At some point, you realize you are key to your health and wellness. So much of it rests on your willingness to seek help when you need it, ask the hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions, commit to the treatment plans prescribed by your medical provider, and take preventative measures to ensure your continued well-being.
There are many circumstances that contribute to overall health: economic status and proximity to health centers, preexisting conditions and family history, not to mention Rwanda’s double burden of disease – the myriad challenges posed by both communicable (tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS) and noncommunicable (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer) diseases. When we combine these statistics with the motor vehicle injuries and accidents sustained in urban areas such as Kigali, it can be daunting to think of sustaining and achieving long-term health.
But you are more powerful than your circumstances. You can take one bold step right now toward your optimal health: You can take responsibility. This doesn’t mean you are to blame for your setbacks or illnesses. It simply means that you accept accountability for your health from this day forward. Health responsibility requires you to make time for self-care, prioritize wellness activities over potentially harmful ones, and consistently seek out opportunities to live a better, more energized, and fulfilling life. It calls for you to be your own best advocate.
You can start by honestly assessing your own self-health knowledge and behaviors: Do you know your risk factors for disease? Your current blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels? The results of past physical exams and status of ongoing illnesses, treatments, and goals?
Do you practice good oral hygiene through tooth brushing, flossing, toothpicks, and dental care when possible?
Do you check your skin for suspicious marks or moles that are asymmetrical, elevated, or multi-colored? Are you addicted to alcohol or other substances or show addictive behaviors? Do you avoid smoking and smoke-filled environments? Have you had your eyesight checked? Do you wear a seat belt and ensure your passengers are wearing seat belts when you are the driver?
Look at the quality of your life and consider the areas you would like to see more improvement. Maybe you would like less pain or be able to participate in more physical activities with your family and friends. Maybe you are challenged by the side effects of medication or concerned that you are a burden to loved ones.
Take responsibility. What choices can you make right now, today, to get you where you want to be? What conversations with providers and family do you need to have? What questions need asking? What new habits need adopting?
You are not responsible for being sick. But you can be responsible for how you deal with and overcome sickness.
As one of my teachers says – every opportunity is for either healing or learning. You can take responsibility as you search for what you need to heal and learn.
Health responsibility carries no blame; it is merely a new opportunity to care for yourself with authenticity and kindness.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach Visiting Faculty, University of Rwanda