By Shadi Nadri
There is a whole lot in our lives that is left up to chance. Where you are born, your health, your family. I often find myself considering the lot I have been given, whether because of the conversation in the zeitgeist about privilege, or because some experience I have brings it to the forefront of my mind.
Most recently, chance has not been kind to me. Over the last year, I went through a period where I lost three jobs, moved six times, had a destructive relationship, and kept few friends. As a result, my mental health was the worst it had ever been and my weight fluctuated from the least I have ever weighed to the most I have ever weighed. There are obvious solutions to these problems, namely therapy and a diet. Yet because of the circumstances of my life, my ability to address these issues was very limited.
Therapy requires insurance or enough money to pay yourself. But in reality, most that cannot afford insurance cannot afford therapy. I had not been able to get a job that offered benefits, and definitely did not have enough money out of pocket, so no shrink for me. In addition, the anti-depressant I had been taking ran out, and my doctor required me to go in for a check-up to refill the prescription. The visit would be $150, which I did not have, so I quit the medication cold turkey and left myself worse off than ever.
As for the weight gain, I could only afford cheaper food, and that involved a lot of simple carbs and refined sugar. A gym membership can be cheap, but getting there and doing it consistently takes a lot of time and motivation. An irregular work schedule and bad mental state made it to where walking to work every once in a while was the only exercise I got. When I got a job where I no longer had any walking in the commute, I did not exercise at all.
Then, seemingly all of a sudden, I got a job that I heard about from a friend of my mother’s that was full time and offered benefits. It was five minutes from my house, and related to my college degree. I finally had health insurance, and got my prescription refilled for the first time in several months. I found out my copay for therapy was $0. I also joined a pretty expensive gym with group workouts because I knew I could motivate myself more easily if there were others working out with me. I could go at the same time every day because my work schedule was consistent. I could afford more healthy food. Because of one conversation with an acquaintance, I could finally deal with the struggles that were making me miserable.
Often I hear a narrative that while not everyone can help the fact that they have mental health issues or physical health issues, one must take responsibility for themselves and “do something about it.” Seek professional help, move more, eat less, and work every day to better yourself! How much do we consider that so much of an individual’s ability to do so is left up to chance? Where you are born determines whether you have access to healthcare at all, if it’s totally free, or exorbitantly expensive. How healthy you are determines how much you will need medical support throughout your lifetime. Your family’s circumstances often determine how well off you are, or if you have a support system. There is no difference between the version of myself that was doing poorly and the version of myself that is doing well except that the latter had a stroke of luck (the job) that allowed me to navigate better through life. It is not my fault, and it is not my victory—it’s chance.
Of course, this is not to say that we cannot change anything about our lives and that everything is totally out of our control. But I hope to instill a sense that the expectations we have for each other and ourselves should be tempered by the fact that so much of where we end up in life and health is not a conscious decision. Remember when you are dissatisfied with yourself or someone around you that it is more often luck that is to blame, and not personal failure. Perhaps this will let us have more mercy for each other.