—Lucinda K. Porter, RN
World Health Day is April 7, 2014. Health is not
just a global concern—it is a personal one. Most of us value our health
more than material wealth. The loss of health is deeply painful, a loss
that those with hepatitis C need to confront in a monumental way.
Chronic hepatitis C has the potential to interrupt the course of one’s
life, and may change it forever.
When I contracted hepatitis C in
1988, it was an incurable disease. However, the lack of a cure did not
mean that I was helpless. I could do little about having hepatitis C,
but there was a lot I could do about my health. At that point, I was
living an unhealthy lifestyle, so there was room for much improvement. I
was a potato chip-eating couch potato. I believed in better living
through chemistry, tobacco and alcohol. It was not pretty.
Before I had hepatitis C, I had
tried to improve my health by aiming for total perfection. That
approach inevitably failed, and I’d throw in the towel and go back to
my previous ways. It never occurred to me to make small changes.
However, hepatitis C changed everything; I needed to find a successful
approach to a healthier lifestyle.
Rather than change everything, I changed one thing. I didn’t know it at the time, but basically I was using a harm reduction
concept on myself. In HCV and Harm Reduction
Heather Lusk describes harm reduction as “a philosophy and set of
practical policies, programs and practices for working with potentially
harmful behaviors…any positive change is harm reduction.”
Since the all-or-nothing
approach wasn’t working, I decided to change one behavior that had the
potential to kill me the quickest—drinking alcohol. I knew that alcohol
was like fertilizer for hepatitis C, so I figured that giving up
drinking might improve my chances of living with hepatitis C. Desperate
to succeed, I got help for this.
One of the benefits of changing a
behavior is that success builds confidence. If I could change one
thing, then I could change something else. However, change is hard, and
just because I could stop drinking didn’t mean that I could stop
smoking. That required a different plan. I tried nicotine gum in order
to reduce the harm tobacco was doing. Eventually I quit smoking.
Changing my diet was more
difficult. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, food is a necessity. Eating is
also a great pleasure. Improving my diet has been a two-steps forward,
one-step back process. Although I have made great gains in my
nutritional health, there is still room for improvement. However, my
imperfection is not an opportunity to scold myself. According to Lusk,
harm reduction is about respect and empowerment. Shame and guilt
disrespect the self and lead to powerlessness. Shame and guilt are more
likely to cause me to dive into a jumbo bag of M&Ms than to eat a
In observance of World Health Day
I invite you to reflect on ways you can reduce harm to your health.
Pick just one thing to change. It may be something big, it may be
something small—the important thing is that it is your choice and one
you are ready to change. There are countless ways to reduce harm and
gain health, and the HCV Advocate website
and guides on a variety of health subjects. For information about harm
reduction and diet, see last month’s Healthwise
. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink; try not drinking one day a week, or give up alcohol just for today. Perhaps you can limit the amount of alcohol you drink to one or two glasses.
If you use drugs, learn safer drug use practices. Whether injected, inhaled, skin-popped, or smoked, there are ways you can reduce potential harm
to yourself and others. For instance, there are multiple delivery
systems for cannabis that are less harmful than smoking it.
Try to get enough sleep
on most nights, aiming for 7 to 8 hours. Set a goal of going to bed
fifteen minutes earlier. If insomnia is an issue, try listening to
soothing music while trying to fall asleep.
If you need to start or increase your exercise,
start with 5 minutes. If that is too long, start with a minute. If you
are a TV watcher, walk in place, stretch, or lift hand weights during
the commercials. Add in activity by parking the car at the other end of
the parking lot.
Learn about nutrition and hepatitis C.
Eat smaller portions of less healthy foods. Reserve the least healthy
foods for special occasions. Pick one food to skip for today, such as
fried food or sugar.
Reduce stress. Like
so many of these suggestions, reducing stress is easier said than done.
It takes knowledge and commitment. Dedicate five minutes of your day
to meditation or relaxation, and that is a good health investment. Spend time outdoors, appreciating nature.
Wash your hands more frequently, or for longer periods of time (aim for 20 seconds).
Increase daily water intake.
Begin your day with a full glass of water. Buy a bigger water bottle
and try to finish the contents. Drink a glass of water before every
Add humor to your life.
Laughter has a positive effect on health, and while it can’t fix
everything, it makes life more pleasurable. You can start this now, by
Virgil said, “The greatest wealth
is health.” Health is a process—not an endpoint. We can always strive
for a bit more. It starts with changing just one thing. What are you
willing to change today in exchange for a better tomorrow?
Lucinda K. Porter, RN, is a long-time contributor to the HCV Advocate
and author of Free from Hepatitis C
and Hepatitis C One Step at a Time
. Her blog is www.LucindaPorterRN.com
Source: HCV Advocate Newsletter, April 2014