Health and Wellness and Fear.
Today I had my employee health screen. I’m always terrified about these things. Blood work numbers are absolutely terrifying. I’m not sure it is, maybe the old sense that what I don’t know can’t hurt me. Except I’m very, very aware that that isn’t true. But I avoid learning about my health because I’m so afraid of what I might see. I used to have the same problem with my bank account. I couldn’t look, and as a result, I would get overdraft charges. Even though I had enough money, I just wasn’t managing it correctly. But the fear of looking was overwhelming.
I got over that by forcing myself to look at my account balance every single day. I had to in order to conquer the fear. Now, I have a financial plan that keeps me on target. I need to do the same thing with health, especially now that I’m in my late 30s, and I am approaching the age where, in the words of a dear physician friend of mine, we “begin to see events.” Events are things like your heart suddenly rage-quitting. But MECMC offers about a $500 incentive to get an employee health screen annually. And I really, really need to get over my fear of learning about my health status.
So, I went and got my screen. And there, in bold letters, was the terror-question: “Do you have diabetes?” Now, my answer is no. I don’t. At least, I hoped I don’t. Type II diabetes runs in my family. It marauds in my family. It led to my father having a debilitating stroke in his early 60s. My father never took care of his health. As a result, he’s suffered his whole life from treatable illnesses. I want one of his gifts to me to be the knowledge of what will happen to me if I do not manage my own health carefully.
And yet, I still fear. It’s easier for me not to know than to confront my health issues. In the short term. So I do the things I know I need to do to take care of my health without actually looking at numbers, like exercise a lot and eat well. Four years ago, I was teetering on the edge of diabetes. My fasting glucose was 117 (repeated measure of 126+ is diagnostic). I was 50 pounds overweight. I smoked. I was sedentary. My A1c was over 6. Everything suggested that I was going straight down the path my father had gone.
Except one thing. I had a program that I had used to confront my alcoholism. And I’d been through the psychological analysis that allowed me to understand my self-destructive tendencies. And because of that, I knew how to address complex and difficult issues in my life. I started applying the program to exercise and diet. Do today what I can do today. Small, incremental improvements. Consistency. I lost weight. I quit smoking. I started exercising. I confronted my fear and my laziness as character defects that had become objectionable to me.
Today, my fasting glucose was 100. My A1c was 5.4. My total cholesterol was 198 (though the components could be better: HDL 47, LDL 139). My blood pressure is routinely around 115/75.
All of this was achieved without medication. Without medical interventions. I eat well, most of the time. I exercise regularly. I recognize that my fear is not useful to me in this context. I believe in the utility of emotions, anger and fear exist in part because they motivate me to make useful choices that help me flourish. That is, if I understand them carefully and employ them productively. It does me no good to allow my fear of knowledge of my health status to blind me to my condition.
These are the things that my alcoholism has given me. The gifts of my addiction. The treatment for my chronic mental illness is in fact a program for living a life of health and happiness. It is baffling in the beginning when people say, “I’m a grateful alcoholic”, and we come to understand that they are saying that they are grateful to be afflicted with alcoholism. But it’s no mystery to me now. This disease, bent on death and misery, has launched me into a useful, satisfying life. I am grateful for affliction, because its harvest is recovery.