A Setback and Some Perspective

Over the weekend, I took care of a sick husband. I disinfected. Made soup. Juiced. Took lots of supplements. Washed my hands religiously. This was no man cold; it was actual illness. I may have overshared about phlegm and coughing and sent “I don’t want to get sick” texts to a couple friends. When he could barely stand or hold his eyes open on Sunday, I took him to urgent care. (Spoiler alert: several hundred dollars later, we walked out with no remedy.) After watching a young woman stagger past us clutching a barf bucket and seeing the look of terror on the check-in lady’s face as Andy wheezed and coughed while trying to decipher the text on the intake form (“Am I a mildly frowny face of pain or a stern frowny face?”), I asked the nurse how she stays well. My hopes of a medical career were thwarted years ago by my extreme disinterest in getting sick. Like, it’s probably a bit of a condition how much I avoid sick people.

“Hand washing,” she said. “I don’t get sick, and I wash my hands like crazy.”

“Don’t you worry, Nurse Nancy. I’ve got that COVERED.” In neatly lined-up, OCD spades. Andy was barely conscious for most of the doctor visit, but I have no doubt he saw the look of victory on my face when she affirmed my hand washing rules. I do love being right. After my mom’s cancer battle and bone marrow transplant, I never let go of the thorough hand washing and hygiene practices we ratcheted up during that time. I figured I was one-upping the nurse with my super healthy lifestyle these days. I’ve got this. After we got home, I continued to disinfect, juice, smoothie, and herb myself and Andy and hope for the best. And then . . . I started to feel the beginnings of an ache in my joints, a scratchy throat, my sinuses filling.

At that point my complaining reached new levels. I’m not sure how people stay friends with me on the Internet, let alone in real life. My personal life is a little, well, solitary, so Facebook sadly gets to hear about my every move (sorry, people! hide me from your feed!). My immediate situation apparently dictates all I’m capable of acknowledging in the world at large: I’m sick. Hear me. I am incapable of talking about anything else. Oh, the drama that is mine.

Thing is? I really hate it when people talk about that kind of stuff on Facebook. I get irritated with updates about which kid is vomiting, who had a long night, and so forth. And then I go and do the same thing!? Also . . . it often seems like the people who talk the most about being sick are the ones doing all the healthified stuff. I don’t want to be that person.

By Tuesday, I was ready to pack it in. This whole “lifestyle change” obviously hadn’t delivered on its promises. A little over two weeks ago, I replaced my allergy prescriptions for one day with an herbal supplement and was almost instantly overtaken by an allergy attack. (I hadn’t done the gallbladder flush Dr. WooWoo had prescribed, which still sounds weird and gross to me, but still.) Then this darn flu. I shouldn’t be sick. I have forsaken dairy, gluten, and sugar (mostly) for the last few months. I have supplemented appropriately for what my body needs. I have started sleeping for the first time in 15 years. I have felt stronger. The minute I took a turn for the worse, I was ready to have a Coke and a box of donuts and say a big, fat “Screw you!” to all this effort. Tons of people neglect their health and don’t get sick. If I went back to my eating habits of yore—coffee, Coke, bread, chips, fries, sweets, eating out, and more—I probably still would have gotten sick. But at least I would be happy! Mouth full of HFCS and MSG! Gut full of garbage! Clutching a half-eaten cookie and passed out in front of the TV, where I belong!

I’m all tangled up. I can’t understand why dear friends and family—who take good care of their bodies, far better care than I ever have—are battling serious illness. How does that work? You know what? It doesn’t. Amid my confusion and self-centeredness, I’m trying to remind myself of a few things:

I didn’t get as sick as I might have in the past.

Perhaps this is due in part to my body being able to fight the germies with a little more stamina? Normally, after one day of a cold, I’m already at the doctor’s office with a sinus infection, bronchitis, what-have-you. That hasn’t happened. Lord willing, tomorrow will be much better. My body seems to be miraculously fighting this on its own.

have felt much better the last few months.

Some days I’m truly shocked that I wake up a) having slept and b) without being miserable. I get through my afternoons without a ginormous Coke or iced tea. My afternoons are productive. I know other people have noticed the change as well. My energy is different, my mood and emotional well-being are consistent, and my brain is sharper (most days). As of Tuesday, I had completely forgotten that reality.

I am catching up with a pretty hefty nutritional deficit.

Although I had made one healthy lifestyle choice a year ago, I hadn’t even tried to clean up my eating. When I started working out of the home again last May, I basically stopped cooking altogether and spiraled even further into processed garbage. Those first six months at my job are the unhealthiest I have ever eaten. I don’t know why. Transition? Laziness? Stress? Add an autoimmune disorder, and I was a hot mess.

Getting sick isn’t a nutritional failure.

Part of me is embarrassed that I’ve preached this healthy lifestyle nonsense for the last few months and then been knocked down hard twice in the last two weeks. Who am I to be spouting off about gluten-free this and no-sugar that if I’m still going to be a “delicate little flower,” a family nickname that has always upset me? I don’t want to be annoying and false and wrong, you know? (See “obnoxious ‘healthy’ and yet sick people,” above.) (See also “girl with uncontrollable need to be right.”) I’m also embarrassed that the flu or an allergy attack even register on my radar. This isn’t cancer. I obviously have some personal work to do in this area.

Healthy choices don’t equal immunity.

The healthiest person on the planet could drop dead tomorrow. The unhealthiest could live to be 100. There is no magic formula.

And I guess that’s where I’m still tripped up.

Why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to evangelize? Is it all in my head? Where is the balance? (I’m going to ask myself that again in a week, when I presume I’ll be feeling fully myself again.) And why am I convinced that this has changed my life and could be a positive change for you? The biggest part is my personal experience. Part of it is based on a lot of reading and puzzling over statistics and figures (although we all know that food science seems to change rapidly and often, so I’m not going to hold to anything too tightly). Part of it is trust in the naturopathic doctor who hasn’t led me astray so far and has gotten me off one prescription med completely and gotten my thyroid working again. Part of it is my gut (ha). This lifestyle makes sense to me. I feel like I’m feeding my spirit instead of my flesh—and that feels really good (even if cake pops aren’t part of the deal).

I read an article on NPR Monday night, and one line immediately made me laugh: “People who consumed about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little meat.” My mortality could be reduced by 13% if I cut out meat? Immortal! But without steak or bacon? What would be the point, I ask you?

I guess this lifestyle change and the blog come down to one thing for me: stewardship. I want to care for the body I’ve been given and to feel energized and interested in experiencing the world around me. I want to have energy for creativity, relationships, and adventure. And in a brief amount of time, I’ve already seen the fruits of changing my stewardship (with a little bacon-y risk thrown in every week). How could I not evangelize? I’m not saying that being gluten-free or dairy-free or cutting out refined sugars is right for you, but I would love for you to know that there are options, that there is another way to eat and live than what Americans are accustomed to, a balanced approach that can be healing to your body and spirit—and that it’s not that hard and doesn’t involve deprivation or dieting. An amazing array of life-giving foods is here for the taking.

And I can’t wait to tell you more about it . . . as soon as I stop sneezing.