Holistic Wellness: A Balancing Act

So, the long and short of this story is that aging…is expensive…and also stressful.

I’ve known this for a long time, having observed my parents and family members and friends go through different stages in their own aging process. Up until now, though, I’ve been a little bit of a “Peter Pan” on this front, having dodged the medical system, doctors, scans, tests, and the like for…well decades. This has been a tremendous blessing in my life. Despite obesity, a lifelong saga despite rigorous working out and dieting (find my new dedicated spot to discuss the details of that at Keto Curious where I’m…yes, you guessed it, implementing a keto diet to address this issue…take commentary about that up with me there and please follow!), I’ve been exceedingly healthy: no broken bones, no chronic disease (yet), no cancer (I mean…what a crazy gift). I have yet another significant privilege of which I have not at all been aware (although some, and I, would argue a good chunk of that it’s another facet of white, middle-class privilege afforded by regular, accessible, trustworthy healthcare throughout my childhood. Definitely a conversation for another day).

But yes, even this Peter Pan has had to grow up in the past week. My knee, annoyingly full of manageable tendinitis for decades, I think has been in cahoots with my left hip for months in an elaborate scheme, we think now involving nerves (no…not the nerves) to just bring me down in one fell swoop. It wasn’t the prosaic “pop” you hear about but the blinding pain that hit in the middle of a flight of stairs was enough to age me…quickly.

BTW, can we also just agree now that the spelling of “tendinitis” is completely nuts? TendOn, but tendInitis? WTH?!?

So, for the past week I’ve been thrown into the deep end of navigating new insurance, doctors, different record systems, and just today I scheduled a whole bunch of MRI’s with some very funny screener questions: (Have you ever had a metal plate inserted in your head or chest? Ummmm…no.). I’ve nearly completed my inaugural run of steroids for inflammation. Look mom, I’m a real adult. I have inflammation. And I’m feeling especially proud of myself for having actually done the scheduling as that’s about 85% of my aversion to anything medical.

But as I’ve been wary an only-Western Medicine approach, what this knee has done has also thrown me out of balance in another couple ways that I need to wrangle quickly or I’m going to unravel: namely 1) spending $ and 2) pain management at every kind of cost.

Throw Everything At the Pain Wall

No (Wo)man Is an Island

First, what I’ve learned immediately (but suspected long-term) is that I’m a complete baby when it comes to pain and a real awful patient. This is the downside of the wellness privilege I’ve had thus far: total annoyance at having to manage pain AND a hatred for the lack of independence I’ve newly gained.

So, my cupboards, full of “natural” remedies and supplements are not at all helpful for this pain. I’ve had to pawn extra strength anti-inflammatories off of friends just to get me through to my trip to CVS to buy some of my own. I’ve taken a friend up on walking my dog sometimes just because I can’t move fast enough to give her the exercise she needs. I’ve accepted the offers for people to bring me lunch or ride instead of walking.

I’ve had to accept help and it’s been a real shot to my ego. It’s always a good lesson, that. When the ego appears, we’ve hit a real fear, in my opinion. I’ve known this for a long time about myself but I’ve believed that as long as I can be fiercely independent, “everything is fine.” So now that I can’t, everything is not fine and it’s staring me in the face.

I’ll just say here, that’s a scary scene and I’ve spent a lot of time working through why that’s come to be a basic organizing principle in my life. I’ll clearly have to rethink it. It’s a dumb belief. No wo(man) is an island; I get that…but I’ve been able to skirt the reality of it for a long time. Why is needing people so hard for me to admit?

I’m still working on that but it’s exhausting. I’m spending time on that one and it’s been interersting.

Health Is $$$, Especially the Alternative Kind

I usually end with the more internal, esoteric reflection on needing to learn that some reliability on other people probably shores up my human relationships. But honestly, the financial aspect of getting all this healthcare together is taxing but getting the wellness care together is costly.

So far, in pursing the necessarily western medicine “things” of talking to a doctor, getting some medication to help w/ pain and swelling, getting referrals for some specialized diagnostics, I’ve paid $5. I have insurance that’s wide sweeping and there will be more costs certainly, but for now, that’s what I’ve spent there.

However. I also don’t believe those practices will solely get me where I need to go. They’ve failed me on that front before but, I think, because I’ve got some conditions at home that aren’t ideal or that may be exacerbating the problem. So I’ve decided to address those stat because this knee issue, though not acute, has progressively got worse over the past six years. There’s remediation necessary in my life, obviously. So let’s get at those.

I’ve been working from home for 3 years now (2 due to pandemic and now I have a fully remote job)…and I’ve been sitting on my dining room chair 8-10 hours a day, typing. Not great. So I invested in a standing desk ($500) to at least give my hips a snowball’s chance of not crumbling and dying by the time I’m 50. I bought an ergonomic “kneeling” chair that’s backless to address postural issues in my lumbar spine that may be contributing. Sure, I could get a cheap one on Amazon, but I needed one sturdy enough for my weight and that also has enough credibility and reviews to convince me the quality is there ($250, on sale).

And, finally, the piece de resistance: a sauna blanket. I’ve been looking at these for, like, a year and finally felt like the price was justified for the amount of pain this knee and other joint-like conditions have been causing me. I’m thrilled to start to use it but at $550 (on sale, and trust me I really wanted the one that was $1700…), that’s not cheap. I’m not even going to tally the expense I’ve undertaken in transitioning into a keto-style of eating (largely because proteins are way more expensive than carbs…let’s be honest). I also haven’t talked about an expense that’ll come back to me when I’m ready for it and that’s a gym membership, easily $500/year.

Are these things essential? That’s the thing, isn’t it? I don’t know. As quick as I am to say “no” because we could make the case that I could survive without them, the reality is that I haven’t had them before and look at where I am? So maybe they are essential for the kind of wellness I’m seeking. But it’s interesting to me that the wellness I’m seeking is so expensive to find.

To eat right, move right, recover right, align right, not overtax, not undertax, keep mobile, keep limber: dang, that all costs a lot. And sure we can say we don’t need the tools or the sometimes the expertise to guide us but how well can we implement that kind of health without them?

I suppose the answer is this: I have to invest differently in the kind of health I want to not be in a pain and staring down the hospital at every turn. But it does scream back at me the privilege I have to (kind of) be able to afford it. As I’ve thought about it, the key is the balance: I can’t have it all right now. What do I need? What can I actually use? What’s a dream and wish but can wait? In the case of health, I want to choose it all right now but like my knee going up stairs, I can’t. So, I need to be okay with the pricier things I need now and I have to be sure to use them and not waste them.

That’s a lot and I haven’t even gotten to lunch yet.

I need an Advil…for me knee…and my head.


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