Bitter or Better? My Personal Wellbeing Journey
Life can make us bitter or better—I choose better. – Unknown
I didn’t coin this phrase but it captures my approach to life: curiosity, optimism, and a sense of adventure…rapt with all the world can offer. Everywhere I look, I discover ways to add more life to our world. And I believe we flourish most when we choose to dream, experiment, learn, and grow.
My growth mindset and cheerful determination were formed at an early age. Childhood was an idyllic mash-up of Little House on the Prairie, Leave It to Beaver, and Growing Pains. I spent my time collecting eggs, playing catch, practicing piano (a ruse to avoid dish duty), making perfume from rose petals (science fair brag), and showing my pet pig, Heathcliff, at the fair. Mom and Dad taught me where food comes from (our garden, berry patches, apple trees, and animals), the power of believing in something greater than myself, and that good things happen when I reject convention to create my own path (one of my favorite quotes is “The best way to predict the future is to create it”). I was also an avid athlete—from football with the boys during recess to college softball—with a healthy appreciation for what my mind and body could accomplish, instead of focusing on what my body looked like (shout out to Girls on the Run, one of my favorite organizations doing this important work). But I didn’t pay much attention to how I was fueling them back then—I only knew the “calories in/calories out” formula.
My 20s were another story. As 20-somethings do, I lived in a haze of Häagen-Dazs (free, all day access was a corporate perk), margaritas, tv, late nights, and startups. That routine couldn’t possibly last. Tired of being tired…and bloated…and uninspired, I perused health articles and changed my food and exercise habits. Years passed with negligible results, so I sought a world-class Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who carelessly told me to work out more and eat less. I channeled my farm kid work ethic and faithfully followed the “gospel of moderation” with diminishing returns.
I hit major frustration in my early 30s. In addition to grueling hours of the startup life (in the "lifestyles of health and sustainability" industry), I was rowing eight hours/week because “more cardio” was still the prevailing wisdom (especially for a child of the ‘80s). Weight gain, acne, and digestive problems were constant companions. Depression loomed. And I got mixed results from countless treatments with allopathic and holistic practitioners. Meanwhile, I watched loved ones battle chronic pain with prescription cocktails that caused debilitating side effects. I also saw little tikes get fed a steady diet of processed food products that caused fickle behavior and health (editorial note: kid menus are awful). I then began to examine why we make choices that either nourish or deplete us, and how we can use design principles to help achieve better results.
Ever curious, I enrolled in graduate school for public health and integrative healing to understand the macro systems and individual behaviors that perpetuate or overcome health problems, and to figure out how to heal myself. I also read countless books; attended seminars and workshops; consulted coaches and other experts; and further honed my training in behavioral design, human-centered design, and the science of a meaningful life. I put this all to use as a director of wellbeing for a college, where I oversaw health coaching, mindfulness, and resilience training programs, among other responsibilities. On paper, I was doing everything right but I’d never felt worse. Beyond weight gain, acne, digestion problems, and depression, I had incapacitating fatigue, brain fog, body aches, and migraines.
Confused, exasperated, distressed, and ashamed (there’s that pesky shame!), I found a functional medicine-trained physician who helped me discover I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. With her help and various autoimmune resources, I made personalized lifestyle shifts that created life-changing results. Through this experience, I learned to trust my gut—both how it feels physically and what it says intuitively. I learned that food is information and medicine, and that my mind and body will tell me what they need. I learned that healing is different from curing. And I learned that my training in human-centered design and behavioral design are powerful tools to help people create better ways to live.
May 2018 Update Below...
Life was looking good. I was working for myself with a steady diet of corporate clients and in a wonderful romantic relationship with a fantastic man. But I still wasn't feeling good. Most mornings, I'd wake with aches all over my body. The isolation of working by myself began to take a toll on my emotional and mental health. And I struggled to navigate the natural shifts in my friendships as babies emerged and our time together waned. It all came to a head one night when I broke out in hives and had to make a visit to the ER (it felt like my throat was closing). I did it all over again the next night. The amount of steroids pumped into my body those two days must've really been something because I proceeded to gain 18 pounds in six weeks, despite being gluten- and dairy-free (and in ketosis for two of the weeks). The black mold exposure I'd endured for months didn't just force a hospital visit...it contributed to an eventual diagnosis of chronic fatigue and stage 3 adrenal fatigue. The keto diet didn't help matters, either. It was a rough several months, capped by a very sad breakup with my partner. This is when I really dove into my own wellbeing work.
My journey has been filled with countless opportunities to learn and grow—with experiments in nourishment (sometimes in punishment). I now work directly with individuals approaching/in midlife on mindset, lifestyle medicine, behavior design, and play. I offer a unique, thoughtful, and well-researched perspective, informed by an MPH and MA, as well as certifications and training in health coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, human-centered and behavioral design, the Transcendental Meditation technique and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (in addition to other forms of contemplative neuroscience), group exercise instruction, functional nutrition, EFT, and additional healing practices through the acclaimed Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.
I feel so fortunate to have lived through these many experiences to help me understand the countless ways we support and undermine ourselves..they make me better-equipped to support the wellbeing journeys of people just like you.
How's that for better?