How Stoicism Helps My Husband Live Happily With His Constraints
Finding the highs of exercise and life despite the limitations of hemophilia B
I’ve been reading quite a bit of philosophy in my free time lately. Right now I’m reading the works of Seneca, a first-century Stoic philosopher.
I’ve always been interested in Stoic philosophy and its teachings. As a field of study, Stoicism is concerned mainly with how humans can attain eudaimonia — a Greek concept that has no English equivalent, but can be loosely translated to “human flourishing.” It’s designed to make its practitioners happier, wiser, and more resilient and virtuous through controlling their perceptions and changing their response to stressful or triggering situations.
In a letter Seneca penned, he quoted his fellow Stoic Epicurus: “It is wrong to live under constraint; but no man is constrained to live under constraint.” The passage struck a chord with me, as the wife of a person with chronic illnesses — namely, severe hemophilia B and a seizure disorder.
My husband, Jared, and I are no strangers to constraints. Hemophilia gives him a long list of physical limitations, from the exercises he can attempt at the gym to his overall ability to be mobile, which can be affected by spontaneous bleeds. Both of us must constantly bear these in mind to make sure he stays safe and (ideally) bleed-free, though the latter is never guaranteed.
These limitations are not merely self-imposed, and not merely defined by his body. Jared often tells me that when he was growing up, adults would typically prohibit children with hemophilia from engaging in sports and exercise. Not much thought was given to the relative advantages an active lifestyle can offer when compared with a sedentary one.
Yet Jared, ever the knowledge-seeker, learned about the integral role of exercise in managing internal bleeding episodes. Since then, he chooses to be as active as he can possibly be, regardless of what other people might say. He holds firm to hemophilia-care information that’s been scientifically proven. Now he no longer perceives himself as constrained from enjoying physical activities, as long as he has the safety precautions all set.
For Jared, having constraints doesn’t limit him from living a life he’d like to live. Constraints allow him to understand his unique life experience and learn how to live and respect the body he has.
Life for him is a constant battle between spirit and body. He dreams of pursuing many things, particularly in the realm of athletics — but he knows he’s limited only by what his body can do, or what is safe. Therefore, he must walk a proverbial tightrope and balance his limitations and his desires.
Still, constraints don’t necessarily hinder him from feeling a sense of fulfillment, or from experiencing the normality he so deeply desires.
“There is freedom in walking that tightrope and finding the perfect balance of doing what’s ‘just enough’ for your body,” Jared says. “There’s a feeling of ecstasy in discovering that you can, in fact, do something that you’re not supposed to, even if that means you must do it with adjustments.”
In the Filipino language, there is the phrase “Masarap ang bawal” — in English, “what’s forbidden is delicious.” This phrase describes the ecstasy people might feel from discovering they can do something new — the high of discovering that you can become “more than you.”
Despite his limitations, Jared still manages to experience and enjoy this feeling. In his heart, he believes that he’s only really constrained by the limitations he imposes on himself — or certain hard and fast rules he should follow to avoid danger.
The most important thing of all is that he freely chooses these constraints, especially when he knows full well that the trade-off isn’t worth it.
“‘Your body, your rules’ still follows, even when you have a chronic illness,” Jared says. “At the end of the day, it’s your choice how you want to practice or adjust the ‘rules’ to suit your needs.”
Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.