One of the most common topics I see discussed amongst people living with chronic illness and their carers is how to live a ‘normal’ life without being exposed to things that may put their health at risk. That delicate balance between living for today but saving enough for tomorrow.
If you or a loved one live with chronic illness chances are you know exactly what I am talking about, though the types of risks I am talking about are going to vary between patient populations. The one that is probably going to resonate with the majority of those living with chronic illness is the need to limit exposure to illness or infection for people who are particularly susceptible to such things. Even those who may not necessarily have compromised immune function still often find that getting over a nasty bug takes more time and energy than those who do not have chronic illness or medical complications. Things many would see as simple such as going to a function or event, a trip to the local swimming pool or even a dinner date may pose a potential threat.
This risk radar is commonly at maximum capacity when someone is first diagnosed (or has a child diagnosed) with a condition that requires a change in lifestyle or extra precaution to be taken to preserve or improve health. Learning to calculate potential threats, even for someone with life-long illness like myself, can be potentially overwhelming. I can tell you there is at times a strong desire to jump on eBay, buy a giant zorb ball (these things exist – trust me I check last flu season), become a human hamster and never touch, let alone breathe in anything that may potentially exacerbate your condition ever again. And understandably so. Without being overdramatic in the slightest, learning to avoid the things that put us at risk can mean the difference between life and death.
To begin with I was very resistant to writing about this topic. Mostly because I am very aware there are a lot of times in my life when I know I have not got the balance right or taken risks that I am lucky to be able to reflect upon in a positive light. Yet, to be honest, some of the times I had taken the greatest risks, are now the things that I reflect upon and find hope, strength and resilience on the hardest days. That’s a pretty good demonstration of why this topic incredibly complicated and even more so when you add in a parent/carer/child dynamic into the equation.
However, as someone that has grown with my illness I realise that I have learnt more than a few lessons about risk taking in this process called life. That is not to say it is something that these choices come without thought or careful consideration however, I can wholeheartedly tell you that I now have peace and understanding about the decisions that are right for me and when to take and not to take risks. A peace and understanding that I would wish for others because I know how freeing that can be.
If you have read any of my other posts you will know I believe wholeheartedly in proactive healthcare and taking responsibility of our own needs. I believe it is due diligence to do all we can to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. However, for me, this particular aspect of health comes with a big ‘but’ and that is, I think we always have to be mindful of weighing up the benefits with the potential risks as not to confine our lives to a complete bubble and allowing our illness and fear to engulf our life. I might just sound like a broken record here but health is so much more than just the treatments we do or medications we take. The point of our doing is being – at the heart of all of our endeavours to be healthy is the desire enjoy and experience life, something that isn’t possible for the safety of our living room (or zorb ball).
So how do we weight up the risk vs benefit equation? I believe the answer is more simple that we often allow it to be. Once we eliminate any immediate and definite threat to our health (think crowded-shopping-centre-in-the-middle-of-flu-season for the purpose of a carton of milk), it just requires us to get deeply personal. We have to know what is important to us, what we value in life and where we find passion and purpose. Because when we know these things, we can ask ourselves a powerful question about the risk we are going to potentially take – “Does this one scenario add particular meaning and value to to my life?” And if the answer is yes, I take all the precautions I can and embrace it wholeheartedly. Because if I do something in fear I may as well not do it at all – fear is a killer of joy. And if I don’t feel it is something that will add meaning to my life, then I give it a miss and know there when the time is right for something even greater, the opportunity will present itself.