I don’t go so far as to reject many ideas. Truly. I’m like a sponge: I soak up as much information as I can and try to equally and fairly weigh all points of view and perspectives. I like to try to learn about things without judging them. Even if I disagree with something, I try my best to educate myself upon it so that I can understand why other people believe it.
Even with religion, I’m pretty flexible. I’m a Christian, but I’m open to other belief systems. So, I’m familiar with the idea of Karma, and I believe in it to an extent.
This blog post isn’t about religion or the religious ideology/theology behind Karma, though. It isn’t meant to offend those Hindus or Buddhists who believe in Karma.
This post is about victim-blaming when it comes to illness. It’s about “weaponizing” that Karma due to ignorance about certain medical conditions, or because you simply don’t like someone and wish them ill will.
Over the past several years, I’ve come across health coaches and bloggers who have either explicitly or implicitly stated that people with illness bring it upon themselves.
While I cannot recall their names, there were several “health coaches” and “advocates” on Twitter who were spewing the rhetoric that autoimmune diseases and other conditions (including allergies, migraines, and, oh … cancer) are all caused by our emotions, one even going so far as to berate the mother of a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
It was upsetting to witness.
Don’t get me wrong: I know that there is actually a scientific link between depression and pain. In fact, I’ve written about it here, here, here, and here. There is also a link between RA and PTSD. Anxiety and depression will worsen the physical symptoms of many existing medical problems, or may even have some physical symptoms themselves. As a health writer, I know this.
However, saying, as one of these fine folks did, that “babies are born with illness because of damaged interpersonal relationships among their parents” is nonsense. Saying that an adult has cancer “becauase of unresolved childhood trauma or emotional baggage” is completely unsubstantiated by science. Saying that “women are too emotional and that’s why they bring autoimmune problems upon themselves” is not only insulting and sexist, it’s patently untrue. Women do have a higher rate of developing autoimmune conditions, but it’s likely due to genetics and hormones: not because we are some over-emotional, hysterical, fragile little girls.
I’m not saying that ALL the “what we think we become” rhetoric is nonsense. I do think that a positive mindset can have a positive impact on our health, or at least cannot hurt. I do think that negative emotions can hinder our healing. And at times, I’m a skeptic about healthcare and medicine in general. I’m over-cautious. I have a touch of pharmacophobia and I’ve had some level of mistrust with several of my doctors, not because I don’t trust all doctors, but because I didn’t have faith in THOSE doctors or their staff. I’m not keen on putting too many chemicals in or on by body, and I’m not a fan of toxins or being mis-prescribed or over-prescribed too many drugs, or put on medications that are unnecessary or more dangerous than they are helpful. If a drug is to be taken as-needed, I use it only as-needed. For me, meds are last-resort options, not the first line of defense. And I like the alternative stuff. I’ve never met an acupuncturist or an essential oil or a massage that I didn’t like. I’ve tried reiki. I see chiropractors. I’m down with supplements and herbal tea and yoga. I get it. I like the whole hippie-ish, clean-living, holistic and natural lifestyle. I admire it.
However, I’m also a realist and in intelligent human being that realizes that science is science, and science, though imperfect, is hard to argue. Sometimes — and most times — if you have a medical problem, you need to see a doctor and you need to follow their advice. Do I think that “Big Pharma” is out to make a buck (or a lot of them) off of us? Yes. Of course I do. It would be ignorant to not recognize that fact. Do I think that doctors and the pharma industry ALWAYS have our best interests at heart? No. They don’t always, but there are good and bad employees and companies in every industry. Do I inherently always trust our FDA and USDA? No. I don’t. But, I take medicine. I see doctors. And for the most part, I trust these doctors. And I trust the science.
Therefore, I’d like to say that I’m pretty balanced in my approach to managing and thinking about my health conditions. And I’m fair and open to new ideas and approaches about how to better cope with illness.
But until a reputable medical journal conducts an easily-replicated study on whether or not broken familial relationships cause cancer or illness in children, color me unimpressed. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that me, with my ideal childhood and loving family, and still awesome-aside-from-illness life, am affected by multitudinous medical problems — most lifelong, some relatively debilitating and serious — because of some “bad relationships” or “feeling too many feelings.”
Am I emotional? Yes. Do I consider myself to be an empath? Yes. I pretty much absorb negative energy. (*Also not a scientifically-proven notion.) Have I had bad relationships? Yes. Have they made me sick? Well, not in the way that these folks are implying.
This whole thing got taken to a whole other level over the weekend when people said that Kim Kardashian deserved to get psoriasis because she is vain, and that Karma caused her to get it. People on my page point-blank said that she brought it upon herself, that she deserved to have an autoimmune health issue … becuase of Karma.
When I asked if babies who were born sick were then born that way because of Karma, I got answers ranging from “yes” to “no, only Kim Kardashian,” which makes no sense. If you believe in Karma, and believe that Karma causes medical issues either in this lifetime or the next one, then you believe in that for ALL people — not just Kim Kardashian because you don’t like her. Don’t be a hypocrite about it.
People who do believe in Karma in its purest spiritual sense may actually agree that, yes, Karma causes illness — that bad things done in PAST lives caught up to you in this life, and you fall ill because of that. But this applies to all people (IF you truly believe it,) and not just a celebrity you like to trash. (Or think IS trash.)
If you disagree with the life coaches on Twitter that told a JA mom she was at fault for her child’s illness or that the kid deserved to be sick, then you should also disagree with the notion that Kim Kardashian caused her illness or somehow deserves it. Because people are people, and illness is illness.
We either bring it upon ourselves and “deserve” it … or we don’t.
The idea of illness as punishment is offensive. I don’t think God or Karma or the Universe gives us illness to punish us.
I’m not easily offended in general, but certain things do offend me. This idea that illness is in our heads or we brought it upon ourselves is one of them. (So is certain language surrounding illness, or the mockery of sick or disabled people. Okay, so pretty much, many of the things that actually do offend me are related to health/illness/disability.)
The notion of just brushing off sickness as something to laugh at, or looking at sickness something that we must cause ourselves, is both hurtful and insulting to someone like myself who is both a patient and a patient advocate.
If Kim Kardashian (who, granted, is not an ideal role model or a talented artistic genius of any sorts,) brought her autoimmune disease upon herself because she is vain, then that means everyone who is sick has character flaws that are so bad that Karma decided to strike them with terrible illnesses. (*Note: I know a lot of vain and shallow people who have perfect health. So, there’s that.)
By this logic, is that to say, then, that when I started having health problems as a child, it was because I was a terrible person in a previous life? I guess when good people get cancer, it’s because they deserve it. And I guess all of the 100% healthy rapists, pedophiles, murderers, etc. are healthy because they are flawless paragons of the human race.
I don’t buy it. Because even if you despise Kim Kardashian and her family, do you really think that she’s worse than a child molester? A serial killer? A terrorist? Because if those types of people can be healthy, and people like me, and you, and tons of other people I know who are WONDERFUL human beings are dealing with health problems, then the “karma causes illness” and “you brought it upon yourself” argument is flawed … even if you personally are SO not Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I’m not saying that Karma doesn’t exist. I think that we should put good out into the world and that hopefully that good will come back. I don’t know whether we have all lived past lives or not. But I have to be on the side of science when it comes to the argument of whether or not Karma is the causative factor of all of my diagnoses, and yours.
Edit: If your only takeaway from this blog post is: “Arthritis Ashley is defending Kim Kardashian,” then you need to read my previous post about not misreading someone’s messaging or twisting their intentions 😉