For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
-Mother Goose Rhyme
What do you do when you’re diagnosed with an illness that has no cure?
This is the question I found myself confronted by in 2004.
Unfortunately, what I did was this: Nothing.
That sounds crazy, right? Finding myself sick in a way I never had been, why wouldn’t I do something about it? Why would I choose to do nothing? The truth is, I did nothing for a whole host of reasons.
- Nothing, first, precisely because I had learned there was no cure. If there was no cure, then I figured there was nothing to be done about it (“…never mind it.”).
- Nothing because I rationalized that because there was no cure, anybody who claimed to have a treatment for it was potentially a charlatan.
- Nothing because since I knew nobody knew the cause, I thought nobody could treat it.
- Nothing because there were so many different treatments out there, and I didn’t know how to figure out whether any of them were effective.
- Nothing because I didn’t want to choose the wrong approach and waste my money on something that didn’t work.
- Nothing because most of the treatments were supplements, and I didn’t really believe that supplements would do any good.
- Nothing because I had never been seriously ill and I didn’t know how to negotiate the healthcare system in anything but the most basic of ways.
- Nothing because I didn’t know what specialty my new illness fit in to (turns out that’s a trick question – it doesn’t fit neatly in any of them).
- Nothing because I didn’t know how to find a doctor who did specialize in my new disease.
- Nothing because I didn’t understand that I needed one of those.
- Nothing because when I did finally look for specialists, there was no doctor in my area, and I didn’t think it was worth traveling to see one.
- Nothing because a bad reaction to a previously well-tolerated over-the-counter medication caused me to develop a phobia of taking any new pills.
- Nothing because it didn’t make sense to do anything when I could just as well do nothing and have that not work.
- Nothing because I thought I was dealing okay with the illness on my own, and I didn’t really see what any doctor could do for me, given that there was no cure.
- Nothing not so much because I decided all at once that I had to get on with my life as that I just kept living as much as I could as I always had.
- Nothing because I figured that I had always gotten better after I’d gotten sick, and that given time, I would get better.
Somehow, for all of these reasons, nothing was the thing that made the most sense at the time. Lying behind those reasons was some element of choice, a significant amount of inertia, and a lot of plain old ignorance. When I look back on that period now, of course, I see it through the lens of all the years since, and I wish I’d done things much differently. Doing nothing – and that was my approach for several years – did nothing for me except cause me to get worse over time.
Now I know how to deal with my illness. But that’s hard-won knowledge that I gained from my experience of doing nothing, which effectively meant doing everything wrong before I later learned how to do it right. I wish I had spared myself that experience. I definitely wonder whether if things would be different now if I’d had better counsel and made decisions differently from the start.
Because the truth is, doing nothing is not doing nothing. Doing nothing, whether consciously or not, was forgoing potentially helpful interventions. It was failing to respond appropriately to my body’s needs. It was allowing the illness to have its way with me.
If, instead of trying to “never mind it” away, if I’d really understood what I was potentially up against, and planned for the war rather than fought each battle one at a time as it arrived – where might I be?