It’s no surprise by now to my friends, family, and social media followers that I am a proud supporter of democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, and a de facto emphatic member of the #yanggang. At 34-years-old, I have always been informed “enough”, brushing up on whichever Dem. and Rep. candidates ended up on the party tickets a few months before election day, and every once in a while, when I felt personal affection towards a candidate (Obama…), I would watch the bipartisan debates in a bar filled with like-minded suporters, thinking I was doing my part.
As I’ve gotten older, and life has kicked my ass in ways that other people my age can’t relate to, one thing about being in a democracy has become abundantly clear: not caring about politics is a privilege.
Of course, I’m self-aware enough to know that I am privileged in many ways, especially relative to other demographics that face social inequities that are unfathomable. But as a person battling chronic illness, many roads on the political front lead back to me, and being inside a body that isn’t typical for someone so young, it’s hard to not feel enraged by the struggles I endure as a sick US citizen, and frankly, struggles that probably don’t need to exist to the degree that I experience them.
Most people who have met me in any capacity know that I am rational and accountable for my life to the extent that it is within my control. I do not feel entitled to special treatment, I do not expect others to understand what it’s like being in physical pain every moment I’m alive, and I do not think I am “owed” a reward for my life’s circumstance. But when I work a full-time job, pushed myself to be master’s degree educated, and maintain a robust career in healthcare, regardless of invasive medical treatments (including chemo each month), the discrepanies between my quality of life vs. those who do not live with illness are demoralizing, overt, and impossible to ignore.
Every campaign season highlights relatively predictable topics: socioeconomic inequality, poverty, foreign policy, and the economy. But this year, the hottest topics include: 1) arguing for the “best” healthcare system for our country, and 2) the looming threat that climate change has on our planet as a whole. There are plenty of reasons why our healthcare system needs to be addressed (i.e. Trump proposing to hault medical coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, the country trying to salvage that which remains of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and the rise in concern about what the FDA deems as “safe” to consume, as citizens become more educated about what they are eating.), and the natural disasters we experience regularly makes it hard to deny that the earth’s wheels are falling off.
And there are reasons why people are passionate about both. While I believe that climate change is a global threat, Andrew Yang highlights the inherent privilege in prioritizing that over other issues, when he discusses that people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck have more immediate issues they have to worry about. That’s not to say that global warming isn’t an issue, because it’s a very scary reality. But it’s a luxury to care more about a problem that is a generation or two away when my rent is due next month.
The same is true when we consider most topics our presidential hopefuls discuss on the debate stage. When it comes to healthcare, whether the government decides it’s “best” to move to a single-payor system or not, and whether they are “right” or not, the only thing I care about as a sick person is that if they do get it wrong, it could impact my health to the point where I might not survive the fallout.
Based on the track record our country has exhibited, especially of late, when it comes to making unilateral decisions that aren’t best for its’ citizens, it wouldn’t be just a minor inconvenience for me if we elect someone who is out of touch with what my day-to-day needs are as a sick person. And again, it’s a privilege to not have to care. In fact, of all of the privileges one could possess, it’s one I wish I was on the right side of.
The reason I feel I am able to be diplomatic with friends and family who disagree with me, politically, is because I am generally an empathetic person. I am able to understand why someone might feel strongly about things that don’t impact me directly. After all, how could I possibly feel passionately about something that has no significant bearing on my life? But truthfully, I think lack of empathy, knowledge, and insight are the exact reasons why our country is so divided to begin with. What people need to consider is that something doesn’t always have to matter to you, it just has to matter to you that it matters to someone else.
When talking about healthcare, there is a huge push for a universal system, and in particular, only a universal system. This is a really difficult concept for me to wrap my head around, which I think surprises a lot of people, since medical coverage is arguably the most important factor in my life. However, when we look at broken programs like the VA Hospitals, which are constantly discussed as treating our country’s veterans as second-class citizens, or welfare programs that are nearly impossible to qualify for or are abused, it’s hard to imagine how someone like me could feel any level of faith that I will be properly taken care of if my current healthcare access is removed.
In addition to that, we have evidence in other countries that universal systems aren’t a perfect solution, either. In fact, a few years ago, I connected with a woman in Ireland whose sweet little girl has Blau Syndrome like me, and she had to go to the newspaper circuit to raise awareness about how ineffective their public option was for her chronically ill daughter. We hear general horror stories about other countries and even “joke” about Canada’s wait-times, but for those of us managing debilitating symptoms and in many cases, life-threatening ailments that require time-sensitive treatments, there is nothing funny about an interruption of care.
Most chronically ill and/or disabled people in our country would probably not claim that our current situation is the best case scenario. The fact that being a full-time employee is commonly mutually exclusive to having the highest quality healthcare coverage is another one of our country’s deep-rooted privileges. It’s also one of our country’s greatest ironies, because if you can’t work due to poor health (which is circumstantial, not a choice…), you’ll no longer have access to the best resources that exist. And there are way too many factors that make this insurmountable. If you aren’t well enough to work, you won’t have access to the ideal care you need, and a lack of income will prevent you from being able to afford to supplement whatever (shoddy) government assistance you receive. Basically what I’m saying is this: if you’re well enough to work, you’re well enough to receive medical care that will keep you well. And if you aren’t well enough to work, well, you do the math.
This is easily one of my greatest fears as a sick person. Even though my symptomatic health ebbs and flows, I will always be in a state of decline since my disease is degenerative. As a result, I have no idea what I will do when I am no longer able to work. As it is, with a six-figure salary, my medical-related expenses (not to be read as “my medical bills…”), soak up 50% of my paycheck each week, when you factor in the out-of-pocket costs of taking cabs to and from work (vs. inaccessable public transportation), using a laundry service since I can’t carry it to a laundromat, getting groceries and meals delivered since I can rarely walk around a supermarket or carry shopping bags, and paying someone to wash and dry my hair since I am often too fatigued to maintain my hygiene at home.
But with that being said, this is the devil I know. I would far prefer a universal system that covers my healthcare the way my private insurance does, but I think it’s extremely naive to believe that it would be the reality, at least not immediately, especially when you have politicians like Elizabeth Warren “othering” the disabled population and not even realizing it, as she promises “affordable housing” for “them.” I don’t want “special” housing, honey. I just want my income that I’ve worked hard for to pay for my “cozy” 400 square-foot home (read: closet) that I’ve lived in for 8 years. I don’t want to be pushed into poverty so the government can give me subsidized housing; I need the economy to work for people in my situation.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people who are pushing for extreme and radical change wouldn’t be impacted negatively by the change if it didn’t result in a positive outcome. For example, Elizabeth Warren also loves talking about taxing the shit of the “wealthy”, but she considers the “wealthy” to have more than 50 million dollars. FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS. Why the fuck doesn’t she consider 5 or 10 million to be wealthy? Probably because she has 12 million in the bank. And it goes without saying that people with a fuck-ton of money don’t have to care about a broken healthcare system, because they can pay for whatever they need to out-of-pocket, anyway. So if she gets it wrong, no harm no foul… for her.
I’m not convinced that a lot of people understand the role anxiety plays in managing one’s health when it’s always a problem. You have to coordinate multiple medical visits a week, and if you’re working, it’s a real bitch to stay employed and stay sick. I know that I personally can run meetings, manage high-level projects, fix operational issues as they arise, and train new employees with ease, but if I have to flex my schedule by 30 minutes or use my lunch hour to go to an appointment, that’s what leadership will remember. We have to take medications that have grueling side effects, we have to push our bodies to function around the hours society expects it to (i.e. 9-5), and we have to fight with insurance companies to avoid delays in care. So while I appreciate the sentiment that Warren and Bernie promote, because medical care is (read: should be…) a basic human right, I need to feel secure about making that change so I don’t have a nervous breakdown in the process.
It is an unfortunate truth that the hardships we face in our life, especially those related to health, are the the exact misfortunes that are counted against us when it comes to having perceived value. As Andrew Yang also discusses, we have a GDP that states that “business is booming“, but we are at an all time record-high in this country of suicides, decreasing life expectancy, and depression. If America is considered to be the model, why are its’ citizens traded for dollar signs? Why is Mike Bloomberg pledging to spend a billion dollars on advertisements for his campaign when it’s estimated to cost only 55 million to completely fix Flint’s water system?
Where are our values, America?
Furthermore, why are the people making the decisions about my health the same people who wouldn’t be directly affected by those decisions anyway? I watched an episode of The New York Times series THE WEEKLY last night, and it was a room full of people who are not impoverished, who are well enough to work, and who have a regular platform to speak in their editorial columns every publication, making decisions about who to endorse to best represent the most pressing issues of our nation – many of which did not exist in that room. Why are we not paneling a stadium full of sick people to find out what our actual needs are? Why are we not asking the lower/middle class what would be needed to climb out from underneath the rubble? It was yet another missed opportunity to capture the essence of what’s in the hearts of many.
We Need a president who isn’t a lifetime politician. Experience is one thing, but a lot of the people running for the most important job in our country, the job that will hold our fate in their hands, have already been unsuccessful in the smaller roles they hold. We need someone like Andrew, with vision, and heart, and ability to make a difference. Because life is hard, and the mess we have in our country right now would probably cost a gazillion dollars to correct.
But compassion? We’re in luck. Compassion is easy.
Compassion is free.