Right now a lot of people I know are navigating the cognitive dissonance of joy and trepidation. They are elated by the outcome of the election, as many millions are (and as, turning the tables from 2016, many millions aren’t). At the same time it’s harshing their mellow to realize that there will be backlash and that core issues that divide us will remain as roadblocks for at least the foreseeable future, regardless of whether a single polarizing human is amplifying them.
Some are finding their euphoria turning to despair as they reconcile that we are still facing the root causes of human pathology that brought us to the place where we have spent the last four years. There is a strong desire to find triumph in this election’s outcome, to portray it as a heroic conquering of something malignant, and upon realizing that it isn’t that, there is a corresponding and potentially deflating fear that this outcome only helps on a comparatively “superficial” level. Indeed, on a broad level, growth-oriented people have an understandable and valid tendency to denigrate the idea of treating a symptom instead of addressing the root cause. I have spent literally my whole life navigating this with regards to my own body, so I am here to shed some light, hopefully, and to put forth the idea that important, positive, hope-inducing things can happen even absent unqualified “victory.”
I was born with Ehlers-Danlos and I will die with it (though, thankfully, because of the type I have, it’s unlikely I will die FROM it). I will never be “cured.” I feel like a downer saying that, as there are researchers out there working on it, but I have zero expectation that in my lifetime we will see a cure that magically takes away the pain or impairment I experience. The clinical approach to EDS is very straightforward on a macro-level: you can’t cure the condition, so you treat the symptoms. As such, my options are a) curl up in a fetal position and give up or b) pursue comparatively subtle maintenance measures and improvements to my quality of life. If I let go of the comparative unsexiness of option “b” (compared to the eureka moment of being “cured”), there is a lot that can be done.
I live a good life that I love, something for which I’m so grateful. While much of that is dumb luck, my life is full of mundane actions that allow for incremental improvements. I fine tune what and when and how much I eat and drink (or, as the case may be, don’t). I fine tune how and how much and how often I exercise. I fine tune the ergonomics of most physical activities, from cushions to seat positions to how I carry things to ways of moving through space to sleep (did I mention the cushions?). I fine tune what I wear (braces, splints, orthotics, pants that don’t give me sores along my beltline, etc.). I fine tune what modalities I use to relieve the strain on my body and treat injuries as they come up and/or linger. I fine tune my mental health so that I can approach things with a constructive attitude, both in terms of my outlook on life and, in more tangibly, how I make decisions about my body and my life. I fine tune my activities, both professional and leisure, to find an optimized balance between the things I want to do and the physical consequences that may or may not make a given activity (or version of that activity) remain a net-positive. Heck, I even fine tune the analytical process by which I evaluate when and how to do all this fine-tuning. This isn’t even the whole laundry list, just a snapshot.
Much of this is stuff is subtle, though essentially the sum total equals the full picture of how I endure and even thrive amidst the reality of these obstacles. And some of these things actually make a huge difference in my quality of life, both making things easier to tolerate and renewing my hope that life in this body doesn’t have to be an ignominious descent into crap-ville.
And to do things like that, the most acute symptoms have to get under control. If I’m literally bleeding or my back is so far gone that I’m immobilized or I’ve got pain somewhere that’s overwhelming enough to be incapacitating, then it is simply not realistic to expect there to be surplus attention or energy for all the fine-tuning I’ve talked about. And if something acute goes untreated for long enough, invariably the dominoes start to fall of other things. If I don’t proactively deal with a knee wound, I start to walk and lift differently, and then eventually my back starts to go, and then other ergonomics go out the window and my sleep suffers and my capacity to be disciplined with my diet diminishes and so on. The converse of this is that if the only triumph I can enjoy is making a bad thing less bad, this can have an enormous ripple effect on other things.
Honestly, until I began thinking about the parallels with our country’s current situation last week, I hadn’t thought about the incurability of EDS for a long time (I’m not sure how many years, but many) and have thus in a sense come to take for granted the notion that devoting myself to maintenance and improvement is a valid and necessary pursuit. I’m more philosophically and morally inclined to seek and address the root cause in a situation, yet I’m realizing how this alternate view has translated to other aspects of my life. For example if there’s a relationship (and no, I’m not talking about you) that I can’t cut off completely, but that clearly has no capacity to become deeply positive, then it makes logical sense to address the symptoms (making the needed interactions more harmonious and less frequent) than to invest in “going deep.”
And so it goes with America. I really hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see racism going away in my lifetime, nor other discriminatory phobias based on identity. I am certain that greed will remain – if humanity hasn’t figured out how to “cure” that by now, our current culture isn’t about to root it out. Making every human care about climate change? Um, nope, sorry. I won’t keep listing examples here, but the good news is that these incurable conditions don’t mean the loss of all hope.
I have been particularly inspired by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s way of defining racism first and foremost from the standpoint of policies as opposed to individual bias. He translates this to other scourges related to prejudice and greed, and this is an important reminder that if you can’t change your racist uncle’s mind but you can succeed in electing/appointing leaders and creating policies that bring justice and accountability and transparency, you are ultimately moving humanity further forward than if you won the former battle and lost the latter. Even if we can’t vanquish the racism in every heart, we can enact policies that enfranchise and empower people. Even if we can’t make people less selfish regarding their relationships to those in need or to the environment, we can put protective measures in place. Even if people don’t want to wear their damn masks, we can make it harder not to do so.
Maybe the next four years will be utterly lovely – inspiring us constantly with the progress we make and the new Spring of harmony and peace and responsibility we usher in. BUT what if it turns out that, amidst stacked courts, a gridlocked Senate, and an administration that many on the “winning side” didn’t see as their first choice, the initial bursts of euphoria over this election wither into a sense that all we have done is stop the bleeding? As someone who has done a LOT of bleeding in his day, I urge you not to take that lightly. Our nation has been doing a lot of bleeding, and if the best we can do is heal some of that enough to do some unglamorous things to make life a little better at a time, that alone is cause for celebration and encouragement.