I am Healthy? ... I AM Healthy!!

Recently I saw a "disabled" man perform a choreographed dance having only one leg and two canes. He danced beautifully and even better than most people with two legs. I was confused. This man is "disabled?" He seemed pretty able to me.

Words can be so powerful. Frequently words are used to place labels on and to chunk people into categories. Quick and easy. People often have a difficult time with ambiguity. Ambiguity requires effort and can create anxiety. Thus at times, extremely complex situations become simplified and unfortunately embodied. For example, when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness, a person who was otherwise experienced as "healthy" is suddenly viewed as "unhealthy." Further, this shift in perception is typically accepted and not really questioned or challenged.

How do words and how do labels affect one's experience of life and quality of life? Do they? Imagine being an athlete who is under 50 years old, and who generally eats healthy and does not smoke cigarettes or use drugs. This person sounds quite healthy, right? What if this person receives a diagnosis of cancer, or an autoimmune disease, or heart disease...is this person still healthy? This is a tricky question and I imagine most people would be able to more easily state that this person has an illness rather than saying that this person is healthy. Ok, so it is established that this person has an illness. Does that make him/her unhealthy? Lets think about what it means if the person is perceived as unhealthy. Thinking of the person as unhealthy, rather than as having an illness but still possibly healthy, seems to negate all of the healthy parts that the person still possesses. What about this person's self care, his/her healthy diet, avoidance of drugs, and any exercise that can still be engaged in? Don't these count? What about a healthy mindset or having wisdom that was gained from living with the illness?

It is easy to throw people into categories; however, people are not objects to be thrown, and unlike objects people are complicated and complex. Equating having an illness with being unhealthy can be dangerous. Viewing one as unhealthy,despite demonstrating clear aspects of health, can have an impact on someones mental health and self-esteem. The last thing someone with a chronic illness wants is for his/her identity to be equivalent to illness. People with chronic illness do not want to be seen as just an illness, but rather like all people want to be seen for the intricacy that they are. This requires being able to tolerate ambiguity; to see that yes a certain person has an illness but s/he still demonstrates health. Yes an illness can be present, but the person still has healthy thoughts, or engages in healthy activities, or takes care of oneself as best as possible. Acknowledging the person as a whole is the challenge not only for the loved ones of the person who lives with the illness, but for the person who lives with the illness him or herself.

Give yourself more credit. Do not abandon the not-ill parts of yourself. Yes maybe your life has been consumed by your given illness and it seems like almost all aspects of your life have changed. Maybe you have lost a leg but that does not mean you cannot find a creative way to dance. Maybe you can no longer hold a 9-5 job but you have managed to find a way to work from home. Maybe you are even really depressed because of your illness, but despite your depression you still maintain a position of kindness towards others.  Do not abandon the parts of you that remain healthy, even if they are few. Can you think about words and what they mean for you differently? Can you think, "I have an illness but that illness is not me, but rather just a part of me?" Can you think "I AM healthy" rather than questioning "I am healthy?" Humanity is more than just a bunch of labels. YOU are more than a label!