Monday, September 14, 2009

Healthy Responsibility

The question on NPR today during my lunch was : What is preventing you from taking personal responsibility about your health?

And that is a complicated question. And that is why it was on NPR.

And my response is also complicated. And I’m still working on it. And that is why it won’t get on NPR.

There are so many people for whom healthy living, healthy choices, and healthful environments aren’t within arm’s reach. At all. Chicago, DC, New York… there are loads of big cities with locations in which you’d be hard pressed to find something that qualifies as nutritionally balanced for a quick, satisfying lunch under $5. There are scores of people in this country alone who depend on food banks for their food – all of which must be by nature nonperishable and heavily processed. Any healthy stuff they get, will be through pretty much luck and luck alone. There are people for whom their only hot meal comes from a soup kitchen.

I don’t include these people in this question of personal responsibility and health. I think they’re in another ball-game entirely, and while healthy living is as important for them as it is for me… I actually have the luxury of ignoring healthy living advice and often choose to do the thing that’s not really the best thing for my future me.

For people like me, healthy eating is like driving the mars rover: make a change now, get results later. We know, and have known since kindergarten, that eating right and exercise are the best ways to have a long and productive and pleasant life free of diabetes and cancer and whatnot. We know that. We also know that if we eat a handful of m&m’s just now, we won’t wake up on Wednesday with teeth growing out of our feet. We know that if we turn the knob now, the mars rover will eventually go either into or away from the ditch in three years. We all really do want the thing to stay out of the ditch, ultimately. Programming that far in advance is hard – for everyone. It’s hard to get our brains wrapped around it.

We know that it’s best to eat an apple. We also know that if we eat a cookie instead, we don’t die. And that’s the problem. We KNOW we can put it off and hedge our bets… for a very danged long time. A lot of people, especially women, in my age/income/lifestyle bracket have tried all manner of quick fix pills and karma-cleansing routines. None of those really work either, because those changes and additives and routines all work on the same timeline: Cookie now, bad spleen in 50 years vs celery puree enema now, non-colorectal cancer in 50 years.

And that timeline has so many hiccups on the way, there are so many places where things we didn’t plan for can inject chaos, it’s hard to tell if that apple in 3rd grade really did add 4 years to your life.

We can see, alternatively, that ½ a handle of vodka every Tuesday and Thursday (and most Saturdays and Sunday afternoons) is having a progressively deleterious effect on our bodies, our families, and our personal environments. We see it. No drunk on the planet looks in the mirror and goes “damn, I see nothing wrong here” and scuttles off to an eight figure salary on the 50th floor of Puppies&Kittens Towers.

When things go wrong, we know that too. We see ourselves gaining weight. We know we drink too much. We know we smoke too much. We realize that a handful of cheesecake is the last thing our bodies need when the first thing our bodies need is to take a walk in the sunshine. We know that stopping eating altogether is going to kill us. We really do. We know this.

So why don’t we take responsibility for it? Because we’re just turning the knob right now. Toddlers, Teens, Twenty-somethings and beyond… we’re all just turning the mars rover knobs and when it goes into a ditch later we won’t be surprised at all. It’ll just be later and we don’t have to deal with it now.

It’s feeling-good-on-credit. Later is later. That’s what’s so good about it.

Solve the psychological problem with our nations credit crisis and you’ll solve the health crisis in the same stroke (and vicey-versey). For as long as paying later is an option, we will line up to take advantage of it.

For my part, yeah, I’m eating better than I ever have. Whole grains, fruits and veggies, and some vague awareness of motility (and getting more of it) are all on the map now. I don’t work out anymore though. I will choose m&m’s over bananas every day, and I’d much rather be asleep than jogging at 5am (or as I call it: Five o'clock damn hell ass poop A.M.).

Does that make me a drag on my future nation’s economy? Does that make me an unnecessary drag? Kinda yes and kinda no. The answer is in there someplace. Stuff I don’t have input on is gonna’ happen too… like influenza’s, viruses, cancers, and organs that (hopefully) have been used well past their manufactured recommendations. There might be accidents. There might be chemical clouds or zombies or all manner of who knows what. I can’t be responsible for any of that.

I am responsible for my little mars rover though, for what it’s supposed to do in the next few years. And I guess it’s taken me 33 years to not so much admit it, but to accept it and get over it. I’m taking better care of myself. Lots of people can’t. Lots more can, and are still in the same boat as me… in that they’d just really rather not worry about it when there are those cookies over there. Later is later. That’s what’s so good about it.

So the question on NPR today was: What is preventing you from taking personal responsibility about your health?

And my answer is: Me. I am. I know I am and I sorta feel bad about it but not bad enough to take up yoga. Which is why it's still me. And I take responsibility for that by admitting it. And I hope that the doctors in the future won't punish me too badly for it.

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