In this together


I have counted: There are no less than four posts since my last publication to this blog that I haven’t been able to devote the time to finish.  Even this post has threatened multiple times over the past two weeks to befall the same fate, but I am determined to resurrect this message board with a renewed sense of purpose.  I would like to take the practice of “doctoring” off the health soapbox as though a medical degree is necessary to find all answers to improved well-being and longevity.  If you haven’t read through my blog as yet or if this is the first post you are seeing, I invite you to navigate back to an early entry called “The Worst Patients.”  Being “a good patient” is very hard, much harder to do than to talk about.  My goal today is to express my determination to do more than talk about it, but to walk the walk, too.  It is just as much my journey as it is yours or anyone else’s.  We all could use better health, and in that sense we are all patients.  And if I am going to ask you to be a good one, then I should be a good patient, too.

The fact of the matter is that fundamentally I’m not all that different from you.  I’m not an organic foods fanatic or addicted to exercise.  When I am emotional I want chocolate. When I am tired, I do not want to go to the gym.  I know in principle what it takes to be healthy, but at the point of decision I am much more inclined to go with what feels good for the moment.  I, too, have been overweight and unhealthy and depressed.  Every day amidst a frenetic work and family life, making good choices for myself still feels like an uphill battle.  If I am going to make specific recommendations for you and your health, I need to stay mindful of whether what I tell you is realistic, by practicing it in my own life.  If I can’t (or more importantly WON’T) do it, then who am I to make you feel like a failure for not doing it?  We are all human, and therefore, we are all in this together.

The one thing I often wish I didn’t have to say to patients is “getting healthy is hard work.”  But I would be lying if I told you otherwise.  At least I would like to offer one additional bit of truth: “Stayinghealthy is less hard than becoming healthy.”  The one major advantage I would say that I have at this point which keeps me in a state of relative maintenance is something that has nothing to do with the capital letters behind my name.  Simply, I have experienced what it is like to feel extremely healthy at a point when it was very clearly defined what it took to get there.  One thing I can tell you is that there were no pills involved.  For more information on this, check out the “Confessions of a Carbaholic” posts, particularly Part 3 to see the diet and lifestyle challenge that rocked my world (“Paleo Schmaleo”).

What was involved, was an element that I have come to consider critical for successfully surmounting the “uphill battle” to achieve and maintain good health practices: ACCOUNTABILITY. For six weeks my diet, exercise, and water intake were strictly subjected to a point system I had to report on every day, and my husband’s success in the challenge was equally dependent on my adherence to a certain daily point accumulation. Knowing that I could lose points and that someone else was watching the points with me kept me in line. The emotional value of not wanting to disappoint someone effectively superseded what might have been the brief satisfaction of a dietary indulgence. Oh, how I grumbled and groaned about wanting to eat toast and having to wake up early to go to the gym! But at the end of the day my body was stronger, my mind was clearer, I had more motivation and energy, and as a result I was far more productive and felt great about myself.

Oh how I wish I had the means to inject that sense of accountability into my patients who struggle with it, or to prescribe it or something.  The irony is that personal responsibility is exclusively and internal decision. I cannot make you responsible, and you cannot make me responsible. There are some things you can only decide for yourself.

On that vein, I suppose the best I can do — as I am here stating that in many ways I am more in the same boat with my patients than one might believe at a glance — is make a declaration of personal responsibility and be accountable for it.  So with more hesitation and apprehension then one might expect, I am declaring this blog an opportunity for me to describe my own journey with health.  I will be transparent about the successes and failures, and also about the things that can apply to other people as opposed to the things that are unique to me.  My goal here is to be real, to be honest, because that is what my patients who are all regular day-to-day people go through. Life is a journey and so is health. There are bumps in the road just as there are milestones.  There is no “formula” that if perfectly followed will result in a perfectly predicted outcome. I often tell my patients: “I am a scientist”, meaning that the basis of my advice is rooted in scientific research. However the truth is that I am also an artist, because each human body is different, and crafting good care requires an ability to flow with the medium in order to carve and sculpt a masterpiece.

I have come to consider it an unfortunate fact of my profession, that I am by education and training an expert in disease but not an expert in health. That’s because the management of disease lends itself better to scientific study while the achievement of good health is deeply cultural and organic. It involves so much more than a discrete, singular chemical reaction.  I was trained to diagnose and treat illness using largely medical (that is, chemical) interventions.  But the very best, cleanest, most effective prevention of illness has nothing to do with medicine at all, in fact what can make you feel more sick than having to take a handful of pills every day?   There isn’t a whole lot of great science behind living a “better lifestyle”; that’s because better choices look different for every person depending on your age, gender, race, creed, station in life, family dynamics, etc, and if it can’t be strictly defined it can’t be isolated for statistical scrutiny.  So each person has to survey the options and find what will work best for him/her; in most cases this will involve a lot of trial and error which can be frustrating.  But as I tell my smokers: “Just don’t quit quitting.”  Don’t quit seeking, don’t quit trying.  Setbacks happen to everyone.  But failure is a choice to not recover after a setback.  As long as you are alive, you have the chance to recover, but remember — making the decision against failure for success is a personal choice.  It cannot be done for you.

So rather than let this blog be a failure, I’m choosing today to get back on it, to make myself accountable to you, to commit myself to being healthy… even to becoming healthier every day… and even to admit when I have been unhealthy so you can see that the journey is dynamic and real.  Quite frankly, falls/setbacks are a part of thriving, just as long as you keep getting back up.  If I do it, will you?  Well then, let’s go!  😉