I don’t go to the gym. I don’t run. I don’t exercise. I don’t lift. Some days I don’t even walk if I can avoid it. As a person who lives with chronic pain, these activities are not always options for me. I am not a ‘healthy’ person, but I want to be clear: My health, or lack thereof, does not indicate my worth.
An article published in last week’s issue of The Brock Press discussed the difference between going to the gym and being healthy but missed an important point: ‘Health’ is not an achievable goal for everyone. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, three out of every five Canadians over the age of 20 are living with chronic illnesses. 10 per cent of Canadians seek medical attention for mental health issues each year, and as many as 20 per cent of Canadians live with chronic pain illnesses.
In short, health is not an achievement. It is something that some of us are lucky enough to have and the rest of us are stigmatized for being without. Health is not something you can control.
The article last week talked about the stigma of not going to the gym in the context of physical health. Fit equals thin, which equals healthy, which equals valuable. “Fat” people and those who do not go to the gym or exercise regularly are seen as being “lazy.” That is often not the case, as the article pointed out.
However, the article still operated under the assumption that health is the ultimate goal. The idea is that people are unhealthy because they don’t exercise when in reality they might not exercise because they are not ‘healthy’ enough to do so. For some it’s chronic pain. For others, it’s anxiety. There can also be a physical disability that causes problems. Not all of these reasons are visible, but the fact is I don’t have to prove myself to anyone.
Spoonies, or people living with chronic illness, often do not have the energy for regular, everyday activities like taking a shower, making dinner, tidying their home, or interacting with other people. The idea of physical health is another added pressure. It’s another privilege that people don’t realize they have.
The concept of being a spoonie is a slightly less complicated way of explaining what chronic illnesses can be like. Each of us has a certain number of ‘spoons’ to use throughout the day. For someone who is ‘healthy’ that number might be quite high, to the point where it seems unlimited. For a spoonie, the number is much lower. Each thing they do over the course of the day costs them a spoon. Eventually they run out of metaphorical spoons and are unable to do anything else. Sometimes simply getting out of bed takes all the spoons I have.
In the end, being healthy is not a goal that can be achieved for many people. Some of us will never be healthy and that’s okay. Doing your best, whatever that is, is far more important than reaching some arbitrary benchmark or someone else’s definition of what should make you happy.