I have always thought there was something physically wrong with me. Every ache was an indicator of some sinister, underlying health issue. Every pang of fatigue meant that I was succumbing to a mysterious autoimmune disease. A stomach ache was a sign of the collapse of my entire body, of cancer, of death. I have always been convinced that this body of mine is not functioning properly. That this body should be doing more.
I’m not sure where I got the idea that I am operating beneath my physical peak. I’m the type of person that sleeps 8+ hours a day, which is the amount of sleep that doctors recommend we get. It must have been at some point in high school when my peers started staying up all night to write papers and do homework that I realized: people out there are getting 4-5 hours of sleep and being totally functional throughout the day. I was jealous. I’m a wreck on a 4-5 hours of sleep – my body just can’t handle it. But at that young age, I was ingrained with the idea that I was lazy because I was missing out on 4 extra hours of productivity.
But it wasn’t just my need for more sleep that convinced me that I was biologically inferior to my peers who slept 4-5 hours a night. It was also the mood swings. The mother fucking mood swings. Which were oscillated by a slew of varying factors: my period (first and foremost), my diet (and the ensuing stomach aches that came from constantly being undernourished by whatever fad diet we were all doing), alcohol (which I got plenty of), exercise (which I got none of), sunshine (which I avoided). Some days there was depression. Some days there was mania. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed and leave the house. Other days, I felt fantastic, like I could go out drinking all night, wake up, go to work, come home, write my novel, fuck like a champ, and do it all over again the next day.
It was those flashes of mania that convinced me that I was somehow sick. In mania, I could do anything and everything. In mania, I could sleep 5 hours and feel fine. I could do a work out and be bursting with energy. I could eat fewer calories and still feel energetic. I could be witty and winning and work, and sexy and fun afterwards. I could do everything I set out to do, and I could feel fine. Mania made me feel like I was finally the person I thought I was supposed to be. Mania made me feel perfect. Optimal. Fine tuned and functioning.
But then it would fade. Sometimes it would slip away slowly. Other times, it would come crashing down, and all the sleep I hadn’t gotten would come back to get me: 9 hours a night. 10 hours a night. 11 hours a night. And I would feel like a failure. Again.
I was convinced I was unhealthy. That there must be something I wasn’t doing or wasn’t eating or wasn’t drinking that was making me come crashing down like that. Which is how I wound up spending so much money on different supplements and work out classes and fancy, reinforced meals. One of those things would stop me from crashing. Maybe all of them combined would keep me buoyed in a permanent state of luscious mania, where I could be clean and pure and perfect. If I could stay up, then I would be beautiful. When I was manic, everything I said was the right thing to say. Every day I looked prettier than the last. Even my shits were perfect. Me when I was manic – that person didn’t lie or cheat or steal or hurt the people she loved. I wanted to be that me forever, suspended in moral purity and peak physical condition. I was convinced it could be achieved. All I had to do was find the right supplement, the right tea, the right work out class, the right expensive, organic certified mattress. And then I would be okay.
But here I am. And I’m exactly the same as I always have been. No amount of consumption or denial has changed that. I still eat every day. I still sleep every day. I still shit every day, just as I always have and I always will. The fact of the matter was: all I needed to do was listen to my doctor. I know, I know – we all hate Western medicine these days. But hear me out.
The doctor says: eat a balanced diet. Sleep 8 hours a night. Get exercise or at least be active. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Avoid processed foods. My doctor told me to take iron and B vitamin supplements and Lexapro. It was all very simple advice – but it was the best advice. I didn’t need to take chlorophyll and bleach my asshole. Sure, maybe a kombucha here or there would make me feel better on occasion, but both the short term and long term benefits of drinking kombucha were negligible.
In Silicon Valley, they’re obsessed with human optimization and biohacking. In Berkeley, the hippies are convinced that crystals and yoga and veganism will make you feel better. But me? I’m already optimized. I already feel better. In fact, it turns out that I’ve been feeling fine this entire time. The human body as it is performs at its peak when it is taken care of on the most basic, fundamental levels. Yes, there are flaws in the system, but you can’t get rid of the flaws without destroying the entire system.
There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping too much or bad moods or stomach aches or manic episodes. There’s nothing wrong with being energetic today and sleepy tomorrow. I am perfectly healthy, even with my ingrown hairs and pimples and diarrhea. I can’t improve on a perfected system. Perfected, not perfect. All those health fads – sure, they might do something for a day or two. But the amount that health fads improve your quality of life and your ability to function are ultimately insignificant. The changes that they make are too small to really be worth all the effort and the underlying anxiety of being convinced that your body isn’t working. That you are missing out on the peak human experience. That average human health is itself a sickness. Able bodied people are somehow still victims of ableism. Or maybe it’s ultra-ableism. Anything that tells you to consume more in order to cure you of the things you consume is a scam, but that’s what health under capitalism looks like.
So why are we so obsessed with this false paradigm of health. Why is it pervasive from Silicon Valley tech bros down to gluten free yoga girls. What is it about this culture and this self loathing that has convinced us that we aren’t enough as we are. That our health isn’t healthy enough. Why do we need to work more, sleep less, play harder, always smile, never fart, be perfect. Why can’t we just accept: this is who we are, flaws and all. And all those people who sleep 4 hours a night and work 14 hours a day and work out and make money and have power and look great and eat clean and take chlorophyll and drink ionized or deionized water – is that really who we want to be? Has capitalism convinced us that success at the cost of our bodies is the definition of happiness in America? Or is thriving just as we are an excellent act of rebellion.