I got out of bed this morning and walked to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It was still dark outside and I didn’t turn on the lights. In the darkness, I leaned against the counter and had my first sip.
It’s one of my favorite parts of the morning: The first sip of coffee in the quiet, dark kitchen.
Then I wake up my daughter, feed the cats, shuffle around to make breakfast and pack lunches and do the morning chores. Despite the arthritis that causes pain and stiffness, particularly in the mornings, I feel well. Healthy even.
What is Wellness?
But how can this be? How can I be well when my doctors have files listing dozens of my physical ailments? How can I feel healthy when I have a chronic disease? What is wellness anyhow?
One of the best definitions I’ve heard comes from registered nurse Renita Henson. She works with older adults through the Longmont United Hospital in Colorado.
Wellness, says Henson, is the ability to do the things you want to do. If you love to cook Indian food and you are strong enough to do it, that is a measure of wellness. If you want to play with your kids, read, or golf, or run, or write, or meet your friends for lunch and you are physically and mentally strong enough to do those things, well then, that is a marker of wellness. And wellness contributes big-time to our overall well-being and life satisfaction.
I am not all that fit, nor flexible. I am sick – on paper – but I feel well and I am living the life I want. I can read and work and travel and cook and enjoy time with my friends and family. And that makes me feel good. But, what is good for me is probably not the same for you. A marathoner who can no longer run, may not feel well, until he adapts and finds new interests. But I have no desire to run, so the fact I can’t doesn’t bother me a bit. Wellness is highly personal. Part of living well, then, is discovering what makes you feel good.
Finding My Way
A year ago I didn’t feel good at all. The arthritis flared so badly that I rarely slept. I had a difficult time walking to the kitchen – couldn’t carry a cup of coffee to the table because I lurched so badly it would spill – and I could barely make it to the soccer field to watch my daughter play. I certainly couldn’t go without help. I was too tired and hurting to enjoy the things I’d once loved. My wellness was slipping away. And for the first time in a long time I began to feel desperately sick. When I couldn’t do what I desired, my mental and physical health took a dive. Depression lurked.
After complaining a fair amount about how bad I was feeling; after worrying and dwelling and focusing on the chronic disease and the uncertain future, the pain and discomfort, I went to work on reclaiming my wellness.
A physical therapist taught me to do slight, little movements from my bed or chair that slowly helped me build my strength and flexibility. I felt better emotionally, too, as though I was finally taking charge of my life and choosing health over illness. That fueled my sense of well-being and inspired me to do more. I was participating in my life again. Slowly returning to the things I liked to do. My body got stronger and so did my attitude.
Working toward Wellness
Wellness is part attitude and part action. It is fueled by curiosity and joy and determination and mixed with the physical strength and agility that comes from doing the things we want to do.
It doesn’t happen by default. We have to decide to be well and then go after it. It is shaped by our habits and choices and beliefs. It is affected by how willing and able we are to adapt, alter our goals and plans, so that ultimately, we can keep moving toward what we want the most. It is influenced by how often we laugh, how optimistic we feel, how nutritious our meals, how active our bodies, how we care for our mental and physical health and manage our stress. It is shaped by the people who love us and those whom we love. It is attached to how worthy we feel.
You can be well, you can have well-being, no matter your physical condition or circumstance. I know from experience. The trick is to go within to discover what matters, so that you can then go after it.
On Wednesday, I’ll offer some tips for recovering your wellness and sense of well-being.
For now consider these two questions: What do you need to feel better, right now? Are you willing to go after that?