The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health

The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health

Until my physical ailments began worsening rapidly in my late 40’s, I was a high achiever, proud of my “kick ass” attitude, thinking I was so competent I could surmount any challenge life threw at me. Life appeared to be straightforward and I didn’t understand why this didn’t seem to be the case for so many other less fortunate folks.

Though I worked hard for my accomplishments and sometimes struggled, there was never a question of ability, never a doubt I’d prevail if I made enough effort. Looking back now, I can see the consistent achievements that came so easily and so early in life instilled in me a subtle subconscious arrogance.

Though I knew even back then that I was lucky to be smart and healthy, it was a superficial knowing, not a deep understanding integrated into my world view. I couldn’t conceive of my health ever becoming a limiting factor in life.

My attitude was the typical thoughtless “arrogance of good health”, the attitude of those who can’t even imagine what happens when a body stops functioning properly. This arrogance knows only the kind of pain that heals, the kind of sickness that is cured.

Like most other healthy people, I knew nothing of “intractable” and “incurable” conditions.

I didn’t look down on the sick and disabled, I just didn’t see them at all. Of course, I visually noticed, but I never gave a thought to what it meant to be in their situation. In my ignorant bliss, I assumed their lives were much like mine, just with some physical limitations.

But I was soon to learn otherwise.

By midlife, my lifelong mysterious aches and pains were becoming increasingly bothersome. They worsened and spread dramatically, but one doctor after another assured me “there’s nothing wrong with you”, and the invisible pains remained undiagnosed.

By the time I was 52, I no longer functioned well enough to do my job – or any job.

My escalating pains implied that something was seriously wrong in my body, but I still presumed it could be tracked down and cured. In my arrogance of good health, I never imagined my pain would not be “healed” because I’d never heard about permanent chronic pain.

When I was 56, my fantasies of an eventual cure and recovery came crashing down when I was diagnosed with a genetic connective tissue disorder (Ehler-Danlos Syndrome). A flaw in my collagen, the tissue that holds our body parts together, condemns me to increasing pain and disability for the rest of my life.

The prognosis of lifelong permanent pain shattered my assumptions about my health and its impact. Pain is now a primal and profound force penetrating all aspects of my life.

My loss of a “normal” life stripped me of my unwitting arrogance, humbled me. I can no longer earn a living, cannot be self-sufficient, and all the competencies and knowledge gathered over the course of my career are now useless.

My pride has been crushed and I feel discarded, unneeded, and unwanted.

I no longer fit into a society that assigns value based on achievements and productivity. Without obvious accomplishments to shore up my worth as a human being, I can foresee that I may never again be considered successful in our society.

But being forced to surrender my previous life has led me to solidarity with other unlucky and downtrodden members of society – the invisible ones, those suffering with constant, unrelenting, chronic pain. And they are good people, this new tribe of mine, hurting but honest, stripped of pretense, and exiled from socially validated success.

This tribe of pained people has shown me it is possible to create a new life from the wreckage of the old, to rise above the now trivial concerns of the past, and to broaden my experience in new directions.

From them I am learning how to leave behind the old days and ways, first with bitterness, then with grudging acknowledgment, and eventually, I hope, with humility and acceptance.

(This essay was published on KevinMD.com on 9/4/2016)
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5 thoughts on “The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health

  1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

    Reblogged this on Bipolar For Life and commented:
    A beautiful, deeply honest essay about the blissful ignorance of good health. It echoes my thoughts lately. I’ve been enveloped in pain from a fall that could have been disastrous, but as it is, I’ve come out of it with only some damaged joints. I think about the “old days” when I only noticed my body when I danced or ran or lifted weights or rode my bike. Even when the degenerative disc disease enveloped me in a cloud of pain, I rejoiced in my body when I swam, weightless.

    Now it’s a dance, too: the dance of finding ways of doing activities of daily living, working around the injured and degenerated joints, working around the jolts of pain; the dance that I dance in bed all night, trying to find a position of comfort so I can sleep for a few minutes before the pain nags or jolts me awake again. I get more tired trying to sleep than I do awake.

    It can get discouraging to know that this is what’s on my plate, for the rest of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Kathy C

    The Corporate Media as it markets healthcare, doe not mention the Possibility of lifelong Chronic Pain. They have left this rather common old age malady out of any “News.” Instead they write about Healthcare as an Investment Opportunity. We don;t have any Objective Media, they merely peddle whatever the Pharma, Medical, or Insurance Industries are expecting. We don’t get any “Facts” anymore. We are all being Gas Lighted. Our existence shows the limitations of Medicine, we are bad for business.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      You’re right – pain is the bastard child that the medical industry tries to ignore. They cannot measure it or cure it, so they simply don’t mention it.

      The only kind they can deal with is acute pain or mild chronic pain that responds to all those whacko alternative methods that were mysteriously transformed from “ridiculous” and condemned by the mainstream medical system to “recommended” and now legislated instead of opioids by the government’s powers.

      I’m scared and sickened by what’s happening. There is only compassion for the loved ones of addicts – not the addicts themselves, let alone people in pain.

      As my pain worsens more and more, as it does for everyone from aging, I don’t see an alternative to deliberately ending my life eventually. I live only day by day because any view to the future is too scary and depressing – I’m just trying to make it today. My poor mother (87) is suffering from the same pain and gets nothing but condescension and disbelief from her doctors.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. mistermuse

    One of my adult daughters (who has lived with me and my wife for two decades because she cannot live by herself) suffers from an incurable disease which was not diagnosed for years (more than one doctor told her it was “all in her head”) — otherwise, I would also no doubt be guilty of “The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health). There is no substitute for empathy in relating to others, if for no other reason than you don’t know their circumstances.

    Liked by 2 people

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