Perfect Health – What’s That?

Some of the healthiest people are those who have been called to withstand some of life’s most difficult health challenges.Carolyn Myss, Self Esteem CD

When my body was giving me a lot of grief, I thought a lot about the pressure to get well, be well, stay well and look well. This morning I started reading “How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, by Toni Bernhard, in which she tells the story of how she and her husband eventually learned to accept her body’s un-wellness. “Through truly learning how to be sick, she learned how, even with many physical and energetic limitations, to live a life of equanimity, compassion, and joy.” (

As I read the opening of How to Be Sick, I remembered my own battles with what I called “the tyranny of perfect health.” In honor of all who strive with ongoing illness and in tribute to invisible illness week, I share something I wrote in 2004.

The standard for behavior and wealth and health is not much short of perfection. Perfection reigns: perfect bodies, perfect spouses, perfect children, perfect businesses, perfect bank accounts, and on and on. Who can keep up? Who is keeping up?

I’m not overweight and my face and body are in reasonably good-looking shape. Most people I meet assume that I’m healthy, that I work out and I eat well. The latter is most true about me; working out, not at all. My health is better than many others also diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. But when I have flare-ups it doesn’t matter that I’ve been well for a while, my thoughts often devolve to “What is wrong with me?!”

2003 was a pretty good year. I stopped taking prescribed medicines and started to see a kineseologist. {Huh? I have no memory of this now.} He identified a couple of food sensitivities and recommended a diet devoid of white-bread carbohydrates and things that easily break down to sugar. I also took a course in which I was engaged with other women also exploring the tyranny of body perfection, and the groundwork was laid. I set out with an intention geared towards the possibility I could live symptom free. {I do remember this.} And, I did for 6 months.

It turns out that I’m sensitive to other people’s energies, as well as some environmental factors. I didn’t start to feel badly about it until this last month.

With significant pain and way too many trips to the bathroom, I can no longer hold on to my confidence and optimism. Confusion, sadness and a feeling of hopeless have taken over. It’s all I can do to put a smile on my face. I have failed to be perfectly healthy.

The Difficulty with Well-Meaning Health Pundits

Healing guru, Deephok Chopra, wrote an entire book devoted to “Perfect Health.” I have to wonder: what is the impact of this gold standard when your life or your body is not perfectly healthy? How does it make you feel? Can we ever win the race? Can we get there in the first place, and if we do, for how long and at what cost?

So the important questions go something like this:

  • How can I maintain a center of strength at those times when my body is busy processing something that is more than it can handle?
  • How can I remember to be loving, accepting and loyal to my values and have faith in my course when my vehicle {body} is in need of repair?
  • How can I help my lovely body stay in tune, and remain mindful of possible road hazards while I’m driving along the highway of life?

Healing seems to be about learning the lessons needed through the challenges presented through my body. I may never experience “perfect health,” but it doesn’t mean I have to be stopped from living life.

For You: How does the standard of “perfect health” impact your sense of your self? How have you learned to challenge “perfection?”

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