Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mind Over Matter--Wishful Thinking

"Mind over matter" is a concept that permeates our culture, facilitated by televangelists, charlatans, and movie producers, among others. A good special effects team can make just about anything happen, including talking frogs, flying brooms, and moving castles. Miracles are claimed by overgroomed TV ministers, who make their living squeezing money out of elderly people who are desperate for a glimmer of hope as they near the end of their lives. Salespeople of all types promise impossible results from mediocre products, their sales technique being more important than selling quality merchandise.

So, is it any wonder that those of us who are ill, or who are fat, are constantly reminded that all we have to do is want something badly enough, and it will come to us? And that our perceived flaws are entirely the result of our own failure to just wish or pray hard enough?

Having a chronic pain condition, I have done a lot of searching for answers. I want to live a normal life. I want to get better. I want to be able to do the things I loved doing before I got sick. It's amazing, though, the idiotic comments I get:
"Maybe if you didn't dwell on it so much, you would start to get better."

"It's all in your head!"

"Think positive, a good outlook can make things SO much better!"

"You have to WANT to get better."

Other sufferers of this illness are nodding their heads at those quotes. They've heard them all before, because there are a lot of very naive people out there who want very badly to believe that health is something entirely under their control. If you do all the right things, and have the right mindset, you won't get sick. You won't die. And, if you DO, at least you'll have some accountability for it. Nothing's more frustrating, after all, than a bad situation for which you can't find someone to blame, even if it's yourself.

Mental illness is even worse for this sort of thing, since people seem to regard depression as "a bad mood", and schizophrenia (among other conditions) as not knowing how to behave in public. After all, if you accept that the lady talking to herself and rocking back and forth in the bus station is not at fault for her condition, you may be obligated to do something to help, or at least contribute to helping her. That's messy, and expensive, so we just assume she's done something to bring it upon herself, or that she probably deserved it anyway, and she gets to continue rocking and muttering while everyone scurries around her as quickly as possible, holding their breath as long as they can.

So it is with fat, where a crushing force of blame is laid squarely on larger folk for taking up more space than some people think they ought to have a right to take up. Your volume is not only unacceptable, and everyone else's business, but it's also regarded as a moral failure, a sinful rebellion against proper thinking, so to speak. It seems to be believed that a person's metabolism will go faster if that person would only want it badly enough, that they wish hard enough to burn their fat away.

Many of the diet books out there do natter on about state of mind, being in "the zone", and thinking yourself thin. But, while willpower IS necessary to deprive oneself of adequate nutrition for years on end, it seems that the fat-haters out there actually think it's as easy as rubbing a magic lamp and asking a genie to give us a new, more socially acceptable body.

I shouldn't have to say this, and it bothers me that I have to say this, but "Mind Over Matter" is just a phrase. Religious beliefs aside, you are no more going to melt fat with thin thoughts than you are going to bend a teaspoon with metal twisty thoughts. I'm not going to stop being ill by not acknowledging my illness. People don't stop being depressed by ignoring the depression. Life doesn't work that way. These nutters go on and on about "The Laws of Physics", then conveniently pretend that thought has the direct power to overcome those laws. Come ON already.

Mind Over Matter, to me, means the ability to figure out the workings of the world. I can't will myself into the air and fly like Superman, but people went and designed airplanes. I can't wish my pain away, but medicines can help soften it a bit. The key is, however, as we figure out these things, we need to be responsible about the application of our knowledge and technology. We are an arrogant species, and we often think we have it all figured out, until the unforeseen consequences blow up in our faces. We created automobiles to move us faster, and now we have pollution and car accidents on a scale that the original creators could not have even dreamed. We create new drugs to modify our bodies' chemical workings, then become horrified when the medicines, as they heal one bodily process, destroy another one.

And now, we're rushing into putting little kids on low fat diets, with those in charge of such things saying, "We can't wait for scientific evidence that this is a good idea, we have to act now." We're marginalizing people based on their volume, shaming them for being fat, without considering the harm done not only to the marginalized, but to society as a whole--we are damaging our very humanity, doing a terrible injustice so shameful to acknowledge that expiation will be a long time in coming, if ever.

So let's toss the wishful thinking crap out on its ear, okay? Let's replace "Mind Over Matter" and the blame game with empathy, compassion, helping others in need, and seeing people as people, not as "fatties" or any other crude subcategory designed for the glorification of one person's ego via another person's misery. Yes, yes, now I need to be nailed to a piece of wood or set on fire or something, right? Thought so.


Harriet Brown said...

Hear, hear.

BTW, have you tried acupuncture? A good friend of mine who had Guillain Barre and a kind of chronic fatigue and pain for several years has found very good results with acupuncture.

Tari said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again: marketing is the new religion, and the shit they sell is just as tainted and evil as anything coming from a two-bit, holy-water-hawking shyster. But, it takes brains and guts and lots of backbone to reject conventional "wisdom" - and nobody's selling those things. It's so much easier just to cut a check for the delusions and fall in line, where you can beat your head up against the impossible and the cruel and the inhumane, like all the other sheep.

Great post.

** P.S. I second the acupunx recommendation. I broke my tailbone and had chronic pain in the ass for two and a half years - and acupuncture is what got me through it.