Battle disease seems like a bad idea to me. The idea that waging a battle against my body will someday lead to health sounds crazy to me. Why would we wish war on someone who already has a disease?
When I was told I had a terminal disease, the responses of my friends were telling
I know they were in mourning and that they had a deep desire that I would not have to walk this path. So many of them would say things like:
“Find a way to get rid of it.”
“We can battle this together.”
“We will use all the weapons at our disposal.”
They spoke from the heart and I took their words as a kind of lovingkindness. But now as I continue on this road some call chronic and fatal illness, I look back in the words of my friends, and see that they are filled with military metaphors. Even the health care professionals spoke in the language of violence:
“…a misfolded protein is invading your body.”
“Hopefully research will anilalate the disease.”
“Perhaps by destroying rogue cells…”
How strange! Just when I needed help to walk in a healing way, the people around me are turning to the language of war and violence. Now this is not just my strange friends (though they are strange). This language of violence is everywhere in our communities. But something in me knew that metaphors of war would not help my journey of healing.
I did a little digging online to see who is thinking about this odd and pervasive mystery. The best I found was an article in the Atlantic titled, “The Trouble with Medicine’s Metaphors” by Dhruv Khullar, M.D., a resident physician at Harvard Medical School. After surveying research on the topic he concludes that military metaphors might cause more harm than good. What an understatement! Here are eight reasons I refuse to battle my disease (or use the language of war to find the path of love). These are reasons I am declaring war on declaring war on things, especially my body.
1. Battling my disease is a losing battle
For my disease, Hungtington’s Disease, there is zero probability of “winning the battle.” The same is true for anyone with a chronic or fatal illness. I don’t mean to alarm you but all of us are in the same boat here, as life is a fatal condition. We all “lose the battle of life” at some point. How is this helpful? We are all supposed to fight but we are all losers! Even just war theory says that a war cannot be just if there is not a probability of success. This is war we should not be fighting.
. I don’t want to spend my limited energy fighting or battling anything. I want to enjoy the path. I don’t even want to access the label of disease. I want to be a Sunburst, and learn to enjoy losing my mind.
2. Battling my disease is doesn’t work, even for those who do win
Those who “win” the battle with disease often still consider themselves losers. As more and more people are “surviving” cancer, some of the “survivors” are rejecting that name. They feel that the term survivor does not shed light on the many ways they are still affected by by the cancer and its treatment. My wife’s cousin is one such person. More research is coming out on this topic. Livestrong’s research shows that 98 percent [of cancer survivors] experienced continued physical, emotional and practical concerns. Yet many did not receive help for their needs. Even in actual wars,we are finding that the solidier’s who “won” the battle have high rates of suicide, PTSD, depression, and domestic violence. If that’s what winning the battle looks like, I don’t want any part of it.
3. Disease is a war without an enemy
Medical studies show that those who approach their disease as an “enemy” tend to have higher levels of depression and anxiety, and poorer quality of life than those who ascribe a more positive meaning. They also tend to report higher pain scores and lower coping scores. I used to teach peacebuilders how to decrease enemies by not cultivating in the first place, and loving them in the second place. It is remarkable to me now to see medical scientists make the same claim about health! Enemies are not good for us. If I have to battle my disease, I make an enemy of own body. This is a path that leads to depression and a poorer quality of life. No thank you.
4. Battling my disease is feeds denial
“Your mom took denial to a whole new level.” These words came from my Huntingon’s Disease health team. My disease is hereditary so I have watched others with it. My mom had one tool: denial. For those of us around her, this denial created a wake of misery. I vowed not to repeat that pattern. That is why I write about facing elephants. Over the years I have developed a nose for sniffing out denial. I have learned I need to be careful when people tell me that I should be free of this disease. I try to receive these comments as good wish for me. But if I let myself, I can start down the path of denial. Maybe there is a way to get rid of this. Maybe some prayer, some action, some science…will free me. For me, the path of denial leaves an empty space in which the wake of misery can gain momentum, especially for those around me. If I don’t think I have the disease, or that I will get rid of it, then I pay less attention to living each moment with care. For me, the battle image feeds the denial in me. I think this is very dangerous for my family.
5. Battling my disease is inspired by a violent, colonial, macho, paternalistic view of the world
When Canada’s new Prime Minister was asked why his cabinet has equal men and women, he responded, to the cheers of crowds, “Because it is 2015.” I feel the same way about the ways in which
violence is still embedded in our many ways of being. There is something about the European-Caucasian way of being that has allowed violence and oppression to touch its every action. The same violent imagination is found in medicine, politics, theology, criminology. Uhh, let’s find the problem and kick the shit of it. Uhh, let’s kill the indian in the child. Uhh, God demands bloody punishment. Uhh, what criminals need is more pain and suffering.
Canada recently had a Truth and Reconciliation commission. We agreed to work get rid of the very imagination that inspires the grotestque ways we relate to indigenous people. The path of reconciliation must include going back to the ways violent oppression informs all areas, including medicine, politics, theology, criminology. So what does a healthy approach look like post-Truth and Reconciliation? We have to let go of find-problem-kill-it medicine. We have to let go of violence-inspired medicine. Battling my disease is not for me. I put my hope in embracing dustness.
6. Battling my disease serves as a blinder
Nobel Prizes in science have been given, in part, for helping their fields of science reject the mechanical understanding of life. There are revolutions in fields like neuroscience, quantum physics, and organizational leadership simply by rejecting the view of life as a machine. The machine metaphor was a huge blinder to them. When the blinders were removed, new (and old) insights were able to rock their worlds. The same is true with the assumption of violence. It, too, is all around and blinds us from wisdom of old and the wisdom yet to come. It hides wisdom that comes from other traditions. The battle approach is a stumbling block on this journey. I’m letting go of the blinders and looking for wisdom, where I find it.
7. Battling my disease is a way of practicing violence
In my life I have felt deep connection to all those who show how to live without violence: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi… However one of my criticism of the followers of nonviolence is that they often only apply their argument to war. But war is the .1% . We need to see how the the practice of nonviolence informs the other 99.9% of the time when we are not directly dealing with issues of war. How do we do medicine without violence? How do we face into a disease without using violence?
8. Battling my disease is doesn’t leave enough room for friendship, love, and respect
“Battle” calls out hope for the wrong kind of things: violence, enemies, trauma. My hope is not based in killing part of me. My hope is based in the practices of letting go, celebrating each moment and learning to dance with elephants. The medical sciences know that those with terminal disease like mine often have much higher rates of suicide. The battle image is too much like suicide to be an antidote to it. I choose to replace enemies with friends, fighting with love-making.
So I hope I have made it clear that the battle image seems completely unhelpful to me. I’m very curious what you think. Have you experienced problems with this approach? Do you feel like it works for you? Does it not make any difference? Leave a comment below and know what you think.
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