Back5 mins

The Universal Privilege

Namrata opens up about navigating the frailities of the human body and remembering the importance to stop, breathe and appreciate the small victories.

Reckless abandon is a privilege.

A privilege we all abuse, with respect to money, substances, emotions and perhaps most significantly, the human body.

This isn’t a preachy rant about how your body is a temple or health is wealth and requires a lot, if not all of your attention. Somewhere deep down, we all already know that apparent cliché is true. The only difference is how (and if at all) we discover just how much it matters. For some, and I’d like to express some amount of envy here, it’s a non-issue. They chug along day after day, consistent and unwavering. For others like me, health takes the front seat and distracts from everything else.

There is a fine line between pushing your boundaries to better yourself and pushing so hard that you start to break. I’m only just learning to navigate back to the former. For a while there, I was drowning. I couldn’t quite figure out why and none of the excuses I came up with felt ‘serious’ enough. Just for the record, there is no such thing as too minor a reason to stop and breathe, especially if your own body and mind is barking at you. If it’s telling you that something is very wrong even if everyone around you is chalking it up to not getting enough exercise or not being positive enough. I ignored mine. I knew subconsciously that the level of fatigue I felt every morning wasn’t normal, that being deeply unhappy, constantly anxious and on the verge of a breakdown wasn’t healthy and having no reason to look forward to the next day was scary. I was in a loop though, unable to find my way out of it, marooned and just barely hanging on. I should’ve taken a break, a step back and made an effort to figure it out. 

Then I woke up one morning, with eyes swollen from unstoppable crying the previous night, with both my ankles slightly swollen and unable to support my weight and I had no choice but to stop and listen. All the so-called excuses – work, social obligations, and responsibilities ceased to matter. Only the pain remained relevant. Severe pain that was present day in and day out, shifted from one joint to another and made it impossible to do anything but lie in bed. I was diagnosed with a severe vitamin D deficiency and spent two weeks in agony. The fatigue was meant to go away in a month. So was the depression, the loss of my appetite and the fuzzy feeling in my brain. It didn’t.

"To get moving every morning is a battle. It’s the hardest thing to do, but the only one that brings some ration of relief. I’m learning to listen to my body instead of just steamrolling over it. And most of all, I’m learning to be vocal about gratitude. "

What I have, as I discovered after some more digging, is a suppressive form of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also chronic (but manageable), a fact that took me a while to come to terms with. I’ve always claimed to be self-destructive in jest, but here was my body actually turning on itself and attacking its own tissues. The irony. It was like a puzzle coming together. The dull, aching pain in my entire body, the unrelenting exhaustion and the difficulty in moving was all starting to make sense. It’s one of the most common ailments in young women around the world today, but where it comes from and how it affects every woman is different. It could be you, or your friend. They’re still making sense of the causes; some call it hereditary, some point to exposure to smoke and air pollution and some say it boils down to stress. All I know is that the human body is complex. Putting it in one box or another works as a band-aid solution to appease the mind, but the reality is, it’s hard to figure out. There is no cut and dry reasoning that you can apply.

To get moving every morning is a battle. It’s the hardest thing to do, but the only one that brings some ration of relief. I’m learning to listen to my body instead of just steamrolling over it. And most of all, I’m learning to be vocal about gratitude. Things are always uncertain, not just for me but for everyone, but they could always be worse. Appreciate the little victories and the people who help you get there. It’s no picnic in the park; there are days I don’t want to entertain conversation with anyone, especially if it comes in the form of unsolicited advice. I understand that it’s rooted in concern, but it’s still usually misguided. Your pain is your own. The best anyone can do for it is just listen, no opinions offered. And ultimately, it’s up to you to take charge. To gain some modicum of control. Control over your own mind because that’s really the only thing that’ll save you. Feeding it and training it, so that your body may follow suit.

It’s not even about sickness or disease for me anymore. It’s about consciously considering what I’m feeling, thinking and wanting and learning to use that to grow. Without letting the white noise in. Everyone, especially the people who love you always have an opinion. I listen to it, but I don’t let it smother me.

I may never go back to my former life of fourteen-hour days and boundless energy (or adrenaline; at this point who knows) and letting go of that is hard. Remembering what it felt like to spring out of bed, fresh and raring to go is also hard. Remembering some things in general is tough. Watching my peer group accomplish massive goals while mine are usually just getting through the day with enough exercise and without a five-hour nap is even harder. Also, not a path I’d recommend going down. No one wins the comparison game. Most of all, it’s hardest to shake off the fear that I’m being left behind, that I’m not enough and that there is no coming back.

Everyone has a journey to pull through. This is mine. Maybe it’ll resonate with you and make you feel less alone or maybe you’ll scoff at it. Who can say? All I know is that I’ll get to where I need to be in due time, armed with the lessons I’m learning now. 

Namrata Juneja

Former lifestyle writer, fashion school graduate Namrata Juneja is still weighing her options when it comes to her place in the world. In the meantime, she’s writing as much as possible, perfecting every Broadway show tune in her repertoire and going on long swims.