When you’re chronically ill like I am, you are willing to try almost anything for even a little bit of relief from your daily burden of pain and other symptoms. Whether you try natural remedies or medical remedies first, you’re almost guaranteed to look into some of those “clean living” programs that use things like diet, lifestyle changes, and meditation to improve your health and well-being. I’ve spent the last week listening to as many audiobooks on the subject, often read by the doctors or other experts who authored them. Why? I have been far more disabled and far less functional than I’ve been in years, and I wanted as much information as I could get about things I could do that don’t involve a doctor’s visit. We have a high deductible.

But the advice from pretty much all of these books – and I’m not going to call any author out by name, because there are dozens more where they came from – is only really beneficial if you already have a certain baseline of health. If you can really change your life using the advice of any of these authors, you must be:

  • rich in money,
  • rich in time,
  • rich in energy,
  • or all three.

A lot of the standard “live a healthier life” advice includes preparing all of your own food with fresh ingredients. Preferably organic, non-GMO, and locally sourced. (Unless it’s a tropical ingredient that is devastating rainforests or ruining developing economies as they export quinoa while the locals starve…) Much of the produce we “should” be eating is really expensive if you have to shop on a budget. Even if I liked all of the vegetables that would be part of my ideal diet, I couldn’t afford to eat them every week, let alone as many times per day as recommended. Avocados and pomegranates are prohibitively expensive. Coconut oil is almost universally recommended. Have you checked out the price of coconut oil lately? I do love cooking with it, but I can’t afford to do so as much as I would like to.

And even if I could afford all of these fresh and natural ingredients, I do not have the energy to cook. This past week, I haven’t had the energy to sit up in my bed for a good portion of each afternoon, let alone type up a blog post. For that matter, I couldn’t even spare the energy to listen to audiobooks while I was lying down sometimes, because I was really that fatigued. So there’s no way I’m standing in the kitchen for any length of time, chopping up vegetables, cooking on the stovetop, etc. Forget gardening to raise my own ingredients; I tried growing tomatoes and basil a few summers ago, and the pain and fatigue from less than 20 minutes in the garden rendered me non-functional for two days.

And I’m privileged enough to have food security. I have multiple grocery stores within 15 minutes of my house. Though we’re in a ridiculous amount of debt, we pay our bills on time and don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. I have a fully functional kitchen with lots of unnecessary appliances, like a deep fryer and a panini maker. There are people who have to subsist on ramen noodles and generic brand cereal when their food stamps run out for the month, people who don’t have access to fresh food in their neighborhoods or those surrounding, people whose “kitchen” consists solely of a hot plate. They don’t have time or money to take public transportation to an actual grocery store because they’re working two full-time jobs – while disabled – in order to support their families. Then again, they don’t have time to read any of these books in the first place, either.

Then there’s the advice about avoiding antibiotics because they’re bad for your gut. I’m well aware that we do need to be conscious of our antibiotic use because we don’t want them to become ineffective, but again, I work from home via my laptop and I don’t have to be around people who aren’t my husband and son when I’m sick. Most people, however, can’t afford to ask their doctors about riding out the natural course of their illness…they need to take the antibiotics so they won’t be contagious tomorrow and can therefore return to work. We’re still fighting for paid sick leave in this country. Entirely too many working-class people are forced to work when they’re ill or else lose their jobs or not earn enough to make their rent.

Can we talk about the assumption that meditation and exercise can cure things like depression, anxiety, and even physical illnesses? I’m not going to deny that some people find meditation very helpful, but if you’re depression can be mitigated solely by meditation, you do not suffer the same kind of depression as those of us who are chronically clinically depressed do. Same with generalized anxiety disorder. Intrusive thoughts are what makes meditation especially problematic for me. As for physical illnesses, meditation can work as a complementary treatment for temporary relief, but it’s something those of us with chronic illnesses have already tried…and it is fairly useless as advice for what ails us. As for exercise, it works for some, but not for everyone…and many of us have very specific limitations for what sorts of activities we can handle.

And while people with arthritis and fibromyalgia can find a lot of symptom relief from gentle exercise, those of us who have chronic fatigue syndrome have the one illness that is made worse by increasing our activity levels. It’s considered very dismissive of our reality when healthy people suggest “simple lifestyle changes” like these that are anything but for people like us. It’s even more difficult for people with multiple conditions that come with conflicting recommendations, because I’m sure my depression would be a little bit better (though not cured) if I could get out and take walks in the fresh air and sunshine every day. But I’ve tried that, and it only results in a CFS crash that moves me from mostly housebound to partially bedbound.

Are These Healthy Living Books Totally Worthless Then?

While I begrudgingly listened to much of the condescending advice these Crunchier Than Thou doctors wrote in their books, realizing there would be little advice that was useful for me, I can also acknowledge that most of their tips could be quite beneficial for otherwise healthy people who are feeling more run down than usual. These books, I think, are better for disease prevention than disease treatment. It’s the marketing that’s off. Book descriptions mention chronic illnesses like the ones I have in connection with whatever broad topic their authors seek to address…like brain fog, gut flora, fatigue, or loss of physical stamina. But the books are not written for desperately ill people like me seeking answers we’ve been looking for for years. The books are written for people who don’t have clinically diagnosable ailments but instead have the sort of malaise that can be reversed through the types of changes these authors recommend.

There’s no book that can solve a medical mystery like me. Please consider your good fortune if you are able to follow the advice of any given doctor or author and find the relief you seek from whatever ails you. For some people, that advice is too expensive or impractical to follow. For others, the secrets that we need haven’t been discovered yet.

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