Am I sick or healthy?
What is health?
What does health feel like?
In the past I didn't understand why people wished me "above all health" for my birthday. They knew what they were talking about, but not me. I considered myself healthy when I was young. In 2020, when the pandemic, lockdown etc. started, many people had completely new experiences. They discovered new hobbies, redesigned their garden, they cleaned out all the closets. Home office, home schooling, online study and especially nursing brought others to their limits or beyond. These were the side effects of an illness. Health is like time. We only appreciate both when we no longer have them. Only after we have overcome a phase of illness do we realise how important health is to us and how it feels. Before that, being healthy is normal. What is this desire for health all about?
Genesis = Genesis (Greek)
The term describes the emergence and maintenance of health. In the 1970s, an Israeli medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky asked himself how people keep getting healthy. Before that, people had only been concerned with pathogenesis - pathos = suffering/illness, why illnesses arise. Antonovsky found that health is not a state, but a process. We constantly oscillate, so to speak, between health and illness. This is what he called the health-disease continuum. This means that we are never completely healthy, but also never completely ill. My most important insight and message here is: we chronically ill are not only ill.
Antovovsky goes on to talk about a sense of coherence. By this he means a sense of belonging and a deeply felt satisfaction. We can feel these feelings when we are healthy. How do we get these feelings? The following three factors are important for this:
3 important factors:
- Understandability - We can put together and understand the connections between the gifts that life has in store for us.
- Manageability - We can cope with these gifts and what arises from them.
- Meaningfulness - We come to believe that everything that happens has a meaning. This enables us to accept what is.
Phew, not so easy, is it?
Let's go on a treasure hunt
Antonovsky said we should go treasure hunting to get these feelings. He called the treasures "attractors". These are attractive health goals for which it is worthwhile for us to allocate all our resources. In other words, it is less attractive for us to be guided by prohibitions and restrictions in coping with illness.
An example of this in my everyday life is going for a walk every day. Shortly after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I tried various sports and suffered a lot from the effects. It frustrated me a lot and made me very aware of my sick situation. Then a dog came into our family and we all had the task of walking him once a day, including me. Our dog "Toni" is so full of joy. I took him to beautiful places to go for a walk. I was in nature, experienced nature much more consciously and noticed that it does me good, until today. The walks don't work out equally well every day - by now with a cane and sometimes even with a rollator, but I'm out in the fresh air somehow almost every day. That is healthy.
"We are all mortal. Likewise, while there is still a breath of life in us, we are all healthy to some extent."
Moment of health
There are certainly moments in my life when I feel completely at ease physically, mentally and emotionally. When I spend time with my husband, my daughter or a friend, we have a good chat and my symptoms leave me alone for a moment or I am successfully distracted by them for a short while. These moments are extremely rare. There are more moments when there is an essence of that feeling, and I think that's a good thing. I try to train myself to be aware of these moments. In this respect, I can appreciate the concept of health-disease-continuum. If I felt sick every minute of the day and was aware of it, life would not be worth living for me.
Finding Balance & Peace
The WHO also logically has a definition of health: health is a state of complete physical, mental/emotional and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. What I find remarkable is the equal inclusion of body, mind and spirit. In English there is the term Mental Health, which is getting a lot of public effective attention since Kate and William launched their #oktosay campaign in 2017. The other day I heard an interview on Deutschlandfunk where young people were talking about the impact of the Corona Pandemic. One young woman said that it is good that we can talk openly about mental health nowadays and expect help. The topic is not completely de-stigmatised but definitely on the right track.
What is disease?
I don't think one can make it so simple and say that illness is a disturbance of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Whereas it certainly upsets the body, the mind and the soul and causes systemic errors. But that is not all.
Most of the time we associate illness with restrictions, forced withdrawal, loss of performance, pain, symptoms that make our lives more difficult and possibly burden not only us but also the people around us. So all in all, nothing good. Of course, there is a clear distinction to be made between a brief infection that paralyses us for a few days and a chronic illness that turns our lives upside down.
Be cared for
Many like to remember what it was like to be sick as a child. Mum or dad looked after us lovingly, cooked what we were hungry for, took time for us. And the best thing - we could stay in bed. Not everyone was doing so well. Sometimes a phase of illness is also an unexpected chance to reflect on one's own life and perhaps change something.
I was there
On the one hand, fibromyalgia and other illnesses took away the energy I needed to do physical, sporting activities with my daughter when she was younger. Fortunately, my husband was able to take over this part, at least partially. On the other hand, the illness allowed me to be there. I think that was very important. I was not 100% capable, energetically charged, but I could trace, react and listen.
So what is illness? I think it is an imbalance in us. Something or several things are out of kilter. When we get sick, our environment, our lifestyle and our genes also play a role.
What does illness mean to you?
The word "epigenetics" is made up of the words genetics and epigenesis. This means the development of a living being.
It is not to be confused with genetics. Genetics deals with the structure of the genetic material according to the genetic code. This is a rigid system that is not malleable. Epigenetics is located in the field of biology and is a kind of additional genetics. Here it is assumed that factors outside the body, but which have an influence on the body, such as nutrition, stress, psychological strain, toxins, have a remarkable share in the activity of the genes. Epigenetics assumes that our genes are influenced by these factors, are coached, so to speak. This means that we are not simply the sum of our genes and at their mercy. Everything we eat, everything we do, everything that happens to us can influence the activity of our genes. We have the chance to improve our situation.
Antonovsky told us that something incredible happened in 1970 that left a lasting impression on him and led to the development of the Salutogenetic Model in 1979. What was it? He was conducting a study on the climacteric. Specifically, how women of different ethnicities adapt during this phase of life. One question was whether they had been in a concentration camp, yes/no answer. The amazing thing was that 29 percent of the women who had survived a concentration camp had good mental health. He wondered how that could be.
We are not at the mercy
"A chronic invalid has but one thought about his identity: He doesn't want to be a sick man. The rest of the discussion seems frivolous to him-an immense privilege of the healthy. Still, I'm a novelist, and so I pursue it."
"The secret of making lasting change is to acknowledge and accept that real change takes time and patience. We didn't get chronically ill overnight..."
Video Dr. med. Petra Wiechel from the Swiss Mountain Clinic added on 11.06.2022
Badenschier, F. B. & Schwarz, T. S. (2020, 29 April). Epigenetics. https://www.planet-wissen.de. Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.planet-wissen.de/natur/forschung/epigenetik/index.html
Goddemeier, C. G. (2019, August). Aaron Antonovsky: Father of Salutogenesis. https://www.aerzteblatt.de/. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/209251/Aaron-Antonovsky-Vater-der-Salutogenese
WHO new report highlights uneven health progress in Europe and calls for more accurate measurement of well-being to measure progress. (2013, 13 March). https://www.euro.who.int. Retrieved 24 March 2022, from https://www.euro.who.int/de/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2013/03/new-who-report-reveals-unequal-improvements-in-health-in-europe-and-calls-for-measurement-of-well-being-as-marker-of-progress