Being Sick and Sustainable Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

So I’m a spoonie, right? Someone that suffers from some form of chronic illness. And one of the narratives that really grinds my gears that I see coming from environmentalists, from minimalists, from voluntary simplicity folk, from zero wasters, is the sort that implies that health issues are moral failing, something that could be fixed if only you’d led a greener, and more natural life…

This post was originally going to be a photo of my “pills” system, with an explanation of what each bottle is for and why. But that didn’t seem like the right approach to an issue that’s so personal for me.

To give a little background, I’ve got some issues. I suffer from depression, anxiety, addictive tendencies, and since overcoming an infection early last year, I now have IBS, GERD, and chronic fatigue. I’ve got some other stuff going on that I don’t really put in these categories; swayback that leaves me in pain from standing for more than an hour at a time, a bad knee, and endometriosis. A few of these things can be managed with medication, but most of them can’t. Looking at me, you wouldn’t have any idea that I had any problems. For all intents and purposes, I look like a perfectly healthy young person capable of holding my own against all the other perfectly healthy young people out there. But that’s just not true.

I can’t get a job in retail or the service industry because I can’t stand for long periods. Some days I’m so tired that I sleep for 12 hours and don’t leave the house. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to shower. Sometimes I can’t sleep because laying down makes my GERD flare up and I could wake up choking on it or get nauseous to the point of vomiting. Sometimes I almost faint when I get up too quickly. Sometimes my lower back seizes and I catch myself just before falling down the stairs.

My life is a little bit of an obstacle course now, and I have to plan my days ahead so that I don’t prematurely run out of energy or stomach resilience. (I operate by a 3 Strikes rule when it comes to food and drinks and have to plan my meals accordingly.) I used to have an iron gut that I could pack full of chicken nuggets, Dr. Pepper, doughnuts, and Jack in the Box tacos. I used to be able to stand for longer. I used to be able to get by on 7-8 hours of sleep. But sometimes you get sick, and there’s nothing that you could have done to avoid it.

Needing special accommodations, access to medical care, and medications doesn’t make me a bad sustainability advocate. There will be sick people in our greener future, so you all better make room for us now.

Story time: One of my parents was raised in a Christian Scientist household, them being the 3rd generation. CS is, by many, considered to be a religious cult, and teaches that the physical body is, essentially, an imaginary construct, and that medicine exists to turn us away from god, who is the ultimate healer. It also teaches that ailments of the body and mind are likewise imaginary, and symptoms of wavering faith and infrequent prayer. Essentially, if you get sick, then you just don’t believe enough and eh, god’ll sort you out.

CS is famous for its members being exempt from many state-mandated child vaccination requirements. Unfortunately, they’re also famous for a few relatively high-profile manslaughter cases involving negligent care of children and the elderly. One case that never made it to the news, though, was that of the death of my would-be uncle who died when he was an infant. My grandparents knew something was wrong that evening, but they believed that doctors were snake oil salesman, and instead chose to watch him die in his crib. My aunt had always said that the rest of them were just one infection away from meeting the same fate.

I cringe every time I read about an American family downsizing, simplifying, and getting rid of their health insurance as part of that plan. I grind my teeth, I shake my head. Many of these people have small children. What happens if one of you gets into a car accident, or develops fibromyalgia? Living lightly, eating locally, eschewing plastic… none of those things prevents disaster from striking, or prevents someone from getting sick. And if your way of dealing with it involves nothing but herbal tea and a juice detox, your simple, photogenic life will go down the drain. And you will be setting up the injured/ill person for a world of hurt.

How can it do anything but hurt to insinuate that vitamins are only for the wasteful? That doctors visits are for the unsustainable? That good health and a strong body are rewards for the environmentally clean and pious? My knee gave out while I was on a glacier hike in Alaska, for your information.

Yes, this is a sore spot for me. Someone I should have grown up to know and love and spend time with died before his first birthday because he wasn’t pious enough, somehow. Because his parents’ worldview didn’t adequately account for sickness and disaster.

I hope that yours does.


6 thoughts on “Being Sick and Sustainable Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

  1. All I can say is “WOW” and offer up my full agreement to this. For those of us who struggle with “invisible” and/or chronic illness, each day can be a battle; we have limits. Unfortunately, the majority of “healthy” people don’t understand this concept and fault us. Living a greener lifestyle, as you said, doesn’t guarantee our health. All we can do is make better choices to ease our afflictions. Thank you for sharing your story :)


  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I totally agree with this sentiment. Whilst I am lucky to generally be in good health, I never assume this is down to some magic art I have achieved through green living; and am thankful daily that I am well. keep doing what you’re doing and stay true to your own beliefs, your green lifestyle may not guarantee your health but its certain to have some positive impact in your life in other ways :)


  3. Very good and honest post – and you are absolutely right that accidents can happen to all of us and it’s important to be prepared for this. Yes, it’s good to lead a green and healthy lifestyle, but I also have suffered from conditions where I was grateful to have an experienced team of doctors around…


  4. Disabled/ill people are targeted in general and environmentalism is a subset of that same society, so no wonder. Imo though the fact that we’re expected to work like robots and that some people simply can’t isn’t a reflection on them or their character, but a reflection on how unsustainable and awful current society/economic models are.


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