Mastery And Mystery - When It Comes To Health, How Much Control Do We Actually Have?

05/09/2016 11:56

Health is often referred to as no respecter of status, privilege, background or achievement. At some point all of us will suffer some malady or other despite how well we believe to have lived our lives.

The modern world is built on being increasingly interested and obsessed with mastery over the variables of life. Answers, we are told, can and should be found. Anything else is simply failure.

The origins of where this may be attributed to is the time of the Enlightenment when man was first able to discover new and consistent answers to the questions of the world, and the subsequent surge in scientific method and inquiry that stemmed from that.

Man, for the first time, began to see that the world was not necessarily a chaotic arena governed by divine will, but that there could and probably would be an explanation. Surrendering to fate and the Gods became seen as apathetic in light of what science promised and where it was heading.

Rather than be a vessel that the gods could speak and act through, man began to believe that all that was any value came from him, rather than through him. This was encapsulated by the Descartes maxim of "I think, therefore I am," which formed the cornerstone upon which new beliefs and understanding were cultivated.

Complex and powerful natural processes were able to be understood and harnessed to achieve financial gain and a degree of comfort never before seen. Each new technological device adds another layer of control to our existence, yet also adding another level of divorce from ourselves and the natural world from which we emerged.

The rise of cities (an environment built on the philosophy of control and order) only further alienated us from the harsh world of growth, seasons, living and death that defines a rural life. Suddenly we could have light when we wanted it, food (from any part of the world) when we wanted it, company when we wanted it.

Now with the advancing of the communications and internet we can even exercise control over our relationships with people. Rather than go through the messy process of speaking face to face with all the uncertainty that may bring, lives can be ordered, run and maintained through rarely having to see anyone. Text, email, social media all allowing a sense of togetherness without ever having to really get your hands dirty. In the words of Ilia Delio, it offers a 'community without commitment and mutuality without responsibility.'

With this ever expanding search for control, so has concurrently risen the level of emotional stress in our societies. With an ever more sedate population who no longer need to engage in manual work to run a home or survive, including professions that involve sitting down rather than moving; the problems of life are increasingly based around thought and emotion. We live far more intensely in our heads than perhaps ever before.

Humans, curiously, seem defined by a desire to constantly seek the path of least resistance. Cities meet our need to escape the previous physical exhaustions of daily living. Maybe much of the internet and social media now thrives on our desire to escape the emotional exhaustion of actually maintaining meaningful friendships and relationships?

All this desire for control essentially means that we have come to begin to expect certain things from life. It is not enough to simply throw our hands up in the air and look to the heavens when there is no answer available.

But we err in one critical area. We are not the machines that we have created. We are organic and unpredictable beings in the same way that is the land that we left behind. Yes, we understand a lot more about ourselves than ever before, but there is still so much that we have not even got close to.

Whether we like it or not, we live with the uncertainty. Or, if you are of another perspective, we exist with mystery. Not everything can be explained, predictions often go awry, and death cannot ultimately be prevented. As organic beings we are subject to the same rules of the environment that produced us.

One of the hardest tasks as a new Doctor is conveying to our patients that we don't always have an answer to what is happening. It is easy to squirm and flail under the intense and demanding gaze of who we are talking with but sometimes having the strength to admit that we do not know is the best option. In my case this is exactly what the honest Stroke Consultant said when my own results came back. He warned me before the tests that given my age and health background, this was going to be the most likely option. In many ways I found this comforting, as he was being transparent with me. Sometimes things happen, they have no reason and we have to accept this.

My stroke was, to all intents and purposes, a mystery. In order for me to emotionally survive the experience this was something that I was going to have to learn to accept. Something must have caused it, but it was unlikely that I will ever know. I could speculate long into the night but that was to get me nowhere, this was a question where the answer section will forever remain blank.


UK Health