Here’s to a new recurring-topic post! Go Out and Read This is pretty self explanatory. I’ll post about a book or article that I like and try not to sound too much like I’m presenting an elementary school book report while encouraging you to, you guessed it, go out and read this!
(You could also Stay In and Read This, if you want to be nit-picky. Maybe I should just call it Read This! but that sounds vaguely demanding…)
As someone whose attention is almost always involuntarily focused on issues of health, I am often curious about how other people view health and wellness. Are other people concerned the way I am concerned? Do I measure up to their level of knowledge and/or fanaticism about health? Or am I so far outside of the norm that you need a telescope to see me, floating out here by myself in the abyss of dedicated extremism?
All good questions.
There are so, so many answers.
Mostly I think I personally hover in a safe space of just-concerned-enough, while occasionally veering off into over-zealousness.
I’m ok with this.
It’s a fine line when you are a Chronic.
Mostly your doctors don’t know that much about your illness(es) and so you want to go out and fill in the blanks for yourself. Which can be good and wonderful, say, when you realize that you have a vitamin D deficiency that’s affecting your moods and energy levels that nobody was bothering to pay attention to (#TrueStory). On the other hand, this sometimes leads to Internet-diagnosing yourself with a brain tumor (it’s the only thing that has all the symptoms…of, well, everything). Nothing good comes from Internet-diagnosing. There is a plethora of <stuff> between helping yourself and hurting yourself when it comes to health propaganda.
So I wonder. I wonder about other Chronics, but then I wonder about non-Chronics. If you don’t need to spend so much time thinking about health and wellness, would you?
Yes, ostensibly, you might.
Enter A.J. Jacobs and his wonderful book, Drop Dead Healthy.
Backstory: A.J. Jacobs is a genius writer who is the editor-at-large for Esquire magazine. His name might ring a bell more so for his non-fiction bestsellers. This is the guy who followed the Bible, word for word, in The Year of Living Biblically, right down to the beard and the eschewing of mixed fiber clothing. His other self-as-an-experiment tomes include the aptly named My Life as an Experiment and The Know-It-All. His forthcoming book is an investigation into family trees and the possibility that all people are somehow related. Essentially, he is my writing-style soul mate, in a completely platonic way, and if I didn’t have so much chronic <stuff> to deal with I would probably follow in his investigational footsteps.
It seems like so much fun.
When Mr. Jacobs decides on a topic, he goes for it. Actually that is an understatement. I don’t know that there are words to describe his level of commitment. For instance, the subtitle to Drop Dead Healthy is “One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.” He really means it.
Now before you roll your eyes and think, “Just what this world needs, another lug writing a book about eating tree bark and lifting heavy things,” please Google Mr. Jacobs. Actually, I’ll just post his picture:
See that face? That’s a face you can trust.
Just like me, Mr. Jacobs (Should I be calling him A.J.? Or just Jacobs, like this is an actual journalistic piece and not just a personal blog topic? Mr. Jacobs sounds like I’m talking about my high school gym teacher. I know, I know, cool it on the digressions, Nic, you are confusing us. Now what was I saying?) wondered a lot about health. He also wondered about all the health information floating around out there and all the ways that people try their very hardest to be healthy.
The book breaks the body down into different sections. Each month for 2 years (!!) Mr. Jacobs followed as much health advice about that body part as he possibly could. This means he did everything from wearing noise canceling headphones (Chapter 3: Ears) to having his vegan/holistic-everything-practicing aunt sweep his apartment for toxins (Chapter 12: The Endocrine System). The result is 375 pages (hardcover) of myth reinforcing and debunking, funny anecdotes and poignant observations about Americans and their occasionally unhealthy obsession with health.
Conclusion: it’s not just me!
Some of my favorite bits (Without giving the whole thing away- this is a Go Out and Read This post, after all. So you know, follow that instruction…):
~Chapter 2: The Heart. In this chapter, Jacobs explores exercising, and the fact that he really doesn’t want to do it. As part of his motivational strategy, he downloads an app that uses Photoshop-like technology to age his self-portrait. He hangs it on the wall and each time he doesn’t want to work out, he thinks of his future self. Then he does what he needs to today for the man he’ll be in the Future. He calls the picture Old A.J. and finds it to be pretty helpful. I think this is great. When I first read this book when it came out in 2012, I was barely getting through a particularly painful semester of college. I wanted to just drop the class and not deal with it any more, but it was a required course I’d have to take eventually. I borrowed Jacobs’s rationale and told myself every day that I was going to class for my future self. Future Nic will be so happy she’s already taken that class and does’t have to sit through the first half of it again in a future semester! Future Nic will be thanking me so much for pulling through right now! You know what? It totally works.
~Chapter 11: The Brain. Is neuroplasticity, or the idea that our brains can be molded, shaped and miracle-growed our whole lives through, for real? The experts Jacobs consulted provided mixed reviews. Can we become Einstein overnight or with a kit bought for $19.95 on a late night home shopping channel? Not so much. However, we can expand our brains at least a little bit. I absolutely agree. I know that when I am intensely symptomatic and the only “functioning” I do that day is saunter down to the couch and watch me some Teen Mom 2, I can feel my brain turning to mush. On days when my synapses actually feel like firing, I love to read non-fiction (full disclosure: Jacobs’s The Know-It-All is one of my favorites) and feel like with each new factoid I retain, my mind is expanding.
~The Appendices: In a nutshell, Jacobs lays out How to Turn the World into Your Gym, How to Eat Less, Five Tips on Treadmill Desks (which I would love to have, if not for that whole orthostatic-intolerance thing), Five Foolproof Methods for Stress Reduction, The Ten Best Pieces of Food Advice I’ve Gotten All Year, and Five Toxins I Now Avoid. You may want to get this book from the Library just for these sections!
~This book has also given me this gem of a doctor joke, which somehow I had managed to have never heard previously:
“What’s the difference between a doctor and God?”
“God doesn’t pretend he’s a doctor.”
(Page 287, hardback edition, courtesy of a New York City cab driver)
It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.
Happy Reading, Chronics. As always remember to consult with an actual doctor and not just a well-read writer before starting or stopping any exercise program, medical treatment, etc., etc!