For an audio version of this blog post, please click below. Happy listening!
A few weeks ago I attended an incredibly refreshing and informative event where I was blessed to be surrounded by the warmth of like minds. I spent 2 long days listening to 13 insightful, inspiring, and generous speakers share their current values around health and wellness. Even better – I did so without crashing or suffering too much payback; an enormous milestone and very worthy of a proud mention! Despite my enthusiasm in taking part, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed as the first day was signed off as more of a refresher course than newfound knowledge. With a desire to find a lesson, I had that gem uncovered by the time day two rolled around: the absence of newfound knowledge was actually an enormous achievement and a brilliant credit to the progress in my healing mission!
For the last 10 years (at least) I’ve drowned in emotions of disheartenment, isolation, and hopelessness at every turn. I was referred and pulled in new directions that I should and must and needed to take in order to regenerate my wellness. Added to that, it didn’t actually matter which direction the doctor’s had ordered me as there were never fulfilled outcomes but rather overwhelm at how much I still had to discover. Flipping back to present day, I was now at day 2 of The Wellness Summit and finally at a stage with my health where I had an informed perspective, respectful practitioners, and enabling support. I needed to apply nothing more than patience to the right strategies that I am already living, and in the meantime I could enjoy the inspiration of amazing practitioners. What a winning feeling!
Not long after this reframe of disappointment to impressive progress I was gifted with another opportunity to do the same. I found myself in a situation where someone had compared me to their “healthy friends”. As soon as I heard the reference I knew it wasn’t sitting comfortably with me, it just felt inaccurate. After a little reflection I realized that rather than being fiction, it was more a case of what I am going to title a ‘connotation clash’, which is something I’m coming to appreciate of late. In basic terms, my friend and I just have differences in our understandings and beliefs around what it means to be ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, and that doesn’t make either of us wrong. No doubt I have more sensitivity and meaning to this word than others too! To be crystal clear, I wholeheartedly believe that they meant no disharmony or offence to me with the reference and were coming entirely from a place of support and love.
To explain the concept further I thought I would share my steps in progress that have me hold the belief that whilst still well and truly in recovery from chronic illness, I am actually a healthy person. Hang in! Of the 29 years of my life I truly believe that my mental health and mindset is the absolute strongest and ‘healthiest’ it has ever been. At no stage do I expect this to ever be unwavering and I’m yet to meet someone’s whose is, but mine is absolutely at it’s highest point of performance to date. The food I actively and intentionally fuel my body with is the most nutrient dense and appropriate for how I know my body operates and requires support. I move my body every single day with exercise that is conducive to higher wellness. I give and receive in the most nourishing, stimulating, and enjoyable relationships I’ve ever had and I’m extremely selective in who I share my precious time and energy with. I no longer smother or swallow chemically based products that compromise the natural intelligence of what my body is trying to achieve or signal. Sleep and restoration are of high priority, as is feeding my natural passions because I am now so self aware that I can actually identify what these are. I bring curiosity and questioning to each and every lifestyle choice that crosses my path, ensuring my decisions are right for me despite of the opinions of others. I avoid assumptions that because marketing and safety standards have been met a product is in fact actually safe or of any benefit, and I don’t choose easy over hard for the sake of avoiding the inconveniences that change can bring. Best of all; it’s not a challenge or ‘belief in training’ for me to say that I truly feel that I am living the healthiest version of myself that I ever have. And I love that!
The part that makes me giggle, my former beliefs around my health inclusive, is this: I know with certainty that there are people who believe I was healthier in my past life than what I am currently. And I know that because some of them even tell me! There is a perception that because I was rising at 5am to train at high intensities before going to work for 10-12 hours in a suit and high heels 6 days a week, and then partying until sunrise, balancing a relationship, travelling overseas, tucking into processed foods, and seemingly progressing in the society defined ‘correct direction’ of life for my early twenties, that this meant I was healthy. Some would even say that although I was seeing multiple specialists and had numerous unexplained health problems including collapsing after exercise, that being able to maintain the above lifestyle meant I couldn’t be that ‘unhealthy’; that because most of my symptoms in isolation were ‘common’, that they were in fact also ‘normal’. Doctors even said it! When the details of my condition are misunderstood and then paired with a comparison of this past lifestyle and the limitations I do still have, well I can see the formation of their opinion.
The difference for me is this: I don’t believe (yet) that I am operating at an optimum level of wellness, but I do believe that this doesn’t restrict my progress into a healthy person living a healthy lifestyle. In fact now that I think of it, I think my two lead practitioners have been setting me up for this realisation! What is true to me is that my optimum level of wellness has been compromised or interrupted by a past of unhealthy lifestyle choices and exposure to unhealthy environments. But, that day in day out in my current life I am healthy. I make healthy choices to maintain my healthy mind and body. And one day very soon, beyond these excruciatingly-slow-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it progress rungs, I will achieve for the first time in my life – optimum wellness. There’s also the very real fact that at the time of living the jam-packed lifestyle described above, my wellness was on a steady decline and that is far from the status I find myself at today.
It might be a slow incline, but an incline it is! And for anyone reading this at the start of your incline, the end of your decline is progress.
Living a “healthy” life, I believe, is predominantly about taking responsibility to be informed around challenges and ‘seemingly okay’ limitations to our personal wellness. I pushed past so many barriers on pain and suffering because I couldn’t find a doctor who could provide me with answers on what was happening with my body. The ‘easy’ was to conform with them and pretend I was fine. It’s especially easy when the pain is invisible to the eye and you’re made to feel that it’s all in your head, but I just couldn’t accept this as my new quality of life.
This leads into my most significant realisation of late in how I use mindfulness to recognise progress: the fact that I hold a value around something as ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean that it stops there. What I mean by this is that I actually need to (and do) check in and listen to my body and then reflect on the relevance of my current recovery strategies. Without too much intention or awareness, this process of being mindful around the effectiveness of my recovery is something I’ve used since day dot. Whilst I’ve researched and implemented techniques for managing my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my core strategies have always been around resolving what I believe to be my root causes of the illness. Initially this meant I continued extensive work around my Anxiety and Depression to ensure they were resolved, and it then became unmistakably clear that my gut health required some serious TLC. However, regardless of what I’ve been intensively working on, I’ve found it so important to use curiosity and questioning as to whether the current plan is still relevant and right for me and my body. Is it time to stop and pivot completely? Are there just a couple of missing or overbearing elements to be tweaked? Or do I need to dig deep and commit a little longer to the exact path I am walking? Sometimes this will return an immediate and resounding “yes this is right”, but other times it is only if I’m self aware that I will hear the light tap of my intuition on the door to kindly notify me that some tweaks or performance reviews need to be scheduled.
Through this process I have truly realised how important it is to remain empowered and remember that no one knows my body and mind better than myself.
Questioning, reviewing or having a curiosity around what might be missing can be an overwhelming and confronting experience, and that’s justified because it’s extremely hard to know the right answers when playing with invisible and highly unrecognised illnesses. I just happen to feel a greater risk in selecting a treatment plan and then settling in for the long road regardless of the results or a discontinued trust. Of course there’s nearly always that intricate balance between poking and prodding versus giving a strategy the time and persistence it requires to perform, but I think the most valuable skill I’ve learnt throughout this process has been to question everything. Not to find unnecessary holes or trigger indecision, but to ensure I am always moving forwards with belief, logic, and knowledgeable choices. I find this my best mindset:
“I can’t know if it’s the right decision, but I do know that for my own body and mind it feels most right, and that when or if there comes a point where it no longer serves me and my recovery, I will have still moved forward as I’ve added to my wealth of knowledge and removed a pending option. If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post without quitting in confusion I hope I’ve successfully shared how I’ve used mindfulness to redefine what progress authentically means to me. The value of stopping and really taking stock of what is being achieved and understood in recovery is enormous, so if you find yourself in a plateau, uninspired by your improvements, or that something is still unresolved, I invite you to do the same. I’ve found it to be a great lift in receiving feedback on my health and wellness too, as well as overcoming the heavy feeling of defeat that years of chronic illness can bring.