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The day before I woke up in excruciating back pain, I gave a keynote address at a health conference. And during that keynote I talked a lot about how we need to make the ideas of health and wellness more inclusive. We need to have a bigger tent where every BODY can participate. We need to imagine a spectrum where we can all experience health.
I asked people in the audience to close their eyes and envision health. What does a healthy person look like? Then I asked them, if by any chance, their vision of health looked like a skinny white woman eating yogurt? How about salad? Does she look like she’s feeling orgasmic over these food choices? Several people in the audience smiled or laughed. Yup, that was exactly what their vision of health looked like. But I told them they shouldn’t be surprised. As a culture we are taught by marketing and advertising and Photoshop that this is what health looks like. But what happens, I asked, if you are not white, or a man, or not thin, or not conventionally beautiful? What if you really, really hate yogurt? Do you not get to be well? Do you not get to experience health?
At this point, I took some time to define health and wellness. I suggested that there is no particular state that a person achieves that call be called healthy or well. While tons of money is spent convincing us that if we just buy this thing, use this product or service or spend money in a particular way, we will arrive at the ultimate hereafter picture. There is a place that is nirvana. We call this place perfectly healthy. Except there is no such place. If we are alive, we are aging. If we are aging we are headed towards our ultimate demise. No matter what product or service we use, we are still, in the end, mortal.
So I went on to describe health as a continuum. Or you can call it a spectrum. (I like continuum because it’s one of the only words in the English language that has to letter “u”s back to back, and like the word banana, it’s nearly impossible to stop saying once you have started. You know, like continuuinuuum…) A continuum is a scale. It is a line with no beginning and no end. The scale increases in a particular value as we go one direction and decreases in a particular value as we go the other direction. As we move along the scale towards healthy or well, we get more capacity and energy to do the things we need to do as well as the things we enjoy. We feel better. We have more energy. We sleep better. We are able to relax sometimes and experience peace. As we move down the continuum away from health and wellness these things (like energy, enjoyment, peace, sleep) are more difficult for us to access, or we experience them less often. But again, the line has no beginning and no end. There is no destination called perfect health where we get to arrive. And there is also no perfect place which we cannot access.
This is important for a lot of reasons. One reason is that we are all born at different points on the continuum. Based on genetics and parenting and socioeconomic status and friends and other family and cultural values and lots and lots of other stuff, we all land at different points on this continuum. And as we go along and live, circumstances will change our location on the continuum. We will experience stress. We will get sick. We might win the lottery. We might lose our jobs. We might get married or be in a car crash or fall down the steps. Stuff happens. Sometimes that stuff is wonderful and eases the way towards increased health on the spectrum. Sometimes stuff is downright catastrophic and vaults us towards decreased health on the spectrum. Were we to look at health and wellness as a state of being or as a location, most of us just wouldn’t be able to get there, let alone stay there. Most of us would be on the outside looking in. And most of us have been taught that we should be consumed with guilt and self-loathing for not being there or staying there. But if we look at health and wellness as a continuum, there is a sane and guilt-free place for everybody.
No matter where you land on the continuum, there are things you can do to help ease the way towards better health. Those things you can do might be wildly different from what somebody else can do. You might be creeping along towards health at a very different point on the spectrum than somebody else. But everybody can play. And we can play with the knowledge and understanding that sometimes fate rolls the freakin’ dice and we land in a different spot on the continuum that we neither desired nor planned for. But from every place, we can strive. We can move towards the healthy/well side of the continuum with whatever resources we have at the moment. This is with the understanding that sometimes those resources will be very low. Sometimes the movement will be very slow or even imperceptible. And sometimes, it’s okay to just rest there at our spot on the continuum until we have the resources and/or the desire to strive again. Sometimes we can be there and just breathe out and in for a while.
You know it’s funny, in a physician heal thyself sort of way, how I gave this talk the day before I found myself tossed violently to a very different spot on my own continuum. As I woke up, dazed and in pain, I looked around. Oh, so I’m here now? This is my spot on the spectrum today? Okay. I’ll just have to see what I can do. Maybe tomorrow. After I take a pain killer and watch some telly and gather my forces. It has made all of this a lot easier to bear. And I offer this in the hopes that it will be a useful visualization tool for you as well. Or not. Because we’re all different. And just as there is no place called health, there is no single immutable path towards wellness either. There’s just all of us, muddling along in our own way, as best we can.
Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick
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