We say the word health often and most times we do not define what we mean. It is assumed that there is an understanding amongst us all of what health is. Today I met a woman whom on first interaction, by my definition, I would say has some health concerns. She is morbidly obese, has lost all of the hair all over her body for unknown reasons, has diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, has joint pain, has difficulty standing, breathing and moving, eats mostly fast food or processed food, has birthed 6 children, 4 of which have cognitive and social impairments and the other two have trouble with the law and drugs. When I asked her about what we might do to improve her health she said simply, I think I am pretty healthy, I am alive. I was shocked. That was literally the very last answer I thought I was going to receive. I said with a smile, I know, I can see that you are very much alive, but are their improvements we can make to your quality of life? She then said she would like to have no pain. Then, I told her, that is where we will start. Together we will work on eliminating your pain. She replied with a beaming smile, "and then, I will be very healthy instead of just pretty healthy".
The mainstream health community assumes that health means the same thing for everyone, young, slim, active, eating healthy foods, free from chronic disease, without pain, happy, beautiful, lots of money, successful. That is not everyone's idea of health though. Some of those criteria have been given to us by scientists who say that some choices make life longer and some choices make life shorter. Some of those criteria have been given to us by the media in an attempt to make money for health products, gyms, beauty products, anti-aging treatments. Some are just society's preferences.
I asked this woman what she thought was the healthiest part of her. She said her relationship with God. She said that amongst her friends and acquaintances and neighbors and within her community she was known to be the object of others envy for her relationship with God. Others came to her to ask her advice, to learn how to be a better practicing religiously observant person. She was thought of as an elder, an advisor, a mentor and as extremely healthy and happy. She told me just that morning, a person from her church asked if she could take this woman out to breakfast in exchange for some advice towards health and happiness. They went to Denny's and talked about how to better serve their community.
I have struggled for years with what health means to me. I have heard so many messages from society and other people in my life about what health should mean to me. I have heard people say I should weigh less, weigh more, wear more make-up, wear less make-up, make more money, make less money, drink more alcohol, smoke less cigarettes, be less friendly, exercise more, exercise less, work more or less. When I was working a few years back every day I went to work at least one woman would say she was worried about me and I needed to eat more, I was too thin, I didn't look healthy or happy. They would say I looked lonely and sad and I needed to get thicker. At that point, I was at my heaviest and I did not feel healthy but they were right in some way too, I was also the saddest and the loneliest I had ever been. The women I worked with thought I was unhealthy because in their perspective, I didn't have enough weight. In my perspective, I knew I was unhealthy. Ultimately, the answer at that time was not to eat more but rather to eliminate the people that were harming me in my life. All of a sudden I started getting healthier, by my standards. I was finally able to quit smoking, I stopped exercising excessively and worked out when I wanted to, found a moderate weight, ate healthy most of the time and stopped eating all processed food. I could look myself in the mirror, I felt excited about life, I liked getting dressed in the morning and I loved going to work. From that experience I realized that part of health for me is not smoking cigarettes, trying to answer a community cause, avoiding people who are harmful and weighing a moderate amount. Each day I figure out more about what health means to me.
That is one of my favorite parts of being a health and wellness coach, I love to help people find out their own truth about what health means. My favorite question to ask my clients is, if they woke up one day and they were completely healthy, what would that look like? What would be different? What would be the same? What does complete health mean for them? After I ask that question I know where we need to begin. Everyone wants to achieve their own idea of health. We must begin to understand that everyone's idea of health is different. Happiness is what occurs when a person is encouraged to be their own concept of health. Health is what occurs when a person is given permission to be their own kind of healthy. Wellness is when a person decides to really be themselves. I am a big fan of authenticity these days; I believe it is the first step towards where we need to go to get healthy. In the meantime, I think the healthiest choice a person can make right this moment is to ask themselves, what does health look like for me and what action can I take this very moment to start the process? Ask yourself, and see how healthy it feels to investigate your true desires!