Both Doug and I have posts brewing for the co-parenting blog about this whole thing, but they’re taking a bit of time to roll around in our heads, I think.
In the meantime, I wanted to talk about control and respectability policing. (The best summary of respectability policing I’ve seen is by Carolyn Edgar in this post on a totally different topic than heart attacks.)
About a month ago, I was on the phone with Doug and he was asking about my parents, who are currently taking care of my 98-year-old grandmother. I was expressing frustration with the amount of time and energy and maintenance my dad has to perform on some of his health problems, and I started ranting to Doug about how we both needed to keep exercising so we didn’t end up with these health problems and yadda yadda. He cut me off with a “You’re preaching to the choir” and I knew he was right.
One of the nice things about being divorced and being able to interact successfully on a limited set of topics is that we are always expanding our topics. One of the things we’ve been interested in lately is exercise and general health. Running, his swimming, my barre, etc. And how to get the kids into lifelong sports. This has been a whole journey for me, understanding my body as a machine that has definite responses to what I do to it, but that still works in ways I’ll never be able to control.
And I knew that he was worried about his health because he has a genetic risk for heart problems on both sides. So all of his exercising and eating well and not salting his food isn’t any kind of guarantee, and, in fact, may all be a red herring in preventing a Major Health Event.
And his worries turned out to be correct. What happened was all just from his genetic legacy.
What has surprised-not-surprised me is how the first question most people asked (after asking if he was ok, of course) was about what he’d done to bring this on. Sometimes it was about whether he exercised, or what he ate. Sometimes it was incredulous (from the people that know him and know that he’s improving his health constantly). But it struck me that we have all been conditioned to think that we have control over our health 100%, and that if we’re exercising and eating well, things won’t happen to us.
It’s respectability policing, and we’re doing it to ourselves.
So many people have been so kind about the heart attack. And I am sure that they would be equally kind if Doug was carrying more weight and never exercised and didn’t do all the other things he was “supposed” to do. But I also think that they’d be a little bit relieved, because that would mean that there is a linear relationship between what you do and what happens to you. It would mean that we do have control over our health.
I was profoundly affected by reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In it, he talks about being a writer and a long-distance runner, and how he runs for health. He feels it’s his responsibility to run so he can give his body the exercise it needs, but at the same time he knows that he could die or become sick at any time. Running is no guarantee. He does not have control.
And I don’t have control, either, even when I exerting control by putting on my shoes and going out when I don’t want to, or eating an apple instead of a bagel.
Here’s the tension: We should exercise and eat well. Exercising and eating well don’t mean we won’t get sick or have a medical event or die. There is a relationship there, but it’s not linear. And nothing we do, even looking both ways before we cross, can guarantee that we come home every night.
How do we live with that tension?