On “Making Excuses:” Able-ism and The Myth of Priorities

There are two sentiments that I see circulating dominant culture : one is that if we are not attending to wellness of a healthy lifestyle then we are “making excuses” and the other stresses that if we don’t do something (be it yoga, visiting a friend, or eating our vegetables) it is just because that thing is “not a priority” for us. While such sentiments may be intended to encourage folks to take responsibility for choices they do have, the effect can be plain old able-ism. Here’s a story that can illustrate why. 

Almost two months ago, I started having a Babesia flare (one of my Lyme co-infections) which made me feel like I had a bad fever all the time and couldn’t take a full breath. People kept telling me that it looked like I’d gotten some sun, asking if I’d been out hiking or skiing, but really I’d just been too damn hot for too damn long and my face was stuck being bright red. One of the dangerous things about an illness being under-researched and unacknowledged is that my treatment is experimental. I am seeing one of the world experts on chronic Lyme and it’s still experimental. When it comes to Babesia treatment, one route is to take a medication that is often effective for Malaria (at about twice the dose for 6-12 months). I’m med-sensitive and was having issues with toxicity when I tried this. I was still having issues when I cut it down to a freaking eighth of the dose. I then tried a herbal protocol that rotated through a cycle of 3 days on, 11 days off. This succeeded in causing the flare but not clearing it away. My third attempt involved acquiring a tincture from Ghana which, besides having the most foul taste I could have ever imagined, succeeded in reducing the flare and getting the infection down enough that I can now tolerate the pharmaceutical medication at a whole wild quarter dose. It’s slowly helping. And I mean slowly! I am having a feverish flare while I write this. [Side note: treatment should not have to work like this. Let’s all write those angry letters demanding that chronic Lyme and co-infections get recognized by the CDC so that we can begin to get decent resources, research, and covered treatment!]

Lyme & COinfections Chart - Word
Here’s some more information about Lyme and co-infections

I pretty much stopped doing yoga over this time and grappled with feeling like I was failing at something. I’ve felt like I’m avoiding it, but that has only partially been the case. After untangling this conundrum, I realize it’s just one of three overarching reasons:

1. Exercise with a fever really sucks. Even super gentle yoga had led to my face getting hotter and to more air shortage. During a peak Babesia flare, little will help. Taking a slew of of meds and lying down is important. Reserving my energy is key. There is so much I would love to do but can’t during a flare. It is not that the things left undone cease to be priorities, it’s just that there’s not enough of me. 

2. Yoga takes energy! I have needed every scrap of energy I have had to deal with life stuff: work, car breaking down, landlord deciding to sell our house, a book contract deadline. Before I was sick, yoga and cycling would help reduce my stress and raise my energy levels. The time it took to do yoga when I was busy didn’t pose an issue. I was so much more clear headed and efficient if I did yoga that I would accomplish more in less time if I was dedicated to a practice. This is not true anymore. I experience different and unpredictable capacities and sometimes I need to make sure that I can keep my life running at the expense of other things, in case I run out of capacity. Yoga takes energy and, as therapeutic as my practice can be, that is energy I then won’t have for other things. For me, it is not time for a yoga practice during a Babesia flare.

3. When I am stressed, I find it harder to do yoga. I tune my body out as part of coping. This does not help. Knowing a move is in our near future, my home feels less like my home and doing yoga in my house was exacerbating this awareness and adding to my Padden yogasense of urgency, not peace. This is where I can get into a loop that does not serve me. I tune out my body, I don’t feel at home. These are reasons to move into and not away from my practice, but at this point I’m out of the lovely little thing known as a habit and the way back to it can be hard. Today I went out to a beautiful lake and found a spot in the woods to ease back into my practice. Though stiff and sore, it was still beneficial and I am hopeful that I will be able to build my practice back into my life again.

If you are tempted to express sentiments that propose all activities are a matter of priority, please take a moment to reflect and integrate the fact that many folks have to leave a host of beloved activities by the wayside just to get through the day. Likewise, if you are feeling guilty for not upholding previously cherished commitments due to a chronic illness, I encourage you to allow yourself to settle into the the knowledge that you may not be “making excuses” you may, very simply, be working with your current reality. It is more than acceptable to treat yourself with a little gentleness when this reality cannot encompass all that you wish it could.