Throughout my life, my parents have done everything in their power to give my siblings and me a better life than they had. I am grateful to say that I was privileged enough to have spent my childhood attending private school, traveling, going to plays, having a bounty of toys, and being able to take extracurricular activities. My parents and my village raised me to be strong, of service to others, and a go-getter. But they also raised me to be sick.
Of course my parents and my family didn’t deliberately raise me to be sick. After all, they were raised to survive during times of war, recession, segregation, and riots. But unfortunately survival came at the cost of their health. Most of my family is obese, diabetic, have high blood pressure, and asthmatic, or has a slew of other health issues. Systemically, my family had to fix their focus on trying to compete in a society that was not designed for them. They were groomed to be accomplices of their own deaths, through self-inflicted sickness and disease due to their lack of systemic nutritional education and access to food. Even though over time education and laws changed in regards to nutritional standards, it did not erase the generations of ingrained behaviors and a belief that we do not have full ownership over our bodies.
For generations my family was stripped of their rights over THEIR bodies and food. Once “free,” my family then developed their relationship with food, through the help of giant food companies that saturated their minds with mixed messages; so that they would find it difficult, to find the harm in their manufactured food. Then after the food made them sick, pharmaceutical companies swooped in and convinced them that they could never be “cured” of any sickness or disease, without their help. As a result, generations later, my family has normalized and excepted sickness and disease as a part of life.
Generation by generation my family’s sense of health and wellness became convoluted. As a child I witnessed family members passing out, having seizures, and taking handfuls of pills. It was (and still is) a norm for me to hear family members, in casual conversation, comparing notes on how many pills they had to take, how many doctors’ appointments they went to in a month, and go round-for-round in a game called “who is in more pain.” It’s an inferred badge of honor amongst my family to be able to both suffer and “function.” As a family it is easier for us to talk about sex and show each other mystery growths, than it is for us to talk about correcting our health.
And although I had spent most of my life seeing and hearing others suffer, once I began experiencing health issues, it already felt familiar and comfortable. I was raised to be sick, so my body was prepared and I was mentally ready. Just like my family before me I accepted sickness and pain, thinking it that it had to be part of my “struggle.” But there came a point in my life where I got sick of being sick. I had finally taken notice of this generational dysfunction and I knew that I had to break the pattern. So I educated myself and got healthy. But it didn’t last long because my entire life I had been mirroring this behavior so it didn’t take long for me to run home into open arms.
Once I became a mother, I was determined to break this generational chain of bondage once and for all. I knew that I wanted to be an example for my children. I wanted them to grow up seeing me have a healthy relationship with food, exercising, and knowing that sickness doesn’t have to be a lifestyle. So I fed them as organically as I could afford and restricted their diets. I felt that I was doing a good job because my children are not overweight or sick, they drink plenty of water and take their vitamins. But the other day my daughter excitedly showed me how she gives herself “a shot like Banco (that’s what she calls my dad).” As I looked down, I noticed she had pinched the fat of stomach, in the exact manner in which she as seen my father do many times. After I took the above picture, I became sad, because as much as I thought I was teaching my kids a healthy lifestyle, I had already planted seeds of sickness in them.
Obviously I could never keep her away from my dad, but that moment made me reflect upon how and what I have been teaching and exposing my kids to in regards to health. Prior to this picture I had heard my daughter tell me that her back or neck was hurting every time someone asked her to do something. Never really giving it much thought I would just laugh. But during that moment of reflection following that picture, I realized that she got that from my husband and myself. We both have told her multiple times that we were unable to do something she asked of us because our backs, arms, or knees were hurting.
Just like I had spent my entire life mirroring my family’s behavior, my daughter was now doing the same thing. I honestly thought that I had a few years before she picked on these behaviors but I was wrong. I was fooling myself by thinking that I could preach health to my children without actually being the message they needed to see. My toddler made me wake up and realize that I was falling asleep at the wheel and that it was time to remove my health from auto-pilot because my life and their futures depend on it. Just because I was raised to be sick, doesn’t mean that I have to allow my kids to be raised the same way. It will not be an easy fight to fight against everything that I consider “normal” but I have to do it. Because I know better, I must do better.