The non-Finnish way

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on March 01, 2019 # Health, Mobility

(NOTE: “The Finnish Way” is a rigorous, high-energy regimen for living, invented by the Finns.)

Chicago-based blogger, columnist, and disability troublemaker, Mike Ervin, is arguably the funniest quad on the planet. Writing for his own site and New Mobility magazine, among others, he titles his merciless rants under the rubric, “Smart Ass Cripple,” with the logline of “Expressing Pain Through Sarcasm Since 2010.” An activist with MD and a “Jerry’s Kids” apostate, he rolls through life with a leery, jaundiced eye at the often irritating world of crips and “verts” (i.e., the vertical people). He introduced me to the haunting image of being strapped into an airplane aisle chair and feeling like Hannibal Lector without the mask. This week found him railing about Mattel for not making more disabled dolls like ones with COD or ones that drool. He’s relentless.

I write a lot about getting older in a wheelchair and ways to try to ensure my longevity, so when I read the title of one of Mike’s latest oratories, “The Secret to My Longevity,” I knew it would be trouble. While I babble on about health, exercise, and "The Finnish Way” of strenuous daily activity, Mike takes another tact – the “f**k it all” tact.

In his own words, he’s “a 63-year-old lifelong cripple” who has no idea why he has lived so long. Alongside a photo of himself in a jaunty hat and a cigar between his lips, he proudly admits to never doing “any of the stuff cripples are supposed to do to stay healthy…I don’t even do any of the stuff people who aren’t crippled are supposed to do to stay healthy.”

He eats and drinks whatever he wants. “The other day,” he crows, “I had a dessert of cheesecake and whiskey.” He fails breathing tests because he never exercises and avoids support groups because other people’s complaints stress him out. His own explanation for his long life is the jazz he listens to, arousing, he thinks, the same cerebral pleasure centers as cheesecake and whiskey.

“Wait!,” my Finnish Way brain says. “That’s all wrong. That’s a recipe to an early, painful death. Where’s the go-get-em, the self-discipline, and the resilience in that? If Mike is right and the super-active, bike-to-work, jump-into-an-ice-pond-for-fun Finns are way off base, why have I chosen the hard way? I can now ask myself, ‘What would Mike do?’ then order up that chili dog with glee.

Mike’s Cheetos-flavored lifestyle is every bit as appealing as those TV ads featuring bikini models devouring a dripping double cheeseburger with onion rings on top. By not fretting constantly about his health and throwing impulse control to the wind, he’ll probably live even longer. He clearly has both an iron stomach and an anti-social imperative to survive just to upset all the boring, play-by-the-rules types out there.

But, unfortunately, I can’t join his epicurean conga line. I’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated in the diabolic “health craze” of the modern age. I’m like the Malcolm McDowell character in “A Clockwork Orange” where, post aversion therapy, watching violence or listening to Beethoven makes him extremely nauseous. I now get an upset stomach just looking at a double cheeseburger. That doesn’t mean I won’t break down and eat it, just that I feel bad about it for days after.

So, there you have it. The Finnish Way or Mike’s Way. It’s entirely your choice. Both can point to proven winners --- like the entire population of Finland -- or with Mike’s Way, one proven winner, Mike. Of course, you can mix and match. You can savor Mike’s whiskey and still work out a half hour a day. If you decide to go all out and commit to an all-White-Castle-and-Dove-Bar diet, you might have to occasionally flab down by eating a lot of kale and unflavored yogurt. Or not. Just ask, “What would Mike do?”

Roughrider Teddy Roosevelt was all about “the strenuous life” and though he only lived until 60, he started a national fetish. The health mania among people over 50 these days has launched a hundred medical school newsletters with names like “Healthy Years” and “Fight Aging!” They are clearly on to something. Disabled or not, if you are older and not obsessed with every bit of health news and advice you can stuff into your brain, you’re one of the extraordinary ones like Mike. And that’s not an insult.

For further reading:

Mike’s blog space at http://smartasscripple.blogspot.com/

New Mobility magazine at http://www.newmobility.com/

Pantzar, Katja, The Finnish Way, TarcherPerigee Books, 2018.