Do you struggle with feeling bad, or even guilty, about your health status? Maybe you’ve received a diagnosis you’re ashamed of, or worry that your body wouldn’t be healthy enough to combat an illness if you were to come down with something. I think that latter concern is especially rampant in these times of COVID-19, when you see news reports of risk factors and death rates with comorbid conditions. It can send a person down into a dizzying spiral of anxiety and shame.
Certainly your health is important, and it’s good to take care of our bodies with the resources available to you. But if you find yourself bearing feelings of guilt or shame thinking there are things you should do about your health status, yet feel overwhelmed by your health problems so much so that it feels paralyzing to take seemingly simple steps to take care of yourself, I hope this article will help you to reframe some of your concerns and recognize some unhelpful thought patterns that might be holding you back from taking charge of your health.
And that all starts with asking yourself an important question: Are you moralizing your health? Meaning, are you making your health a moral issue of good or bad, right or wrong?
First, let’s explore a possible reason for why we might think health is a moral issue. If you’re religious, perhaps your first thought goes to this verse in scripture:
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
On a personal note, when this passage was the topic of bible class as a kid I assumed this meant to always eat your fruits and vegetables, and act in a way that is God-pleasing. As I got older, this passage started taking on the idea that to keep your temple holy, you must keep it healthy. Free from disease, free of excess fat, and equipped with strong conditioning and ability to move and exercise. To lack in any of these areas meant I wasn’t following the bible, and therefore sinning.
I imagine I’m not the only one that experiences a twinge of guilt or discomfort when they read that passage and feel they don’t measure up to keeping their temple holy according to those aforementioned self-perceived standards.
This black and white thinking can lead a person down a very slippery slope. Interpreting the passage in this way starts moralizing health - meaning we’re now saying and thinking to be healthy means you’re good, to be unhealthy means you’re bad.
But that’s not what this passage means at all! We can’t take our health out of this world - our health has no bearing on our soul’s destination. So let’s reframe this thought, and take a more objective approach to health.
To do this, we’re going to play with a little metaphor. Let’s imagine your health is a house. If you were to objectively imagine your health concerns as problems in a home, what would they be? Is there anything significantly impairing the house from being functional - like a broken window in the middle of winter, or a burst pipe that needs immediate attention? Or are most of the issues comparable to an outdated shade of paint, or some tears in the carpet posing tripping hazards? Sure, it’s annoying and something that would improve your quality of life if you took care of it, but the house as a whole is totally livable.
Take a moment to imagine the house projects your home needs. Maybe even put your imaginations to paper and draw it out! List your house projects, including the timeline and the “budget” (i.e. resources) it’s going to take to complete your house projects. If you’re familiar with the HGTV series “Good Bones”, by the time you’re finished listing out all your house projects, it might feel like your house looks like the initial state of the houses those ladies buy to restore. I would imagine that feels really overwhelming to look at, because maybe it’s truly more than you’re able to handle on your own! Most major house projects can’t be completed by one person alone - they take a team. And each major project likely takes a different specialized team. So consider yourself the project manager. Gather the best teams you can that are going to help you get the projects done efficiently - family members and friends, perhaps it’s a doctor or surgeon, or a therapist, or a dietitian, or all of the above!
Remember to keep this process objective - houses are objects, they’re not moral. If you find yourself slipping into guilt-ridden or shaming thoughts like “I don’t deserve better health, I’ve done this to myself”, take a step back and imagine you’re a home inspector. You care about the person living in this house and you want to make sure they take care of the items that are potentially life-threatening, like an out of code electric box, or a roof on the verge of collapse. Some of those issues just happen with age, and some issues happen due to hail storms and floods - but this house stood the test of time! It’s still got good bones, and with some TLC it can stay fully functional.
So lastly, allow yourself to stop at “functional enough”. A home is never going to be perfect, we’re likely always going to be able to spot something that could be better, but we are all limited to a budget and amount of resources. So rather than going into debt, prioritize the projects that are immediately pressing to the functionality of your home, and put off or scratch the projects that you just don’t have the time and resources for.
Most importantly, be thankful for your good bones, and all of the storms and disasters this house has kept your safe from.