medical advice. In fact, it can sometimes do more harm than good. Why bother yourself with what other people are doing? Focus on your life!
Here’s another good example of being looked down upon because of illness – this weekend at a party, someone said to me, “Oh it must be nice to be able to feel superior to others because you can’t eat junk food,” referring to my Celiac disease and inability to eat gluten. You think that I don’t WANT to eat a cupcake? I do. But I can’t. So I don’t. And, yes, thanks, it IS nice to eat healthily. The same person also said to me, in a very disdainful tone, “so, are you working a real job yet?” – Excuse me, but how is that their business? No, I don’t work full time because of my health problems. I don’t have what some people would call a “real” job. But, why cast judgment on me for it? Why cast judgment on ANYONE who lives with a disability? How does that serve you?
A woman I spoke to today – age 29, with RA – told me that a 70-year-old woman berated her because, due to her OWN condition, she was physically unable to help the elder woman stand up. The woman criticized her and said there’s no way she can really have arthritis. Another mother told me that someone told her that she was responsible for her child’s juvenile arthritis. It is sad. We have a ways to go in reaching optimal awareness about these kinds of conditions.
It just isn’t fair. My dream is that those of us who already deal with physical ails that many could not imagine, should not have to live with the added burden of outside criticisms, judgments, and prejudices.
My dream is that people living with any type of illness – REGARDLESS of how you treat it – should support one another, and build each other up instead of tearing one another down. There’s no competition. There should be no divide. My course of treatment or response to certain treatments may be quite different from yours. You might not like my choice to take a medication, get vaccinated, or have a surgery. You might not like my decision to see a chiropractor, practice Reiki, or go to a therapist. Guess what? It isn’t your body, your life, or your choice.
Get to know people before attacking them. Consider what a person may be going through before making remarks that appear rude or ignorant. Just because someone doesn’t have the same belief system as you doesn’t mean that you should bring them down. I didn’t bring this life upon myself – but I’m thankful for each and every second of it, and every circumstance that’s led me to this very moment – on my Mac, at Starbucks, with gorgeous winter sun shining in on me. I live a beautiful, blessed, and full life DESPITE of my illnesses, and with a mind of my own! I wish for all of you to do the same.
“I have a dream….” that there will be no more discrimination for those of us who have health problems. “I have a dream….” that labels and stigmas surrounding us will dissolve. “I have a dream…..” that people will become more compassionate, empathetic, and mindful. “I have a dream….” that people will be sensitive, think before they speak, and consider their words carefully, thinking of how they may be perceived by another person.
Let’s eradicate hate of all kinds. Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious divide, and discrimination towards anyone who is different. We ARE all different – but that’s what makes this world beautiful. And since we’re all different, we cope in different ways. We handle things in different ways. We have different choices, lifestyles, and treatments in our path towards healing. So don’t let anyone who isn’t open-minded enough to see these differences stand in your way!
Here’s wishing you all a judgment-free, healthful, and pain-free week! Be well, and remember when making health decisions that it is YOUR opinion that matters most. Do not let negative people or naysayers sway you in any way. You are the master of your own destiny, no matter what beast you are facing. You are perfect as-is, and despite your health circumstances, you need to remember that you’re right where you need to be. “Be Kind to One Another!”
Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!