Wellness – What Does Wellness Mean to You?

For me wellness is a process, one that I have been working diligently on for the past three years. This quest has taken a considerable amount of time and energy but is well worth the investment. My road to wellness encompasses a balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual components. Balance was something that was sorely missing from my life and my health suffered as a consequence.

Now I prioritize healthy eating, regular exercise and good sleep in order to keep my physical body well and to supply me with the energy required to do all that I need and want to do in my life. My biggest priority is eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on cruciferous vegetables for their disease-fighting, anti-inflammatory properties (Jiang, 2014).

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As someone who carried a lot of stress in the past, I have made managing my stress a priority and I am having great success through acupuncture, meditation and support from a naturopathic doctor and a clinical herbalist who creates custom teas and tinctures for me. In a study on the effects of Ashwagandha root extract (Chandrasekhar 2012) found that it safely and effectively increased a person’s resistance to stress and in doing so improved their perceived quality of life. I am now calmer and much more resilient to stress which has built up my emotional wellness.

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I consider myself very fortunate to have a supportive and loving husband. His encouragement in all that I do gives me the foundation and security to step out of my comfort zone and follow my dreams. I would describe myself as primarily an introvert who is social, to a point. I enjoy being with friends but need a lot of alone time to recharge. I have gotten much better at taking the time I need and saying no to things when I know they could compromise my feeling of well-being. I used to say “yes” to everything and everyone else, but I have learned that I need to say “yes” to myself first and to the things that are of the greatest priority at the time. I’ve realized that it’s not selfish but sensible to do so! Since I started my Master’s program in nutrition I have enjoyed building relationships with fellow students who share similar interests and passions and I appreciate the sense of community at MUIH which has greatly enriched my social wellness. Returning to school has also been an exciting time intellectually. I have always enjoyed learning but doing so in this new college setting is proving to be more challenging (in a good way) and inspiring.

However, since returning to school I have made less time for yoga, which I miss greatly. I know that I would benefit from the physical aspects of a yoga practice as well as the meditative and spiritual aspects. This is definitely an area I need to work on and find a way to add back into my life in a manageable way. Given that it is increasingly challenging to find time to attend a yoga class, creating my own home practice would be a great solution. (Ross 2012) found that the frequency of a home practice had a greater impact on health and well-being than simply the amount of time a person has been practicing yoga or how many formal classes they take. The benefit appears to come from including healthy habits like a yoga practice into your daily life, which in turn helps you to include and maintain other healthy habits.

School has also limited the amount of time I can spend with good friends. I am thankful that they are understanding and supportive of what I am doing and that they appreciate the importance of my school work and my need to prioritize it. I see this as an unavoidable side-effect of my current situation and I will make every effort to connect with them between trimesters. Meanwhile, I use my long commute time to catch up by phone. Despite these current challenges I am eternally grateful for the life I have and believe that practicing gratitude on a daily basis enhances my feeling of wellness. (Lyubomirsky 2011) found that expressing optimism and gratitude increase well-being. The greatest success arose when participants understood, believed in and committed to the practice.

Since I have been working on building my wellness, I have gained a greater sense of control over my own health and well-being. Changing my diet, taking better care of myself and following my passion have all led me to a greater feeling of satisfaction. I feel empowered by all that I have learned and continue to learn. I have taken charge of my own wellness and I am reaping the benefits of doing so. I know this will be a continual journey and there will be challenges along the way (such as school is at the moment), but I am committed and know that I can manage them through awareness, recognition and constantly striving for balance.

How does wellness show up in your life? Do you feel like you have the balance you need? Where and how could you create more balance to enhance your wellness?

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REFERENCES

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., Anishetty, S. (2012) A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 2012;34:255-62

http://www.ijpm.info/text.asp?2012/34/3/255/106022

Jiang, Y., Wu, S.-H., Shu, X.-O., Xiang, Y.-B., Ji, B.-T., Milne, G. L., … Yang, G. (2014). Cruciferous Vegetable Intake Is Inversely Correlated with Circulating Levels of Proinflammatory Markers in Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(5), 700–8.e2.

http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.019

Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 11(2), 391–402. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0022575

Ross, A., Friedmann, E., Bevans, M., & Thomas, S. (2012). Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2012, 983258. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/983258

Every Illness Has a Story

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I love stories! I particularly love listening to a story.

There’s something so wonderful about listening to the seemingly perfect voice telling the tale or sharing information. Hence, I’m a big fan of audiobooks and given all the driving I do, find them great company in the car, not to mention I can learn something, too! At my very first class last Friday “Foundations of Health and Wellness” I was fascinated by one particular theme we discussed, that of “Narrative Medicine”. We watched a Ted talk given by Dr. Rita Charon titled “Honoring the stories of illness.” Every time I watch a Ted talk, I think to myself, I really should watch more of them – they’re so good!

Narrative Medicine

Dr. Charon and her colleagues at Columbia created a field called “Narrative Medicine” which they defined simply as “Clinical practice fortified by the knowledge of what to do with stories.” What they are trying to achieve is to train doctors to recognize when a patient is telling a story, and to hear that story, to absorb it, interpret it, even to guess through hints at what might be being left unsaid, to honor the story and then to be moved by the story to action. Dr. Charon gives some examples of how she’s used Narrative Medicine in her practice and the ways that it has benefited both her patients and herself. Doctors are busy people and these days their schedules often don’t allow for much more than asking a few direct questions and quickly trying to diagnose the problem before moving on to the next patient. Through their focus on allowing the patient the time to tell their story Dr. Charon and her colleagues have found that they learn so much more from the patient, that helps lead them to the diagnosis and the root of a problem or concern. In the talk Dr. Charon uses a touching example of a patient who had breast cancer. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me. After her surgery, the patient felt very fearful about her cancer returning. She wanted to hear her doctor say it would never return, but that is not something anyone can or will tell you. Dr. Charon reassured her patient that her surgery and treatment had been very successful but her patient kept coming in for appointments and checkups. Dr. Charon finally realized that what was really worrying her patient was the thought that she might die. (I remember very clearly thinking the same thing myself.) Dr. Charon realized that this patient, as she put it “is standing in the glare of death” and no one could change that, but what she could do is stand in that glare with her patient, and that made all the difference. There is so much valuable, touching information in this Ted talk, so if you have 18 minutes to spare to watch it, I think you’d be happy you did!

We all have a story.

all our stories are unique to us and each one as important as another. I know that sharing my story has been transformative for me. It took some time, but I came to realize that it was important to share my story, both for myself and my own personal healing and also to help others. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have and had doctors and surgeons who listen very well to my “stories”. I’m always given the time I need and I always feel heard. I wish this for everyone! Do you have a story to share that you haven’t shared yet? What are you waiting for? Is it trying to get out? Share in the comments, so we can all listen, absorb and honor it. email_signoff1

Best Gift Ever!

best_gift If you had told me that the best gift I would ever receive in my life would be an old-fashioned bicycle horn, I would have thought you were crazy! I received this perfect gift three years ago. It arrived in a care package from my sister and brother-in-law, designed to cheer me up as I prepared for my scheduled bilateral mastectomy. Of all the lovely, thoughtful, heartfelt gifts I received during that time, none could beat this horn.

Here James

Those early days after surgery when my body needed rest and sleep, my husband would sneak out of the bedroom early taking our Scottie dog Dolley with him, leaving me to rest and repair. When I would finally wake, I would reach for my horn (strategically placed close to me, as reaching wasn’t easy after surgery) and toot the horn until Randall and Dolley showed up. I enjoyed this SO much!! It made me smile just squeezing the soft bubble of the horn, and of course I loved that it brought the love of my life to my side!

This would go on for some time.

The surprising thing is, it would go on longer than I expected. I am constantly amazed at how the physical body can heal. I watched and documented in photographs, my entire healing process and there would be visible difference from day to day. I was in awe of my body for all that it was doing. The more surprising part for me was that all this healing and mending takes energy and I was obviously giving a lot of that up to this process. This meant that I slept a lot! This also meant that my horn became my best friend when I woke. Now, as time went on, sure I could have popped out of bed on my own and gone downstairs to find my husband…but that’s not nearly as fun as tooting a horn and having him lovingly appear!

Music to my ears

Never once did I hear Randall complain about the noise. He just kept showing up, cheery as ever. He would plump up my pillows and bring me a lovely cup of tea and this was my life for a surprising length of time.

Never could say goodbye

Three years later, and this horn still sits by my bed and I still use it on occasion…maybe when I need a wee lie-in on a Sunday morning to recharge. Mostly, I just love the comfort of having it there and all that it now symbolizes to me. So yes, as unlikely as it may seem, this horn was the “best gift ever” and if you should ever know anyone going through a similar experience, I would highly recommend it as a thoughtful, powerful and darned practical gift! Toot toot! email_signoff1  

Healed

When do you know you’ve Healed?

We are all healing from something. It could be as simple as you failed a test or as complex as the death of a parent or spouse. It could be physical, like a broken limb or a heart attack. Whatever it is, how do we know when we’ve actually healed? Is there a sign? Does someone tell us? Do we just get that inner memo and somehow know we have completed the healing process? I read a quote this morning that I felt answered this question for me. “When you can tell your story, and it doesn’t make you cry, that’s when you know you’ve healed”. Darn, I thought I was so close, but here I sit typing through my tears, so I guess that means I’m not quite done. I’ve made a lot of progress though. I have days when I think I’m done, and think this is behind me. There are days when I am able to speak positively about my experience and there is not a tear to be seen or felt. Some days the subject arises and I feel the tears just beginning but I am able to keep them at bay. This, I think is progress. Then I ask myself, what is it that I’m even crying about? Is it the memory of what I have been through? Is it for the pain or fear that I felt? Is it for the sense of loss that comes with what I experienced? Maybe the loss of time? The harsh wake up call that I was dealt? Fear of the future? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of these. I sometimes try to come up with the perfect description in my head for what it feels like to have had cancer and how it changes your life forever. I’m not exactly sure why I feel the need to do this, but strangely, I enjoy pondering this subject. The first thought that I particularly connected with is the one-way door. Cancer is like a one-way door. Once you’ve stepped through, you can never go back. It’s not a door you would choose, but a door that you were pushed through, and once on the other side, you are forced to choose a new path, as the old one is no longer available to you. One day while I was planning a trip, another version popped into my head “It’s like a one-way ticket someplace”. Well, it’s a variation on the theme. Hmm, I thought. Is a one-way ticket so bad? Have you ever imagined just throwing caution to the wind and taking a one-way ticket to a new life? Who knows what excitement, adventure and fun could be found in this new destination. This is how I truly feel about my life since my cancer diagnosis. Don’t get me wrong, who wants cancer! If I could go back and change the fact that I ever had it in the first place, I would! However, now that it is part of my reality, I have chosen to make the very best of it. Sure, my life will never be the same. But wait! What if my life could actually be better? Is that possible? For me, the unlikely answer is YES! My life is better and richer in so many ways. Passing_Place

Where do I begin?

I have new friends in my life.

Let me start at the beginning with all the incredibly, wonderful, kind, caring doctors, nurses and surgeons that helped me. They were there for me during those dark, scary early days of diagnosis when you don’t know what’s going on and what the future holds, or scarier yet, if you even have a future. Many of them are still with me now celebrating my recovery and good health. My husband was continually saying throughout my treatment, “these people couldn’t be more genuine, kind and helpful”. I am grateful everyday for the care I received. I am honored to know these people and happy to still have relationships and friendships with some of them to this day.

I’m closer to the important people in my life.

My incredible husband! There isn’t enough space here to do him justice. Let me just say, that I am the luckiest woman in the world. He helped me through this by being endlessly kind, caring and funny! It’s important to have humor when you’re dealing with such a thing. He nursed me back to health. Fed me well. Styled my hair. Chauffeured me everywhere. Pampered me and indulged my every whim. He was there from the first moment and never for a second did I not feel fully supported and loved. This made healing a whole lot easier! As a result of going through this, our relationship is stronger and deeper than ever. I am forever grateful to him. My friends and family! I am so touched by what people did for my husband and me. The incredible friend who drove 2 hours, leaving her young baby with a friend, to sit with my husband during my first surgery. For my precious friend who visited me in hospital that first night, after a long, difficult day of her own. For all the notes and calls, flowers and cards. I particularly treasure the long letters I received from my brother and sister-in-law throughout my recovery. They took time out of their busy lives to write long letters to let me know they were thinking about me, to keep my spirits up and just to make me laugh. Mission accomplished!

Ways I treat myself better.

I have more compassion for myself than I ever had. I no longer put unreasonable demands on myself, or beat myself up about not being as perfect as I think I should be. I now treat my body like the temple it is! I changed my diet dramatically and ironically; feel better now than I have in years. I’m doing a much better job of not worrying about absolutely everything (like I used to)! I have looked deep inside myself and faced some demons. I’ve forgiven my mother and freed myself from the heavy weight of carrying that anger around for so many years. I finally shared a BIG family secret that I had kept for 27 years. I feel a great burden has been lifted. I have a newfound connection to the universe. I have realized the importance of being connected to “something” and I’m enjoying this exploration. I closed my stress causing, soul-destroying business and I’m back in school learning about all things health and nutrition.

So yes, as unlikely as it seems, my life is better.

I feel like I have been given a second chance at life. A chance to make a real difference. What that means exactly, I’m not sure yet, but I do know that I’m on my way. I have my one-way ticket in my hand and I’m moving forward. Who knows what fabulousness lies at my new destination? Stay tuned! Are you in the process of healing from something or have you completed the process?  If you’d like to share, we’d love to hear how you’re doing. email_signoff1

Temporary Haze

September is one of my favorite months of the year...

I love the beginning of the cooler weather, beautiful light and calmer pace that comes as summer winds down and fall begins. However, September will forever be changed for me. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in September 2012. Now, I associate it with the month of the year that changed my life forever. In those early days of diagnosis, I felt like I was in a haze. Despite what was happening to me, I felt like time almost stood still, and things were moving slowly around me. I can remember vividly the way I looked at things differently. I drove slowly (SO not like me). I looked at every leaf on the trees, every ripple on the water, every cloud in the sky with intention and appreciation for their beauty. Daily_Measures_Temporary_Haze

I felt like my life had come into full focus.

I was seeing everything more clearly and in some cases, seeing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I remember how differently I interacted with people. Everyone, from my husband to friends, loved ones, acquaintances, doctors, nurses and (maybe even more so) strangers. I slowed everything down and instead of my usual hurrying around, trying to fit a million things into my life. I took the time to chat a little longer, engage in a conversation with a complete stranger in a shop and always felt richer for the experience.
At a time when I might have been thrown into panic, I almost found myself at peace.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I was dealing with a new cancer diagnosis and I was shocked, terrified and afraid, but despite that, it offered me an awakening of sorts, and a strange sense of peace and calm. I felt like I was moving through life in a different dimension than everyone else. I clearly remember thinking to myself…if I am fortunate enough to live through this experience, I want to remember this feeling and try to hold onto it for the rest of my life. I want to live the rest of my life feeling this way. Slowing down, appreciating the beauty in life and seeing the good in everything. There are many days I have to remind myself of this promise I made to myself, as I try to fit too much in my day. As I have recovered and heal I admit that I have gotten back to a different pace. However, I reconcile this by acknowledging what a great idea it was to hold onto that feeling forever, but now that I am three years out from those early days of diagnosis, I have decided that it is OK to find a balance not to forget, but still to be able to live my new life fully and usefully. I can’t stay in a state of “slow” forever and achieve all the things I want to (which I’ll get to later). So I try to remember, appreciate and hold onto just enough of that feeling but not allow it to hold me back from living this wonderful new life.

I would encourage everyone to try to create a temporary “haze” for themselves.

Maybe its just for an hour, a day, a weekend or even a week! Don’t wait till you find yourself in a crisis and are forced to look at life as though it may be slipping away from you before you had fully embraced, appreciated and lived it. Have you experienced your own Temporary Haze? If you’d like to share, we’d love to hear. email_signoff1