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Notes from the lonely

In the insurance biz, we often use the term whole health.


It refers to the idea that to keep our members healthier, we have to think not only about their medical or physical health but also their mental health, their financial health, their relational health, their socioeconomic status, etc. It means we have to look at the whole individual rather than reducing them down to their diabetes, say.


This might sound like a great big duh to many of us, but not that long ago (still?), the healthcare industry - and therefore the insurance industry - was not, as a rule, looking at things from this broad, holistic perspective. In fact, reductionism is a thing.


Reductionism says that by breaking down biological or medical phenomena into parts, it is more likely that a single cause will be discovered and thus, a cure devised.


At a doctor’s office then, if you came in sick, it was seen as their job to give you a prescription to take with you, not to determine if you could afford it. And with a chronic illness, for which a complicated treatment plan might be needed, little time would likely have been spent making sure you understood it or had the social support that might be needed to manage it.


Of course, I’m speaking in generalities here about trends and not about individuals, but you get my point, yes?


You probably also see that in some cases this is an elegant approach; like with a broken leg or an infection. But in a case like cancer where there may not be and often isn’t a single cause, and it affects a variety of systems, and the treatment is complex and costly and has serious side effects which sometimes require additional treatment of their own, and there are multiple appointments with multiple providers, and no one nearby is unaffected by it all…


Well, I think we’d all agree, focusing on a single thing in the case of cancer just doesn’t work.


And this topic seems especially relevant in our present world.


Because while the experts agree that we are by no means in a place where we can relax the protections we have built up around our physical health, there is acknowledgment that we must also be thinking about the long-term ramifications these protections will have on our mental health, our financial health, our relational health.


This applies at a societal level no doubt, but for each of us individually as well. I hear it in the way that every person I’ve encountered speaks of the impacts.


We are all struggling.


Some of the struggles are similar. We are all dealing with uncertainty - how long all this will last and what will it look like on the other side. We are all dealing with anxiety - faces in masks and empty shelves now part of our everyday.


But there are also different struggles.


For some, losing their jobs is what’s weighing heaviest; for others, it’s having the job of laying them off.


For some, physical illness is the burden that’s taking the highest toll; for others, it’s not being there to comfort their loved ones.


For some, managing a home now constantly filled with more people is a daily grind; for others, it’s living alone in this unprecedented time.


And yes, yes, yes, I whole-heartedly agree, we cannot lose perspective; some of these things are undoubtedly harder than others. And we should not stop looking for ways to be positive and grateful for what we do have. But we also should not minimize the very real and unique ways that each of us may be struggling.


We must all be looking at our whole health.


In other words, denying the ways in which we’re feeling bad simply because most things are going ok and we know others have it worse does us no favors. Whatever the way this current time is affecting us is valid and it’s absolutely ok to say so.


Not just ok, but imperative since we can’t address something we haven’t acknowledged.


And since we wouldn't leave a broken leg unaddressed I assume; so too, we cannot leave a broken heart.


My hope for all of us right now then, is that we encourage each other as we attempt to navigate this unknown set of circumstances. That we can join each other in support and compassion for the entire variety of ways this is hard on us all.


Also, however, that we remember that this support and compassion must extend to ourselves. That we must be as kind and patient with ourselves as we strive to be for others. It is, after all, the only way for us to be wholly healthy.

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