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May 1, 2020

Dear Privileged A-Holes: Do Better.

Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

Fact: People with comorbidities are dying at disproportionate rates when exposed to COVID-19 when compared to people without comorbidities.

Fact: There are many things people can do to take control of their health and see objective improvement within weeks.

Fact: Systemic racism, lower socioeconomic status, childhood trauma, PTSD, and many other factors contribute to increased likelihood to have comorbidities.

Fact: Low health literacy contributes to higher health care costs and higher rates of comorbidities.

Recently, I have been outraged at the insensitive comments from privileged people—including many healthcare practitioners—shaming others for having health issues. 

It is easy to sit in the comfort of an educated, privileged life and think, “Poor me. Why should I have to suffer from the laziness and irresponsibility of others who can’t care for themselves?” And as a white, educated, privileged woman, I will confess: I used to sit on the same high horse.

Let me first clear something up. I truly believe it is an individual’s responsibility to take care of themselves. No one else can really do it. My entire career involves empowering people to take control of their health.

But even when working with educated, privileged people, my work revolves around dismantling societal norms and poor education that are absolutely to be held responsible for their issues. I have seen lives put into shambles due to reckless misinformation from medical professionals.

The very cornerstones of health are only available to a minority. Fresh, whole, unprocessed food; the time (and education) to exercise; the time to sleep seven to eight hours; the ability to access a safe outdoor space; and the luxury of slowing down and managing stress.

Working three jobs, being constantly stressed about having enough money to feed one’s children, a lack of access to a safe outdoor space, and living in a food desert is in no way, shape, or form conducive to a healthy life.

If your argument is, “Well, they got themselves into that mess,” I truly hope you don’t have to experience what that thought process could be like if you are ever in a car accident or get a genetic disease. After all, you apparently got yourself into those messes. You chose to drive. Or be born to parents with a disease (because yes, just being born to parents of poverty or of low health increases one’s risk to experience those as well).

Yes, there are a few who can work their asses off. Who are somehow innately wired to leap and tear through every obstacle in their way, and somehow come out of a life of poverty. And yes, these people should be applauded for their insane feat. But to look at the others who were unable to do this and compare them to the select few who are is shaming at its worst. And it perpetuates our systemic racism, the patriarchy, and our capitalist society founded on squelching as many as possible for the benefit of the select few, who are dominantly white men.

Any time we blame an individual, without looking at them in the context of our failed society and system, we are contributing to this.

Any time we suggest “diet and exercise” as the simple solution to health, without addressing the complexities underlying the uphill battle for some people to implement these, we contribute.

Any time a doctor prescribes opioids for pain, without any additional assistance or recommendations (besides “rest”), this is enforced.  

Any time a doctor prescribes a medication without extensive education on the side effects or possible lifestyle interventions that could help someone eventually wean off of it (for those diseases where this is appropriate), this is amplified.

When insurance companies will fork over huge amounts of money to pay for quick-fix surgeries and medications that are proven to be harmful in the long term, our society gets unhealthier.

When insurance companies won’t pay for preventative care in any meaningful way, it sends a message that disempowers people.

When some communities in the United States of America—the “most advanced” country in the world—don’t even have clean water to drink, how can we expect people to take care of themselves?

When the two most powerful white men in our country—our president and vice president—say, “Eh, I am above wearing a mask” (something that is designed to protect others), they make it pretty f*cking clear whom they care about.

Our society’s structure has thrown the vast majority of its people to the wolves, and then shamed and blamed them for coming out wounded.

Our society has trained us that it is “us against them.” That money is scarce. And that the only way to be successful is to hoard it for yourself. That somehow raising others up will bring you down.

What would happen if instead we put value on every individual life? If we saw the beauty and gifts that every single person has. If we saw that in embracing these, we all became richer as a collective whole.

For those still clinging to blaming others and claiming that those in poverty do not deserve compassion, education, and help, I ask you:

What is your biggest fear about this?

Truly. What would happen if you let go of the blame? And saw—really saw—the human standing in front of you?

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