The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health

The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health – by Angelika Byczkowski (repost)

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 (intractable) chronic pain.

When I was 56, my fantasies of an eventual cure and recovery came crashing down when I was diagnosed with the genetic connective tissue disorder Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. A flaw in my body’s production of 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 and 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 from 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’s 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.

18 thoughts on “The Subtle Arrogance of Good Health

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Thanks for the compliment and notice that I forgot to specify the author. Normally I’m very careful to give authors full credit, but this one was mine so I forgot.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  1. Susan Brucks

    That was beautiful! This one made me feel as if someone had reached inside my heart, soul and mind. I feel proud to call a sister in suffering. I’m not happy about the circumstances but I am inspired by your perseverance. 🙌🏻❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  2. Candace Huff Wilcox

    There are millions of “us” who could have written this, because we “all” feel this EXACT same way!! None, or almost none, of us started with this God awful pain! But circumstances have gotten us ALL to this same point! And now the government is “killing” us, too, by interfering with our drugs that keep us only comfortable enough to not kill ourselves from our own pain!!!! We are all in this together, and we CAN’T EVER forget that!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Thank you for reminding me how important our solidarity is. Before I found the online “pain community” I thought I was the only one struggling with pain, fatigue, and opioids.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. peter jasz

    Hi Angelika: Beautifully spoken. I’m sure your ‘life’ (up until health concerns surfaced) would have been near identical to mine -but my ‘wake-up’ call came at the most terrible time of all -at age 22.
    A non-stop work-ethic, unstoppable desire and growing smarts soon would fissure out. Completely.
    It took and was near 20 pain-staking years rebuilding -and then (as if precisely at the 20-year later-mark collapsing into that same vicious pain from 20-years earlier; a pain-type/profile that’s impossible to forget.

    Yet, I was taken aback when you said:

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

    PRECISELY. Yet, that is not the ‘fault’ of those running around doing what healthy people do: Working, building a future and perhaps a family. Scarcely any extra time to investigate/take note of the less fortunate; thinking modern medicine/health care IS taking care of everything.

    And that’s the shocking realization: We’ve been duped. By physician’s, media, (our social culture?) all of whom do NOT TELL US of such common conditions and the great toll/pain it exerts on millions of people the world over. As if it’s being secretly hidden. What’s worse is the medical profession’s insistence on ‘bs-ing’ us into believing they have the answers, know such a great deal and are acting in the best interest of the patient -at the cutting edge of modern medicine. That is the narrative fed us/the public. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve learned such medical arrogance to be nothing but a hoax itself; untruths, complete and utter guessing/ misunderstanding of so many injuries/diseases and illnesses that it verges on criminal -when they pretend to be “experts”. It’s laughable. And, it’s sad, and unfortunate for those who must suffer through such pain and uncertainty.

    And again, when you say:

    ” …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…”

    Those words could have easily been mine. As I read it, I sank into recalling/feeling those same (subconscious) thoughts.

    ” …But I was soon to learn otherwise.” (As I did then. Now, and for the past 10-years.)

    And yet, this has happened and we must/should make the best of it. A tough pill to swallow, going from the ‘top-of-one’s-game/form’, to 5%-10% of our previous capability. But there’s hope. Of a better future, a cure, understanding, etc. And ample opportunity exists to make an impact -to live out a successful, meaningful life. Perhaps even more so -than when in good health.

    A few years back, I first heard of this quote -something to bear in mind whether in good or failing health:

    “Count not the days, but make the days count”
    (M. Ali)

    pj

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Thank you for your thoughts on this, and the encouragement: “ample opportunity exists to make an impact -to live out a successful, meaningful life.”

      Some days I agree, other days it seems impossible.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. Cindy Birdwise

    Your story is powerful. Intractable pain began for me after a car accident in 1981. Invisable to most people for many years. Your words opened a feeling of recognition of how life changes in our bodies, including our minds, alter our existence.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Thank you. I believe that a life with chronic pain is fundamentally different than a life without it – perhaps as different as life is with versus without children.

      Chronic pain is not just an event that happens to us, it’s a life-defining condition like any other disability, one we have to come to grips with and around which we must adjust our life.

      Liked by 2 people

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  5. canarensis

    It’s funny, but I spent so much time in the hospital as a child, & had so many health conditions from infancy, that I sorta never felt the arrogance. But those conditions were intermittent, and then the migraines came & they were devastating…but intermittent. I learned before I knew I was learning that I better enjoy the heck out of the functional periods (exercise, athletics, horseback riding, etc etc) because sooner or later I’d be out of action for days or weeks. I got used to that. But when I got pain 24/7/365 in 2001 after tumor surgery, I learned i had a whole new level of learning to deal with. All the exercise had to stop. I’m still not used to that. The painful conditions have piled on.

    the grief we experience, whether we had that arrogance of good health or not, is a dreadfully debilitating condition in itself, as we must learn to adjust to our narrowed horizons, reduced abilities, and –OH yes– the perception that we’re no longer “useful” or “successful” is almost the worst part for me…I’m still trying to deal with it.

    Finding such remarkable people & the community has helped.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
      1. peter jasz

        Zyp: Please understand, the original writer (RE: Health “Arrogance”) and my subsequent comment should NOT be misconstrued (seen as) as a typical understanding of snooty/snotty ‘arrogance’, but rather one derived from honestly/comfortably/sensibly? believing:

        A) Medical science is advanced to the point where no one is suffering/hurting, and
        B) If there was some underlying human weakness/condition (despite being active/staying healthy), we were unaware that any such great chasm existed !
        Simply stated, “we” were unaware of such circumstances/details. We were NOT informed by those who should/must inform the public. And then, as today, we can’t/shouldn’t blame Joe Public being fed media BS “Opioid Crisis”, Addiction falsities -and even the “reach” of this contrived narrative. These people (like us in good health previously) were busy (are busy) running/working day/night to make a life for themselves/family. THEY DON’T KNOW of such brutal, intractable pain conditions; largely due to a corrupt medi-legal-political-system -that of course is no fault of theirs.

        pj

        Liked by 1 person

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      2. canarensis

        yep…my feelings on that issue came forward very powerfully last week at the Oregon chronic pain task farce meeting. There was some victory (they backed off on everyone has to be force-tapered), but a huge defeat on getting a huge (nearly comprehensive) list of chronic pain conditions covered…they refused to overturn the “no coverage” dictate for absolutely moronic, illogical, & insane non-reasons. Having other pain patients & advocates there at such a depressing time was especially helpful.

        But having the community is so helpful every day, I don’t know that I could keep going without it.

        Like

        Reply
  6. GZB

    Poignant and elegant writing that mirrors my own life with it’s interminable limitations and pain. That being said, I celebrate that I managed to wash a load of laundry AND water my tomatoes today! The crazy thing is just how much it wiped me out.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. canarensis

      I hear you. I changed the sheets during the span of time when I had zero pain meds & it put me IN bed for two days. I went to Portland on Thursday for the meeting of the Oregon Pain Loons, & am still trying to recover. I can’t help thinking of back when I was working 12 hours a day, running, lifting weights…all that functional stuff. Probably the wrong way to think, as it just bums me out. Probably the most useful thing I learned at my “comprehensive pain program” was pacing, tho it’s still hard at times to only do bits & pieces here & there…it feels wimpy. I suspect that adjusting to the “lowered expectations” may take forever….

      My tomatoes would probably appreciate it if I took a gander at them, too!

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply

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