During the 2015-16 school year I was soaring high. I'd just received the Wisconsin Art Education Association's award as the state's top secondary art educator. I presented to a packed house of over 600 educators at the National Art Education Association's conference in Chicago, Illinois, meeting some of my rock star art-educator colleagues and feeling like I belonged for the first time in my career. Yet at the end of the day when I went home from work there was this nagging anxiety that I wasn't worthy, that this wasn't good enough, I needed to do more. I began to realize that these feelings had little to do with my profession and much to do with my health and the imbalanced way I ate, exercised and lived. I was on a roller coaster of choices that left me feeling fabulous one minute and defeated the next. I had to change. I had to find a way to feel better and be happy.
Move. Nourish. Refresh. Connect. These come from the New York Times current wellness challenge, but they are simple reminders of what we need to do to be well and in balance. How much do I move? What do I eat? How am I being mindful, faithful, reflective? How are my relationships with those I care most about? These are simple ways to get in balance. Be careful though, wellness has become a buzz word and there are so many programs, books and more talking about this. You could get stressed, imbalanced and overwhelmed reading them all. Be careful. Be kind to yourself.
Move: I decided in the summer of 2016 to take charge and get better and choose to BE HAPPY. I started exercising 30 minutes a day (bike riding, walking nothing huge). I found that I needed to be outside as much as possible because in my windowless classroom I lacked light. I used the Couch to 5K app and challenged myself to try running. (I've never been a runner or an athlete.) I just wanted to see if I could. I got a knee brace for my weak knees and went at night so nobody could see how bad I looked!! I kept it up through the fall and ran/walked my first 5K that fall at the WAEA Conference in LaCrosse. I ran/walked my second in Michigan at the Trail to the Victors Big House 5K. I wasn't a runner yet, but I was becoming one. I continued moving during winter with various yoga, circuit training and pilates dvds and I ran/walked and cross country skiied outside. Movement and exercise are now part of my daily routine. I joined a gym this winter and have changed my workout, but ultimately 30 minutes a day is still my goal and it works.
Nourish: I started to pay attention to what I ate and used MyFitnessPal app to track calories. This worked for awhile, but I got off track a lot. I decided to try Whole30 program. I'd heard it was strict, but it seemed easy too, since you don't count calories and you don't really measure your food. You learn portion control, but you eat more if you're hungry. It's not meant to be a forever plan, but a way to raise awareness and recalibrate your body. It's meant to help you find out what your body really needs and doesn't need and what may or may not be good choices for you. It requires that you cook and that you embrace whole foods that aren't processes. Since I garden and cook it worked for me. I did it for 30 days and lost weight but more importantly gained awareness. I still use many of the recipes and principles to guide my daily choices. I'm doing what I call the Kind Whole 30, which means I've customized the program adapting it to be more realistic for the long run. It is working for me. One more thing I did was quit drinking soda. I've been soda-free for about 4-5 years. I drink water and tea instead! Much healthier. I also try not to have too, many juices as they have a lot of sugar in them.
Refresh: Mindfulness is about how you think and are aware throughout your day. Mindfulness is tuning into things when you're doing them. Less multi-tasking (which doesn't work!!!) and more thinking and connecting to the task you are trying to accomplish. Be mindful of the blue sky, the cold air, your breath. Tune into these things. Being mindful means taking time to think and focus your brain. You can be mindful when you're eating to truly savor and enjoy the sensations of food. You can be mindful on a walk or at school or while you're brushing your teeth. Mindfulness is that zoomed in sense of awareness to the task at hand. Through meditation the task is simply breathing and quieting your mind. For me part of being mindful is keeping work separate from home. I leave work at work and do it there. When I come home I am truly home and I do all the things that are about home. I've found that my art practice and writing in a journal are a vital part of refreshing my mind and being mindfully balanced in my journey.
Connect: Who do you love? Who do you care about? How are you treating them and connecting with them? Do you take time to enjoy your friends, family, spouse, students? Realizing that this human connection if vital to wellness is part of a balanced lifestyle. Life is very short and seizing the moment truly is important. Say yes to the the people you want to be with. Take that trip with them. Make that phone call. One discovery I made is that I really "love" my students! I greatly enjoy my time with them. Celebrating that connection and talking to the people you care about is a vital part of wellness.
CRASH: In summer of 2017 I was involved in a bad bike crash. I suffered a concussion, neck injury, several cracked ribs and many cuts and bruises. The brain injury was the most difficult to recover from taking away basic abilities I'd taken for granted. There were obvious things the concussion did and subtle things. It took nearly a year to recover fully from all these injuries. Being mindful was very difficult because I literally couldn't focus (vision or my thoughts). For awhile I couldn't imagine or envision in my head. I couldn't really make meaningful art, read a book, knit. Exercising terrified me for awhile and I ate food for comfort not nourishment. I also shied away from connecting to the ones I love because it made me anxious, this included my students. It was a difficult year. I finally feel better and more myself. There were flickers of hope last year. I ran the Mother's Day 5K with my daughter. It was so meaningful to see her cheering me on at the finish line. In spring I was able to read again for pleasure and knit and paint and draw. I could remember my student's names and was able to work without the debilitating headaches that had plagued me throughout the fall. Being patient and kind with myself through this process was one of the lessons I learned.
This has been my journey so far. I'm still learning, still growing and still finding out what works for me. I've learned that I get bored so I have to change up my routine and try new things. I love learning so continuing to take classes and grow my mind is an important part of my journey to wellness. I'm doing a new challenge called The 52 Hike Challenge. I'm also signed up for this year's Trail to the Victors 5K in Michigan. It is still a process but what I've learned is to be kind and patient with yourself and find what works for you. Commit to it every day in small ways and your choices will help you develop a wellness plan for life. Good luck.