I see a lot of memes exhorting us to “live for today.” Sometimes these are in the context of life being uncertain and needing to live each day as if we’re going to die tomorrow. And it’s true that the future isn’t guaranteed to any of us.
This has evolved into the “YOLO” (or “You Only Live Once”) philosophy. It’s not clear what YOLO really means. To some, it’s a challenge and defiance – the idea that you should try something even if it’s dangerous because you may never again get the opportunity to do it. If you look at it this way, it’s the opposite of the previous understanding of “live for today,” in that one can actually hasten the absence of tomorrows based on what potentially terminally stupid thing one decides to try or is goaded or shamed into trying. I followed this philosophy one time when I decided to go for a ride on a zipline. Stepping off the platform frightened me, but I did it. Now I’m too old and decrepit to do it again, so I’m glad I did it then.
On the other hand, “You only live once” could also mean that you should take care of yourself. You only live once, after all, so why not live as long as possible? Nutrition; sleep; exercise; avoiding drugs, smoking, alcohol, and unhealthy foods; and relaxation techniques are all considered factors that will lead to long life – as long as you don’t consider factors such as genetic disorders, cancer, and tragic accidents you can’t control.
If those behaviors sound an awful lot like self-care, well, they are. And for those of us with brain disorders, self-care is perhaps the most often recommended thing we can do to keep ourselves functioning as well as possible. Of course, if I were a cynic, I would say that self-care might be recommended so often because it’s an easy thing for businesses and insurance companies to recommend rather than actually helpful, but more extensive or expensive, interventions.
Living with a brain disorder is in many ways a day-by-day challenge. Every day, we must do the things that will lead to stability (we hope), including taking our meds if they’re prescribed, going to therapy, building a support system, and performing self-care. It’s true that we only live once, but that once proves to have its own unique challenges.
At times, it feels like we have been cheated by life by having our once around be so difficult. And I’m not going to say that isn’t true. I don’t think that having a brain illness makes us more sensitive or understanding or creative – except that we may be more sensitive to the needs of others who also have brain disorders. Mostly, it just makes life more – challenging is about the best spin I can put on it. And everyone in this life has their own challenges. There’s no use comparing whose life is worse.
Still, it’s a worthy goal to try to live the best life we possibly can within the limitations that our disorders impose on us. The fact that we only live once – and that our lifespan may be reduced by our illnesses – makes it all the more important that we make the most of what we are given.
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