Instead Of “Be Healthy”, Use “Manage Your Health”

I’m reading much more non-fiction lately, and before that I also read business blogs with productivity tips and other related topics. One of the topics mentioned in nearly everything is your health. But every author’s approach is different. Some are more nuanced, others are frightfully blunt. And I’ll say this: the phrase “be healthy” is ableist.

I already mentioned this on Twitter, but I wanted to go more in depth about why I think so. And I wanted to share it on a more permanent platform. There is still so much to be said about chronic pain and chronic illness and people need to be more aware of this. That’s why I’ll talk more about this topic on this blog.

Why “be healthy” is bad

One author used this phrase and it stood out to me, but thinking back, he wasn’t the only one. He said you have to be healthy because you can’t be productive when you’re sick. As someone with chronic pain and other ailments, this hurts. My natural state will never be healthy. I always have to actively work on it, and even then I can still have flare ups.

They want you to prevent illness, and not to cure it. For some of us, this isn’t possible. We can’t prevent migraines, depression, or a dislocated shoulder (if you have hEDS, you probably know what I mean). We have to deal with the regards of what we do. We have good days and bad days. Even on good days, we know in the back of our minds we will have bad days. If we do too much on good days (even with the best intentions), we will wake up the next day with a bad day. It’s been my wish to have a pain-free day for several years and I still don’t have it. Even if I try to adjust my diet, lose weight, exercise, take pain killers or other use other pain management.

Telling someone to ‘be healthy’ is bad and ableist. It’s an assumption that they’ll ever reach a point they also consider healthy. Maybe your definition of healthy is different from theirs.

“It’s cheaper to be healthy”

Only if healthy is your baseline. I live in Europe so health care isn’t as expensive as in the US where this is certainly true. But saying (without regard) that it’s cheaper to be healthy or stay healthy is hurtful. For disabled people who rely on medicine, (mobility) aids, or certain services, their daily life isn’t cheap. Just trying to be as healthy as possible isn’t cheap.

For me, it’ll take a lot of pain management (which costs money), physical therapy (which costs money), a nutritionist, and more expensive foods for a better diet. I don’t mean a diet a regular person without gut problems, but a diet specifically aimed at reducing inflammation and managing my weight. If I only eat in season products, I can’t manage my health to the best it can be, but that makes it more expensive.

Food is also a controversial thing. I’m lucky I don’t have any guts problems or severe allergies, but so many people struggle daily with food. I don’t want to go into specifics because I don’t have much experience with it. Everyone’s body is different and reacts to food differently. Some people might not even know they’re intolerant to certain foods. So saying you should eat this or you should eat that is assuming everyone can eat it without side effects.

It’s ableist to think ‘healthy’ is the baseline. People who struggle with mental and/or physical health on a daily basis have a very different base line. Most of the authors which implicate this have a health base line I’ll never reach. Not even if I do everything ‘correctly’. But even my best days I can’t run.

So I propose something different.

“Manage your health”

By using these words, you don’t force an impossible standard on everyone. Now each person can use their own baseline, do the things that work for them, instead of reading about one person’s journey to become healthier. You don’t ask a cripple to run a marathon, or a blind person to see. Don’t tell us (or anyone else) to be healthy. I strongly urge everyone who has ever said this phrase to use “manage your health” instead.

I agree that health is important for your productivity, but there is no set formula that will help you to become the optimal version of you. The optimal version of you might not be what others consider healthy. And that’s okay. Just be the best you can be, by managing your health. Take pills if that helps. Adjust your diet. Do exercises if you can, and in a controlled matter.

If you want to read good books on writing and health, check out Writing with Chronic Illness: Improve Outlook and Productivity by Kristine Rusch or The Healthy Writer: Reduce your pain, improve your health, and build a writing career for the long term By Joanna Penn & Dr. Euan Lawson. Both books take a healthier (pun intended) approach to the this subject and I really appreciate Joanna Penn for collaborating with a doctor to write this book.

Find the ideal circumstances to do your work, no matter what it is. Find what works for you, for your health.

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