What Netflix film Purple Hearts taught me about Health + Diabetes

by Hanan Abdel- Khalek

 As a little girl, I thought diabetes meant we had too much or too little sugar in our bloodstream. I never explored it beyond this. Being aware of it from a young age, though, as an unruly enemy that could strike me as a direct consequence of the unhealthy foods I so relished eating, has always been something that lay like a translucent sheet at the bottom of my subconscious, rising up in quiet moments in the form of guilt. All of it down to my ridiculous sweet tooth. My father would often tell me off for the amount of Coca-Cola I would ingest daily or the ridiculous mountain of sugar that I would take with my tea. It is safe to say one of my biggest addictions to date, that has been the most challenging to combat, is sugar.

In 2018, I was sitting in a friend's office in Dubai, eating a Snickers bar and a Vanilla Ice latte for breakfast. Disgusting I know. Her colleague looked over at me, very concerned. He was not aware that this wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg with the way I would ingest sugar like it was water, a powdered caramelised lifeline. He mentioned that this could very well lead to diabetes later on in my life. He told me that diabetes in its most violent form can lead to the loss of limbs or death. For a few moments, I froze in my seat, perturbed at what my future could very well end up looking like, but a few minutes later, I lifted my hand up for another bite of my Snickers bar, like an addict, chasing the hit, that beautiful concoction making my brain chemistry fizz from the sugar high. It was enough to completely erase that scary little peep into my potential future drenched in difficulty. 

We do this as humans, don’t we? We hear, we learn, but to actively implement real changes in order to prevent a terrible outcome, one that isn't tangibly here yet, seems near impossible. To change deep-seeded habits that have been compounded by years of positive conditioning surrounding specific foods, can feel like the easiest idea, but the most impossible task to execute.

Last night I watched the trending Netflix film Purple Hearts, which hit the streaming service on July 29. It has remained one of Netflix's top movies through the weekend. A sentimental romantic drama featuring Cassie Salazar, starring Sofia Carson, a struggling Spanish singer who was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She falls in love with Luke Marrow, played by Nicholas Galitzine, a marine deployed to fight the war in Iraq. Although at first glance, it seems like a tacky Dear John American propaganda backdrop to love, scratch the surface, and you find an interesting exploration into health care, big Pharma (pharmaceutical conglomerates), and fraud. The two agree to fake marry so that she can pay for her very expensive medical bills to keep her alive, and he can pay back a hefty debt to a drug dealer that, if not paid, could lead to his family's death. The stakes are high on both sides.  Although this is set in America, the message rings true globally. It sobered my thoughts on accessibility to health in the tangible and metaphysical world. 

Being reminded of how inaccessible health care is, I am led to feel it is imperative that I find the prevention before I am forced to find the cure. Undeniably, access to health care in Egypt is expensive, exclusive, and dangerous. Hospital and medical bills make wanting to even pursue our symptoms a second or third priority.

How do we wade through the quicksand?

As a start, it definitely helps to understand that as humans we are battling layers of challenges, internal and external, that prevent us from maintaining a healthy attitude towards ourselves and the world around us. Advertising and marketing have us in a chokehold, selling us the illusion that we are constantly chasing but never catching, preying on us since childhood and leaving us in the dark. It is easier and cheaper to buy a Big Mac than to order an organic salad without pesticides in it. 

Even if you have the privilege to invest in your health after paying for bills and food, you are then met with a sea of misdiagnosis from doctors, a lack of courage to believe in your own symptoms, a lack of discipline to maintain healthier regimes, and a lack of confidence and self-love to change your habits and lifestyle. Inability to challenge and change neural pathways in your brain to make different associations with what you have been conditioned to find happiness in.

We are then met with a sea of ignorant chatter coming from people in our circles that might be misinformed about topics like diabetes, urging us in different directions and causing us to either want to slump in a corner and give up, or lead us down a road to dangerously slow the process of awareness about our symptoms and conditions.

What can be done?

Awareness is key

When it comes to any type of change, the first step is to overcome denial, accept reality, and educate yourself on your body and mind and what can be done to optimize them. When we are aware of the things that make us want to take that unhealthy bite, or miss the gym, or skip a doctor's appointment, we are arming ourselves with tools to fight ourselves. At times, we are our own worst enemies. You must know your enemy in order to fight it.

Recognize that you are more valuable when unhealthy.

Speaking of awareness, it is in no interest of pharmaceutical companies, also known as America’s new Mafia, brands, and advertisers, for us to believe we don't need to buy a damn thing to live happily and healthily. Having discipline in knowing the difference between our wants and needs will empower us to have a defense against a cyclical attack on our self-esteem. An attack that forces us to fall victim to unhealthy purchasing, eating, and indulging in patterns resulting in the eventual decay of our health.

Start now

If you are anything like me, you freeze halfway through a  problem. I have an all-or-nothing mentality, which I am slowly combating. If I don't start the day right, the middle and end will be just as bad. But this approach is robbing me of a better future. The later you begin, the longer the period of change. Don’t stop just because you're starting half-heartedly or late in life. Make the mistake and get up again, eat that sugary cake, and tell yourself you’re going to try not to in the next moment, in order to be better. Cutting out a food group in which the withdrawal and relapse have been compared to drugs is undeniably going to be tough, but don't skip starting just because you may falter along the way. 

The Butterfly Effect, noun

A property of chaotic systems in which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system

The batting of a butterfly's wing can be the cause of a hurricane halfway across the world. 

Good physical and mental health, strong eating and sleep hygiene are just not profitable. This thought alone makes me want to start an inner revolt in a small way and push back by challenging myself hour by hour to create a healthier base to build on. I challenge you to try, in a small way, to create your own base, triggering a mini revolution that, in time, can have a ripple effect on the lives of those around you. Here is me batting my wings. I hope it stirs a mini hurricane in you.

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