Self-awareness key to good health

Writing the Science and Health column has been an opportunity for me to break down some of the preconceived notions that the science behind health is too complicated and not worth your time as a reader.

But for me, this column has personal ramifications. For many years, I was dealing with a chronic disease, and it still has no cure. It certainly impacted me academically at the College, but the physical and social impact was far worse.

I am very fortunate that, despite the problems I’ve had in the past, I am relatively healthy nowadays and I am still graduating right on schedule. However, there are many other people, including some who may be close to you, that aren’t as fortunate.

At this age, our bodies are supposed to be at their prime. All the health problems synonymous with adulthood are years ahead, and so we use this time to live life to its fullest. People who have gone through illnesses are required to look at life in a different light, and many times, life’s simplest pleasures require an extra bit of caution.

Students with diseases or severe illnesses often lack an understanding from other students about what they are experiencing. Sure, someone could continue to act like they’re perfectly normal and not let anyone know about what they’re going through. But what happens when there’s an emergency trip to the hospital, or if that person is consistently turning down social invitations for no apparent reason?

Likewise, letting others know every gory detail about what they’re experiencing is not necessarily the way to go. It will probably evoke sympathy, but soon enough, people won’t see the person’s positive qualities, only the problems. Everybody will just feel sorry for the person all the time.

I have always been upfront with my friends about my health issues. I don’t meet someone for the first time and say, “Hi, my name’s Ben and I have some pretty rough health problems.” But it’s something people need to know because if I have to suddenly miss an important test or social event, I don’t want anyone to think it was something I had against them personally. This may sound a bit weird, but believe me, if you start turning down enough social opportunities, people do start to wonder about you, and if they aren’t aware of health conditions, they will think it’s a personal issue.

At the same time, I have never expected people to go out of their way to feel sorry for me. I would rather have someone laugh at one of my jokes or enjoy working with me on a project than sympathize with me about something I have no control over.

If you have health issues, it doesn’t mean you should ignore them, but at the same time, don’t let them get you down. Keep a positive attitude, and find out who your true friends are, because they don’t care what problems you might have. Know your limits. You don’t want to embarrass yourself for the sake of popularity.

If you know someone with health issues, don’t go out of your way to ask how they are doing. Get to know the person and if he or she is feeling depressed, try and bring out the positive things in his or her life. Sometimes, people with health issues forget all the good things going on in their lives outside their health. Treating a person like a human being is a crucial step to recovery, because more than anything, people with health issues have a difficult time believing they are normal.

Hopefully, by reading this, those who know what I’m talking about will realize they are not alone. Understanding our health and our bodies is the first step to fighting a disease, but understanding the mind of someone going through a health problem is an even bigger step. It’s one, I hope, that we are all willing to take.