When Being Health-Conscious Feels Hopeless
I often struggle to decide whether or not the word “healthy” applies to me. In terms of my lifestyle, yes, I am a “healthy” person. I grew up as an athlete and learned to take care of my body. I enjoy working out and trying new healthy recipes. I consider my interest in health to be a part of who I am. But in terms of my chronic illness, no, “healthy” isn’t an accurate descriptor. I have a permanent and progressive condition that affects my entire body. Up until my diagnosis, I lived a healthy lifestyle to keep my body in good condition and prevent disease down the road. But now, my body is no longer in good condition and I have a disease, so...what’s the point of being health-conscious?
Every day, I take vitamins B12, B5, C, D, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and a probiotic (for various reasons). Sometimes, as I swallow the colorful capsules, I laugh at the irony. There I am, taking my vitamins religiously, even though I’ll never be truly healthy again. Why am I doing this? I feel the same when I eat a healthy meal or push myself in a work out — I know these things are still good for me, but when your body has already resigned itself to a lifetime of stiffness and pain, a commitment to “health” feels frivolous.
AS doesn't mean I should give up
I know this is a flawed thought process — just because I have AS doesn’t mean I should give up on my body. Being health-conscious can reduce my AS symptoms and prevent new conditions. And in some ways, AS should give me more reason to take care of my body! Yet, when I think about my health-conscious behaviors, there is a feeling of hopelessness. No amount of cardio or vitamins will undo my AS, so why bother? There are tons of people who live unhealthy lifestyles and don’t develop diseases, yet here I am, drinking spinach smoothies and suffering.
This frustration is no reason to give up. While I sometimes find it ironic that I even care about my vitamin C intake when my body is literally attacking itself (regardless of my vitamin C intake), I am grateful that I can take care of my body to some extent. As I mentioned, healthy behaviors like exercise reduce my AS symptoms, giving me a slight sense of control over my body. I can’t control my disease, but I can control my lifestyle. I actually think I’ve become more health-conscious since having AS, in an attempt to manage this monster any way that I can.
I will continue to be health-conscious even though I will never be “healthy.” I will exercise and stretch properly at night, only to wake up in severe pain the next morning. I will get a full night’s rest, only to face crushing fatigue hours later. It feels like a losing battle — me on one side, going out of my way to strengthen and restore my body, and AS on the other side, erasing all of my hard work. I’ll never reach the epitome of health, but I’m doing the best I can do with AS. I suppose “healthy” and “ill” are antonyms — but in my health-conscious, chronically ill state, I am both.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?