What my auto-immune disorder has taught me about privilege

A few months after my son was born I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease.  While Hashimoto’s might sound like it would be associated with cool Asian ninjas or something like that, it’s not.  It’s an auto-immune disorder in which my body fights against my thyroid gland so it doesn’t produce enough of it’s thyroid junk (I know super medically technical here) which causes a range of random issues.  I mean really, the list of symptoms for low thyroid is long and random.  I experience everything from sluggishness to increased cold sensitivity to depression.  Other symptoms I’ve been lucky enough to skip over include hair loss and infertility, however I have a good friend who experiences these struggles.

The most obvious symptom for me, and perhaps my favorite (not) is unexplained weight gain.  Quick crash course in Hashimoto’s, one of the major associated problems is low metabolic rate, and digestive issues that prevent your body from absorbing nutrients properly.  When your body doesn’t receive enough nutrients it thinks it’s starving, so it goes into this like hibernation mode and starts hoarding everything it DOES get, in case the apocalypse comes tomorrow.  Seeing how the apocalypse keeps not coming all it does is make me gain weight, or prevent me from losing weight.

Now, I know what you may be thinking because before I was diagnosed, and frankly before I started seeing a specialist, doctors kept telling me the same thing.  Losing weight isn’t that hard, it’s just a matter of eating less and exercising more.  Hahahaha, shut up.  It’s not actually that simple.  I typically eat less than 1500 calories, I exercise regularly, and I’m on my feet either cleaning or chasing children for a decent portion of the day.  So if it was a simple math equation I would be pretty darn skinny.  But it’s not that simple and I’m not that skinny.

Now here comes all the but it’s the type of calories you eat, and you need to try this work out, and have you done this cleanse.  You need to be Vegan.  You need to be Keto.  Go dairy and gluten free.  Sugar is a tool of Satan.  Eat this super food and try this shake.

And I’m sure all of those things would probably help, but here’s where we start talking about privilege.

It has come to my attention that there is a decent amount of the population who eats normal foods in moderation (including dessert) and exercises moderately who stay at a pretty normal weight.  I’m not talking about body builders and fitness fanatics, I completely recognize that they work really hard to keep their bodies at peak performance.  I’m talking about your run of the mill human beings who have normal lives with normal sized bodies who can shop in the normal section of a clothing store.  They might have 5-10 pounds they’d like to lose, but overall they look fine and feel fine.

Now don’t tell me these people don’t exist, because I know some of them.  I see slender people post pictures out getting ice cream with their spouse or friends.  A few months back I walked past a room full of thin ladies sharing a box of doughnuts, they are all still thin.

Here’s the thing, I spent a lot of time meticulously counting calories consumed and expended.  I’d be so good for several weeks and lose a couple pounds, just to have one moment of weakness, eat two cookies, and gain 3 pounds.  It’s a vicious cycle and those cookies didn’t weigh three pounds.

It’s excessively frustrating to be putting in extra effort and achieve no results while watching others put in normal effort and achieve normal results.

That’s a privilege, that normalcy.

That doesn’t mean that I think naturally slender people should have to share some of my fat to be fair.  No one owes me their healthy thyroid.  And I’m not going to sit around whining about my crappy thyroid (ok, I take that back, sometimes I do).

So when someone brings up other aspects of privilege- race/ethnicity, socio-economic level, upbringing, gender, etc. please don’t take it as an insult or a threat to what you have.  Don’t assume that they think it should be taken away or that you didn’t work for what you do have.

But…please be aware that there are unseen forces that can cause different groups a unique set of challenges.  And as Margot Lee Shetterly put it in her book Hidden Figures they may “need to be twice as good to get half as far.”

If you can’t do anything else, just respect the challenge.

When the boy from the inner-city school who was raised by a single mom with a GED ends up in a low paying job; rather than pointing out the obvious that his life might have turned out better had he gone to college, respect the challenge!

When the child of immigrants didn’t complete their homework because they were translating for their parents; rather than assume they were lazy, respect the challenge!

When a woman is passed over for a potential promotion for which she was well qualified, rather than pointing out that she took time off for her children when the man did not, respect the challenge!

Once you’ve got that down, then we can start to look at potential changes to level the playing field.

Last summer I finally reached a point where I had to see a specialist for my thyroid.  Literally the first thing he said when he walked in was, “Let me guess, they keep telling you that you are low side of normal.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said what I had been thinking for YEARS.  “Well if you’re developing nodules and can’t lose weight then obviously that’s not enough thyroid.”  Over the next several months and under close monitoring he more than doubled my dose of medication.

And guess what…I lost 40 pounds.  And I didn’t even have to do anything crazy.  Suddenly with a normal amount of effort I began achieving normal results.  I didn’t even have to force my fat on innocent skinny people.  With a small change that just evened the playing field, I was suddenly able to succeed.  I didn’t have to be twice as good to get nowhere, I could be normal and get somewhere.

There are many programs and groups that attempt to level the playing field with varying results.  I’m not here to debate each approach, but I do think we need to start being aware and considering what can be done as far as supporting ways to level the playing field.  This will be different for everyone but it may come in the form of voting in favor of certain programs, donating time or money, or just starting by changing your heart and attitude.

One last lesson I learned.  Don’t use your challenge as an excuse to make it worse.  Like I said, it’s very frustrating to put in effort and not see real results so at certain points I ended up using that as an excuse to self sabotage.  While losing weight was extremely difficult before my doctor fixed my meds, sitting around eating ice cream definitely did not help the situation.

I read this great blog post comparing privilege to cars sharing the road with bikes, “What my bike taught me about white privilege.”  The basic analogy is that being white or otherwise privileged is like driving a car and being underprivileged is like riding a bike.  While it’s legal and gets you where you need to go, the road is not designed with bikes in mind and favors cars a great deal, even if not by law by social practice.  You really should read the post.

However, after I read it, I thought about the times I’ve been driving when a bicyclist has put themselves in a very dangerous situation by not obeying the laws.  Most often by riding against traffic and not wearing a helmet.  Everyone retains their personal responsibility to do what is in their power to make their situation better.

So while it is so important for those with privilege to respect the challenges of others and reasonably attempt to level the playing field, it’s also so important not to make the situation worse by eating all the ice cream or riding against traffic.

 

 

 

 

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