Wellness. What a buzzword - one might even argue - the most highly sought-after panacea for the fountain of youth in our culture. Often placed after “excellent” and before “package” in an abundance of workplace pitches at large corporate companies and/or splashed confidently onto the fronts of shiny white bottles in grocery stores. Is it like “happy” or “normal”? Does it exist in a concrete state, or is it, as I personally believe, a continuum?
Take a moment - think about what the term “well” brings up for you? To me, the idea of wellness is like a mirage. It shimmers the closer you get to it and seems to vanish like a bubble in the sun when examined too deeply.
I think many of us naturally associate ‘wellness’ with ‘health.’ As a chronically ill person with her own share of mental health issues - I think this is a mistake. So many of us are walking wounded - gouged, weathered and scarred by the blows, surprises and lessons life has dealt us. Some of those manifest as physical illness and disorders. Others may consider themselves to be “doing alright” and pretty physically ok.
But ARE YOU WELL?
“I journal!” you may protest! “ I drink water! I meditate, have gratitude and do everything western society asks me to do! I try to eat healthy. I’m well!” But I ask you again. Are you really well?
I have cancer. I have not been physically fully functional for over two years. I rely on a lot of medical professionals to keep me going. I have had to give up a lot of things that were important to me due to my health, and made a lot of sacrifices. I have anxiety and PTSD. I was in a car accident over 10 years ago. I went through a difficult long-distance relationship that ended in divorce. But despite that, I actually do consider myself to be well.
“How on earth could that be?” you ask.
Oh no. No it’s not. I strongly dislike when articles use that statement - because it isn’t simple. Nothing is ever simple. It is and was a lot of work. Work that I am still actively doing - constantly re-evaluating, challenging and reflecting. Falling and stumbling back up. I consider myself to be well because, to me, wellness is fluid.
If we view all these terms as static, it creates an ideal that is very hard to achieve - a suspended orb, just hovering, glowing, out of reach. We will all jump for it, but we will never obtain it.
But humans exist in a state of flux, always. We are perpetually adapting, evolving, deteriorating and repairing. As one cell flocks off of our body, another replaces it. So quickly and rapidly cycling that holding ourselves to one single, hard definition of a term seems unrealistic and nigh on impossible. So why do it?
Try one of these:
I am well because I lost someone or something, honored the loss, then kept moving forward.
I am well because I made a mistake, but I admitted I was wrong and tried again.
I am well because I didn’t have enough answers, so I asked for help.
I am well because, while I am terrified, I stepped into my fear.
I am well because I have started asking questions when I am unsure.
I am well because I am hurting, but I voiced my pain and did not minimize it.
I am well because I acknowledged the negative as much as the positive but did not dwell.
Any one of these statements (and many others like it) could be viewed as a jumping-off point for pursuing your own wellness. Where you fall on this spectrum may not even look or feel the same from day-to-day. As dynamic humans, our moods, goals and needs can change as quickly as the wind. When we stop assuming that there is one blanket solution to all our struggles, that is when we can begin to make progress towards truly feeling well.
So I leave you with this proposal. Wellness may not be a straight path or a destination, but merely the recognition of adaptation in the shifting state of life you are already living in, while you are living it. A unique personal journey. A flowing and ebbing, multi-trajectory arc with multiple starting points and no ending. This will and does look different for everyone. Because you are not just skin, flesh and fluid. You are a unique dynamic vessel with limitless potential - versatile because you can be refilled, emptied, stretched, washed, repaired and taught. Remember this and wellness is attainable. Because you’re already there.
Flora Whitmore is a Vermont native, certified music therapist, and fledgling librarian. She has worked in conjunction with the mental health field for over ten years. She suffers from chronic illness and is interested in the impact of how stress on our health influences our decision-making and ability to cope. She is fascinated by what motivates and shapes us as individuals, as well as how we impact each other in groups. Flora also enjoys gardening, making music, words, her family and nicely patterned socks.