Fear of illness

I´m constantly worried about my health lately. I feel like I´m losing too much hair, I´m not happy with my teeth and my stomach troubles me, too. It is making me anxious as it appears to crush an image I always had of the life I would live one day. Going bald, being ill and feeling like I can´t maintain sufficient dental hygiene no matter what I do was never part of that image – and so I cling to the hope that somehow miraculously everything will be okay again and life doesn´t have to end yet.

My anxiety got worse and worse over the last few weeks until today I finally realized something of value: That life isn´t over until it´s over. Few people whose actions we still remember were perfect the way I envision it. I guess if we admire someone for something our brain irrationally completes our picture of that person in a misguiding way. We admire someone´s poetry and assume that he or she must have been beautiful; but by today´s standards, no one from one or two centuries back above the age of 15 and below the highest income class could have been regarded as anything other than a tramp. So we either have to assume that people can create something of value despite being gross and ugly, or we have to quite ignorantly trash all of our cultural history whenever a widespread increase in health and hygiene comes along.

Mind you, I´m not trying to give myself permission to completely let myself go. I´m trying to give myself permission for existing in a society whose beauty standards are devised in photoshop and in which illness becomes more and more a matter of moral failure. I´m trying to break free from the idea that if I was diagnosed with a chronic, life-shortening and gross illness today (like anything intestine-related) I am not allowed to have dreams anymore. And should I continue to lose as much hair I don´t want to feel like I need to adjust my self-esteem and my expectations for life to my dropped levels of attractiveness. If this sounds perverse, here´s a story from a forum I used to read: A woman suffering from severe hair loss kept on beating herself up over having preferences with regard to the looks of others! She felt she no longer had a right to find some types of men unattractive because she, having nearly no hair left, needed to take whoever would take her! At the same time she complained that her relationships never seemed to be symmetrical. Well, guess why! She basically defined herself as inferior to everyone with hair (and even without hair).

Does it make her a hypocrite to have standards even though she has hair loss? No. If anything, what is hypocritical about her having standards is that she desires the company of someone she perceives as valuable while offering something in return that she perceives as worthless: Herself. I still don´t think, however, that´s a particularly humane approach to her predicament. Since she wrongly perceives herself as worthless, she´s not actually ripping anyone off. And if she isn´t, then what´s the point in making her feel bad for wanting a relationship with someone she feels attracted to?

So, yeah. What I´m trying to drum into my head is that I don´t lose my right to feel really, really awesome if I should get ill or otherwise damaged. One thing I really dislike about many writings by and for people affected by one condition or another is that they don´t talk about happiness, they talk about life quality. That in itself is something I find scary. That for people with chronic illnesses, there is a separate term, a separate thing that can never be as good as the real deal. It increases my feeling that should I really have a serious illness I´m somehow no longer part of the ordinary human population. That absolutely everything has to change and no part of my life, my self and my psyche can remain unaffected, and that I will never able to experience the folly of believing I´m the king of the world again. Which is really sad. Since that feeling is never justified, there is no reason why being ill should exclude you from it, right?

It seems like the adequate emotions for a chronically ill person are gratitude, humility and the infamous seeking of pleasure in small things. Wow, no surprise people fear diseases! Come to think of it, this kind of mindset is characteristic for people who have lost all their hopes. Sure, you might think, hope for healing or getting better would be misguided in many cases. That is true, but given that everyone is mortal, isn´t all hope misguided eventually? What separates ill people from us is not the fact that they´re going to die, but the fact that they know how they´re going to die (minus the occasional ironic accident). And yet we carry around all kinds of silly hopes: That we´ll meet the love of our life, that we´ll get a nobel prize, that we´ll get to buy a luxurious house. Why are we entitled to aiming for that level of happiness and gratification, while ill people are expected to content themselves with  the dubious and often artificial pleasures of “small things”? It does happen that people are so miserable that a day with no or less pain is like a miracle, but that´s completely different from expecting people to stop being hungry for life.

 

 

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