Sunday 23 February 2014

"Without your health, you have nothing."

Without your health, you have nothing.

Without your health, you have nothing.

Without your health, you have nothing.

Truth? Lies?

If true I have always had nothing.

My mother used to tell me stories of my early childhood where my neck was lost in a mass of blood and weeping, broken skin, my chin stuck to my chest. Eczema, part of the genetic lottery handed down from my father. My grandmother used to regal we with similar stories about my father, although her's were more in terms of the cost to her, than to my father. Apparently we both had/are nothing.

As I grew, more problems arose. One minute I was running around in the paddocks with my friends and the next I was taken down by joints so inflamed that I could barely move. Pain a constant companion. Pills and potions. Lotions and bandages. Not yet a teenager and once more broken. Nothing.

The arrival of hormones ended with more pain. Surgery. Hips that escaped their sockets as I walked down the street. A uterus that couldn't keep it's cells to itself. A body that grew parts where they shouldn't grow. More surgery. More blood. More pain. Nothing.

The older I became the more surgery that was required. Explore and cut. Remove the offending bits. Take this pill. Try that one. Interspersed with periods of reprieve. My broken body still breaking, just in new and complex ways. Nothingness taken to new and interesting heights.

And now?

Now I am living with illness 24/7. Year after year. With full knowledge that it will never get better.

Is my life a collection of nothingness? As I move on knowing that I will continue to be ill, is nothingness all I have to look forward to?


Lies told to us as children.

Lies reconfirmed in a society that seeks perfection at every level.

Such sentiments reek of the privilege of health. They reek of false lessons. They reek of false security and small ideas. "I have my health," is the new statement of prestige and success. Up there with a new BMW, or a mansion in Toorak.

The ill and disabled become inspirational for simply breathing, because others cannot understand how we continue on in a such a state of constant nothingness.

Avoidance of illness at all costs. If you become ill you have not tired hard enough to avoid the nothingness. You must be judged. You should judge yourself. Bludger. Lazy. Worthless.


Illness doesn't care. It doesn't care if you run 10km everyday. It doesn't care if you only eat organic. Or have never smoked or consumed alcohol. It doesn't care if you help old ladies across the street or kick kittens for fun. Good, bad or indifferent. Illness happens. Disability happens. Life happens. Genes can kick in, or accidents can occur. Yet we have so demonised the idea of illness that we fear and judge it.

Advertising campaigns contrast the bright lights of health with the grey world of illness. They see joy vs despair. Friend vs Enemy. The Good vs Bad. A moral argument that is transposed onto those upon whom illness calls. And so we are told that, "without your health, you have nothing."

We set up our children to fail. We set ourselves up to fail. Illness is The End of the World. We catastrophise. We are no longer taught the lessons, that sometime life takes a different turn. That we cannot control everything. That sometimes shit happens. And, more importantly, that we can continue on when it does.

Those of us who face illness everyday. Those who must face their mortality. Continue on. They find a path. They find joy. They live. And they find their everything.

Nothingness is a choice. A choice we are taught. A choice we internalise. A choice that fails us. Health is part of the equation, not all. Health is something that we cannot always control. But a life without health is not a life without value. It is not a life without joy. It is still a life worth living.

There are trials and tribulations. Challenges and tears in the dark. Moments of despair and pain. But there is still life. Beautiful and musical, life. There is colour and song. It is as varied and miraculous as that of the healthy. It is simply different. But it is still life. It still has value.

To teach our children that without health we have nothing, is a crime. We set them up for failure. We set them up to judge, not only others, but themselves. As parents, as members of a global community, we must give them and ourselves the lessons that will best prepare them for life. That will teach them that value doesn't come from perfection, health or otherwise. How can we prepare them for life when we avoid or exclude such an important lesson?

Is it truly a surprise people fall apart when illness and mortality come their way. No wonder they/we struggle. We are so ill prepared for the concept of a fallible body, that we are suddenly thrust into a world of nothingness. Of no hope. Of fear. Of helplessness and hopelessness. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, because that is the lesson we have learned. We have no skills, no training. Illness is so alien, so other, that we cannot conceive a way through it or a way to live with it. We have failed ourselves in our self-indulgent belief that we have control over the fickleness of life. By ignoring illness, we create our own failure. Where in truth none exist.

To accept the concept of nothingness is to accept that a whole, often inevitable portion of life is, nothingness. That those around us will experience nothingness. That our loved ones. Our family and friends will live in nothingness. And in nothingness their also exists meaninglessness.

Is that really what we want?

Do we want to write our world as black and white? Good and bad. Nothing and everything. So much is missed in such simplistic thinking.

Life is infinite variation. Life is murky and muddy and grey. It is shiny one moment and dull and tarnished the next. Sometimes the tarnish exists side by side with the shine. Juxtaposed and radiant. Beautiful for it's complexity and challenge.

Because even in the darkness of midnight you can look up and see the stars.

Illness isn't good and bad. That notion of morality is something we have imposed upon it and in turn, on those upon who it comes calling. The cells in our bodies have no such ideology. They simply are. We can anthropomorphise them. We can call up the metaphors of war. But they will continue on oblivious.

Health isn't an absolute. And it's presence, or lack thereof, doesn't define a person or the worth of their life.

I don't have my health. I have never had my health. But I have always had my everything.

And I wont sell a lie to my children.



  1. Heartbreakingly beautiful and no truer words have ever been spoken. Societal attitudes that push us to seek perfection by eating better, working out more, and just trying harder in general are, and always have been, unrealistic ideals. Everywhere we go we are told we are imperfect and if we don't work toward achieving that perfection we are judged to be lazy, unfocused, and lacking in any sort of determination or desire for a "better life." Add health issues that we didn't ask for, couldn't have planned for, and can't "just eat this" or "just be more active" to make us "feel better," and we become somehow less worthy.

    You are my inspiration, Michelle I wish you the best in your difficult journey.

    1. Tropicalsoul I was nodding along furiously while reading your comment. We are force fed the idea that we are imperfect and wrong and then told that the only way to reach perfection is to aim for unrealistic ideals which also keep changing. Illness has become defined by the media "the fighter, the inspiration, the happy/glamorous face of illness", and if we don't measure up to that image we are failures in so many ways. It's a huge burden to carry when you are also trying to manage illness and all that accompanies it.

  2. This is something I find a real issue in the body image debate. While I totlally agree that we should be teaching our daughters their worth is not in their beauty, I struggle with the alternative narrative that is proposed - that rather than telling our daughters to strive for a body that is thin and attractive we should teach them to aim for strong and healthy, a body with which they can run, jump and explore. My body will likely never meet this standard either, and it is quite possible the same will be true for my future daughters. In challenging one societal limitation we are imposing another.

    1. It is a hard one Anon. I feel the same with the no makeup campaigns, one beauty for another. All the time we are being sold a perfect image. But that image is defined by external groups who'll tell you if you're doing it wrong and also keep moving the goal posts. We are sold 'perfection' in many forms but none are truly achievable.

  3. Beautiful ideas, and well written. Thanks for sharing! A friend/mentor/former colleague of mine said a wise thing to a group of us in a staff meeting many years ago, when we were discussing the "inconvenience" of having to comply with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Her statement: "You can't think of yourselves as able, and others as disabled. You need to realize that you are temporarily able." To think otherwise is hubris.

    1. I like your mentor Kristin. People have a very false idea that it'll never happen to them, be that illness or disability. Life doesn't always listen to those ideas. The fragility of the moment is lost on many.

  4. Elizabeth D. Thomas30 March 2014 at 07:55

    Amazing. It brought tears to my eyes how you frame this up.... I have had a lifetime of medical issues, drs saying "I never..." or "This is so rare we never warned you about this side effect."

    Even though I have dysautnomia, and have for life, I thought MY normal was everyone elses normal. I've been stuck the last 3 or so months between "well, at least I didn't know all those years and pushed myself more than I otherwise would" and "um, HELLO? why did I push myself to such painful levels and think that was in any way useful or good?"

    I'm now stuck with the guilt of doing, or not doing things, I did before.... with the nausea, shakes, sweats, weakness. Or, not doing those things that create such nasty side effects because I now see these things as POTS, not as me being a lazy, out of shape person, or weak, or a loser, or "no fun."

    Your post reminds me there is a third path... nothing is black or white. Health or illness. Guilt or pride. Do or not do.

    A lot to absorb. Thanks for your post.

  5. I know that this post was written quite some time ago, but it is one that I return to time and again. It is a reminder that I don't have beat myself up for being ill. That the universe wasn't punishing me when it decided that I should carry this weight. And that all my well-meaning friends who tell me that I will be cured when I try this diet or this magic pill are telling me this because they have been taught that illness is something you have to constantly fight, that it is somehow a weakness we must avoid at all costs. As though any of us have that sort of control over our lives. I wish I didn't have dysautonomia. I think it sucks, quite frankly, but I'll be damned if that means I have to embrace the idea that my life is now less valuable, that being ill means I automatically have less to contribute to society. Like you, I call bullshit.


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