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I will not focus on HEALTH!

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It’s that time again to choose a word for the year. After 2018, I’m understandably nervous about this seeing as “BRAVE” catapulted me into a year I could never have anticipated in which BRAVERY was absolutely necessary. For those of you new to this blog here is a recap:

-Chose BRAVE as my word of the year.

-Started a website/blog with monthly entries (written and in audio) on the 1st of each month.

-Fell head first into all things social media.

-Finished writing my first book.

-Co-sponsored and organized two free ABA trainings, one for teachers and one for parents.

-Got diagnosed with cancer.

-Immediately regretted choosing BRAVE as my word of the year. (*Cue Alanis Morissett “Isn’t it Ironic”)

-Had a bilateral mastectomy at just 35. (Still so freaking surreal)

-Became a cancer “survivor”. (Equally surreal)

-Self-published my first book.

-Planned out the ultimate conference for 100 M.o.C.h.A.s.

Sooooo there you go. Pretty sure we are on the same page now regarding my luck with word-of-the-year selections.

That August afternoon as I listened to the doctor on the phone she sounded like all of the adults on episodes of Charlie Brown… Wah Wah Wah Wah … breast cancer… Wah Wah Wah… mastectomy … Wah Wah…

All of a sudden I was thrown into this weird space of “health”. Now that I had cancer, did that mean I wasn’t healthy? I had no symptoms, no lump, no mass, no tumor just the beginning cells of cancer sprinkled like sea salt all over my right breast. So was I sick? Ill? I didn’t feel sick or ill. I was overweight per BMI which most health professionals know is stupid but whatev… maybe 5-10 pounds. Nothing excessive. I was eating pretty balanced meals during the week with my usual splurges of chips and salsa, those dang-near raw buttery rolls from Texas Roadhouse and all the other “things” on my carb-packed weekends. I was exercising twice per week max and that was on a good week. I had spent the last seven months with about as much sleep as a mom with a colicky newborn. My sleep was constantly broken with ideas for my website and blog and I spent super late nights and two all-nighters (eek not proud of that) to YouTube and Google all the crap I didn’t know how to do (which was everything) like make a website and basic CSS coding and how to send mass emails, maintain subscription email lists, design and sell T-shirts. On top of that I was writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing my book and keeping up with direct messages and contact emails…. this list continues. At the most my lifestyle maybe gave way to more frequent headaches and more appearances of Lisa the Grouch, but cancer? Geezus. It didn’t add up to me. What did add up was that I have extensive family history of breast cancer. What did add up was that as I watched super young athletes, male and female at the prime of their physical fitness sit around MD Anderson with chemotherapy tubing and IV stands, the genetic factor was obvious.

I began to ask myself a question I thought for sure I knew the answer to before cancer happened to me, is health a choice?

So I gave my Nancy Drew alter ego the go ahead and started researching, this time not about autism, but about health and wellness and all the stuff in between.

The definition of health is “the state of being free from illness or injury”. The World Health Organization takes it a little further and says health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or illness”. OK so it’s more than physical — it’s about emotional and social fitness too BUT still free of disease or illness to be considered healthy.

So those 6 weeks before surgery when I “had cancer” I had zero shot at being healthy? What about the 2-3 years before that or really only God knows how long as those cells were slowly growing and replicating unknowingly inside me … that whole time I wasn’t healthy?

So I turned towards “wellness” hoping to find a distinction and what I found was that health and wellness go hand in hand but are in fact, different things.

The definition of wellness is “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as “a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.” Wow. Isn’t that such a powerful definition? Wellness is not a stagnant state of being. It is an active process that requires you to make CHOICES toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness goes beyond being free from disease or illness, it is an evolving process of growth and change.

Wellness is the action while health is the desired outcome.

The thing is, we can’t always choose the state of our health or have full control of the desired outcome. Some metabolic diseases and cancers are largely genetic. Some people are born with heart defects and other organ defects that are inoperable. Some people survive through physical trauma that lasts a lifetime. But wellness, on the other hand, is a CHOICE regardless of what state our health is in.

Depending on what resource you use, there are six to eight areas of wellness. The National Institute of Wellness defines six dimensions of wellness so let’s stick with that.

Physical

Physical wellness includes regular exercise (like you have to actually do it yourself and not watch it on social media, I know… total bummer), eating balanced meals (which means no coke as your carb serving and no Reese’s Peanut Butter cups for the fat serving, don’t be mad at me, I double checked this one for you and I am only the reluctant messenger), maintaining a weight that keeps your energy levels high (like higher than being able to walk to the fridge several times a day *facepalm), taking your vitamins/supplements, avoiding smoking and drugs (duh), getting adequate sleep (ouch! OK, OK), and limiting your alcohol intake which are all CHOICES that we make to be WELL. If you think about it, even wearing seat belts and keeping up with doctor check-ups are active CHOICES that require action in the attempt to maintain your health by prevention. The best part is that all of these CHOICES can be made even when you have cancer or any other disease or illness.

Emotional

This one was a big component of 2018 for me. It includes living your life happy, mindful, positive, optimistic, content, stress free, holding no grudges, at peace with your life and those around you. When we are not emotionally WELL we become needy, miserable, stressed, never satisfied, negative, resentful, and bitter. Anyone know someone who is in optimal physical fitness, with perfect vitals and lab work on their physical BUT treats everyone around them like crap? Healthy but not well. Anyone know someone who could walk straight out of the pages of Shape magazine but let’s others treat them like crap, belittle them and abuse them? Healthy but not well.

Occupational

This one is a soft spot for me. Eek…here I go. This aspect of wellness has to do with our careers and our everyday work life.

Hey Lisa, are you happy going to work? Um, can I just answer UGH?

Hey Lisa, do you feel a sense of purpose and opportunity for growth in your job? May I have a blanket to hide under please?

Hey Lisa, does your job pay you adequately for the work you do? Yes, absolutely. Whew!

Hey Lisa, are you rewarded appropriately? I plea the fifth.

Hey Lisa, are you a workaholic and let work stress you out to the max? Nah. Honestly, not really.

Hey Lisa, do you have a passion for what you chose as your career and love that you can use all of your skills to their fullest potential? OK I need some chocolate pronto!

Unfortunately, I have come across a lot of people that seriously hate their jobs and simply show up, go through the motions and pick up a paycheck. What’s wrong with that you ask? Maybe nothing if you feel wellness in every other aspect of your life but the reality is that if you work full-time you spend a large portion of your every day, a huge portion of your LIFE doing something you have no passion for, that doesn’t challenge you enough and is not rewarding at all which may eventually affect other dimensions of your wellness. Gonna end this one quick. Thank you, next.

Spiritual

I really like this one because I think people assume this has to do with going to church on the regular. I think that for some people it does include a specific religion but it doesn’t have to. One definition of spiritual is “relating to religion or religious belief” but another is “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” OH, so cool.

I know a lot of people think this spiritual stuff is a bunch of kumbaya nonsense but I think everyone gets to a point in their lives when they start really contemplating the meaning of their life, the purpose they were meant to serve. I have found that making time for daily reflection is critical. This could look like meditation or simply quiet time to process your day, your week, your connection to others, your thoughts and desires. Being able to forgive freely, practicing kindness, helping others with no intention of getting anything in return, feeling true empathy, handing out grace like candy, showing unquestionable compassion and having a strong sense of right and wrong I believe are all components of someone who is spiritually well.

Social

Social wellness is all about relationships. It speaks to the quality of our relationships with others, making time for our dearest friends, our ability to be our true selves when we are with other people, and being involved in our community. It speaks to allowing ourselves to experience love, having a family that practices unconditional love and a deep connection with each person in that family. It speaks to learning from others, sharing your talents, skills, thoughts, feelings and ideas. Have you noticed that some of the most miserable people on the planet go home to either no one or other miserable people? Yup.

Intellectual

This is another one that I think is so freaking cool and so, so true. As human beings we were designed to mature, change, and grow even in our intellect. Can you approach any situation critically and fairly? Do you expose yourself to new ideas and concepts on the daily? Do you appreciate and accept people who are different than you? Before you complain about anything in your life do you actively try to find solutions? What ways do you exercise your mind? What ways do you leave your comfort zone and challenge your way of thinking? Of all of the dimensions of wellness I think this one gets overlooked quite a bit. But whatever side you’re on, pretty sure you will agree some added wellness in this particular dimension could do our government some good right about now.

OK. Time for a real life scenario. Here is a scenario that I KNOW you have either heard people discuss or maybe you have questioned this yourself: Super healthy fit dude, maybe eh, 50. Runs marathons, trim, maybe even a vegetarian, limits alcohol maybe a glass of red wine occasionally, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs. Really cool guy that loves his church, would give the shirt off his back and maybe even has a hot wife that also thinks he is hot too. Dies at 51. Heart attack. Let’s just say extensive family history of heart disease that was never detected because the dude was never sick… he was HEALTHY. Sooo… what’s the point? Some people ask. Why try to maintain such a HEALTHY life just to die young of something HEALTH related? Why didn’t this guy just “enjoy life”, and drink all he wanted and eat brownies by the barrel and smoke whatever his heart desired and binge watch Netflix on the weekends instead of train for marathons? I mean he was going to die young anyway. Right?

After 36 years on this earth, 10 years allowing autism to affect the total wellness of my life, and 1 ginormous year of light bulbs going off for me in every single aspect of wellness, I finally have that answer.

We all have a number. We all have the year we will die. All of us. That is not a choice. So all along this hypothetical guy was going to have 50 years. The only thing he had a choice about, was how he would spend those 50 years. How he would feel during those years. How he would treat others during those years. He could have drank all he wanted and maybe gotten some DWIs that came along with humiliation and debt. He could have eaten brownies by the barrel and spent his time with no confidence, avoiding the beach which he loved, buying shirts several sizes too big to hide a huge gut, and treated others like crap all the time because he felt like crap all the time. He could have smoked whatever he could get his hands on and ended up with lung cancer or whatever else that would have caused his last months or years to be plagued with chemotherapy and radiation and surgery and pain. He could have binge watched Netflix on the weekends instead of train for marathons and lost all connection with nature and others and been so out of shape and tired that he could not help others when they needed him. As for the hot wife, I’ll let you decide whether she would have existed or not. Maybe he would have lived 50 years regardless, fine. But he chose to live those 50 years, happy, confident, loved, helpful, kind and joyful instead of sad, alone, out of shape, in hiding and a total jerk.

WE CAN NOT CONTROL THE QUANTITY OF DAYS THAT WILL MAKE UP OUR LIFE. WE CAN ONLY CONTROL THE QUALITY OF OUR DAYS THAT WILL MAKE UP OUR LIFE.

WE CAN NOT FULLY CONTROL HEALTH. WE CAN FULLY CONTROL WELLNESS.

My mind keeps going back to this year and how many celebrity suicides were covered by the mass media. It is so easy to assume that people with mansions and one million Instagram followers have nothing to complain about. Nothing to worry about. But all I can think of is that there were many other components of wellness that were severely lacking in their lives.

This is exactly why even with a cancer diagnosis I didn’t feel sick or ill, because I. WAS. WELL. I was well emotionally, spiritually, socially and intellectually. Even though I had a couple of the factors of wellness missing or falling behind, the majority of my life was well. The more we work on each dimension of wellness, the easier it will be to bounce back when one dimension is hit hard. The others will compensate.

So from now on I am changing the way I talk about health. My main goal is not to be healthy on paper, my goal is to be well in as many aspects of my life as possible. I also understand now that wellness is not a destination point that I will actually reach. It will require daily effort. It is an active process. Just like being Isla’s mom, a mom of a child that has autism, a M.o.C.h.A. requires grit for life, so will maintaining authentic wellness for life.

So my friends, in 2019 I will NOT focus on HEALTH. My word for 2019 is WELLNESS. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring to my health but I do know I can make conscious decisions every day and take full control of what I choose to feed my body, how I choose to move my body, who I choose to spend my time with, what I choose to fill my mind and what I choose to pray for in my life so that I can be well. Of the six areas I will be focusing on physical and occupational this year … what will you focus on?

I wish you a year of actively working towards authentic, total wellness.

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