My Bad Health Isn't A Choice

I'm a 29 year old female. I eat mainly vegan and eat lots of organic veggies. I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke, I have never done drugs. I've been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, PCOS, life threatening allergies and for my last birthday I got a busted thyroid.

Dec 21, 2012 at 3:33pm | Leave a comment

Lately, a lot of media coverage has been focussing on the assumption that if you do everything in your life “right”, you won't get sick or disabled. Conversely if someone does get sick or disabled, everyone starts looking to find what that person did wrong in order to cause their health issue.


Eating apples is healthy. Unless you're allergic to them and have EDS, in which case a bite could dislocate your jaw.

As this has been happening, I've also noticed more and more people offering me unsolicited advice on how I should 'cure' myself.

When I took to Twitter to complain about how much I hate it when people suggest that health issues are always things you cause yourself, somebody felt the need to tell me to stop drinking milk, as it causes osteoporosis (I don't drink milk, nor do I have osteoporosis, but the tipster didn't seem to care).

Then in the run-up to this year’s elections in the Netherlands, a TV presenter interviewed the Labour party leader and asked him why they were proposing to make the contributions to medical insurance dependent on income, not lifestyle “as he didn't want to pay for people who caused their own bad health”.

Apart from the privacy issues here (do you want to live in a country where the government monitors your shopping, your exercise regime, your love life etc?), health is not necessarily a choice.

Even though packets of cigarettes warn you that “smoking kills” and “smoking causes cancer,” everybody knows that smoker who never got cancer, and lived to be a 100 years old. So really, it would be more accurate to write: “smoking does contribute heavily to the development of cancer.”

But that doesn't fit on a packet as nicely, and it doesn't fit in our mindset, which assumes that when someone gets sick, he or she is to blame for it. Or maybe it's his or her parent's fault for passing on all those bad genes.

Apart from anything else, not everybody gets to make healthy lifestyle choices. Healthy food is often more expensive than food that is considered to be unhealthy. Addiction, such as smoking, is a disease itself, and many of the diet tips I have received in the past two years, intended to somehow ‘heal’ me, are totally unfeasible, because of my allergies.

You cannot always control your environment, though it may affect your health. You most certainly cannot change your genes, and while you can try to not pass on conditions that you know you have, some things only become clear after you've had children. And sometimes people just have bad luck.

I'm a 29 year old female. I eat mainly vegan and eat lots of organic veggies. I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke, I have never done drugs, I take vitamins and try to work out when possible. Sounds healthy right?


This is what goes into my breakfast smoothie, except for the vitamin pills.

So far, I've been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, PCOS, life threatening allergies and for my last birthday I got a busted thyroid.

But I do get why people tell me to work out more, to stop eating carbs, to stop drinking milk, to stop consuming soy in any way or to go church more often.

It is a form of magical thinking, if you find out what caused my conditions, you can make sure it's never going to happen to you. But apart from the fact that this is a form of disability blaming (I really don't want to use the term victim here, as I'm not a victim), my health is not my choice.

It is easier to blame unhealthy or disabled people for their own fate, because having a disability or a disease seems frightening. Your body is not acting as you think it is supposed to, or as you were used to, and it's beyond your control. I guess it's only human to try to find that control.

The fact that society in general thinks of disability and illness as something bad, doesn't help people accept that almost everyone will live through an episode of illness or disability in their lives.


Yummie breakfast smoothie with kate and blueberries, and my crooked thumb.

There also seems to be the assumption that people with disability or disease have a harder time being happy, and maybe this is true. However, I do know that some research has indicated that people with a disability or a serious illness overall are a little happier than healthy, non-disabled people are. Possibly because their health issues helped them to focus on what is important to them and what makes them happy.

I have been depressed twice now, and on both occasions I was experiencing very little pain. The first time was from anti-depressants that were prescribed to me as a painkiller, they worked great, but the side effect was that they actually made me depressed.

The second time was because of my busted thyroid, it made me lethargic and depressed, but also stiffened up my joints, meaning I had fewer dislocations than usual, meaning I was experiencing less pain. 

When it comes to happiness, I consistently score 8/10. That's fine. Sometimes when something terrible happens I go down to a 6, when something terrific happens, I'm a 9. Never a 2, never a 10. I guess I was born an 8.

It is said that happiness is pretty fixed. That when you win the lottery you'll be excited for a few weeks, but then return to your original level.

I guess the same goes for your health, if you get really sick or disabled you'll be unhappy for a while, but eventually you will return to your original level.

And I think in general, it is good to realise that not all health is man-made, and that illness and disease are part of living, but getting sick or disabled doesn't mean you'll be unhappy for the rest of your life.

Health is not a choice. Neither is happiness.

Don't forget to follow Fem on Twitter @fatalefem.  


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