When something good happens to me it’s because I’m good.
When something bad happens to me it’s because the world or something out there is bad.
When something bad happens to someone else it’s because they’re inherently bad.
When something good happens to someone else they just got lucky!
(old psychological heuristic)
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and that got me thinking about cancer prevention.
I like to believe I have some control over my health; it just feels better to live that way. So, I thought I’d challenge myself to formulate my unconscious and conscious health choices into an organized list. Moving into the second half of my life this requires some reflection.
It turns out most of my healthy choices are fear based and driven by what I am trying to avoid. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease run in my family. The doctors have noted it on their “intake” forms, and I have noted it around our dining room table and in our shared dressing rooms. So, I try to think about how to minimize this threat.
My Nana’s choices were fear based as well. She became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers as a result of her sister, mother and husband not being able to master the discipline of eating right. They were overweight and we believe their health suffered because of it. Nana lived until the ripe old age of 94 and was active almost until the very end. I hold up my Nana’s model of discipline as a way to live my life. Others in my family may have been enamored by her stringency but have chosen a looser model knowing that her self-imposed structure was way too monastic for them.
Frankly, the looser model makes me anxious. However….
When a dear friend gets diagnosed with cancer it is totally devastating. Unconsciously my next thought leaps to her lifestyle choices and what could have been done to prevent this. This is not about judgment but it’s about self-protection — trying to exert control over the uncontrollable.
And then there’s the “what’s next?” As we talk about the choices in front of her, it is clear her choice list has narrowed as so much personal power has been taken away and put in the hands of the doctors and the drugs they will administer. In spite of all that, she still manages to retain some control, and chooses how she will eat, exercise and relax her mind to absorb the stress of the treatments to come.
Being able to make choices is not always liberating as much as burdensome yet necessary. When most of us go to the doctor we are faced with a multitude of choices that are relatively benign and unclear: Medication: Should we get a flu shot? Should we take statins to prevent heart disease? Nutrition: Should we cut wheat out of our diet? Should we eat fewer sugary grapes or more antioxidants, like blueberries? Exercise: Should we stop running now if we hope to still be able to walk 10 years from now?
What do I have to give up today so that I can live longer?
The little voice inside knows that I am really not fully in charge. Our lack of control over our health is played out in the news daily as we hear about toxins in our food, and in our homes, and this is nothing new.
When I was younger, I loved Breck Shampoo–I loved the smell and the image of the Breck girl. However, now I discover that my choice of shampoo as a kid could be the cause someone else’s health issues.
There was an amazing piece by artist Hans Haacke at the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Titled, “Where Women Have a Choice,” the piece mocks women’s ability to choose. It refers to the choices given to the female employees of American Cyanamid (where Breck was manufactured) after discovering toxic issues surrounding the production of their product in the late 1970’s. They could choose to take a lower paying clerical job in the company, if available, leave the company, or, as some thought, get sterilized and keep their jobs. “Five women who worked in the plant’s pigment department believed they had to be sterilized to keep their jobs.” (http://www.wvup.edu/rphillips/what_really_happened.htm)
So as I start making my health-choice list I am stumped. I don’t know which shampoo I’m supposed to select. I am not sure which fruits or vegetables will be toxin free. I don’t know whether buying organic makes a difference. I know I am supposed to exercise, but I’m not sure which sport to choose–my running could cripple me and my skiing could be fatal. What about my cleaning products…not to mention the red vs. white wine controversy? It’s all too confusing.
It turns out that if I make a healthy choice lifestyle list it won’t guarantee good health…so why bother? If I want to live longer and enjoy my life, I think I will just have to take it step by step, breath by breath and meal by meal. Or maybe, I’ll just take a nap.