Part of my journey to self-publish Panic Cat in 2017 is part of a bigger journey towards living life bravely as the person I feel God has called me to be in 2017 and beyond. So part of talking about the process of pursuing the lifelong dream of novel publication will be talking about the larger process of trying to live well.
Like the term “self care”, having a “word of the year” was something I didn’t hear of until I heard it everywhere. I heard some rumblings of the idea of picking one word, kind of like a simple resolution or mantra, to carry you through your year, sometime in 2016, but too late for me to really put stock into picking my own word. Late in 2016 going into 2017, however, it seemed like everyone I knew was talking about this idea: which is great, because I really think it’s a good one. Instead of resolutions, which are much easier to feel bad and guilty about breaking than they are to actually keep, especially for people with chronic illnesses of any kind, a word of the year can be energizing. It’s about changing ones mindset, and can be anything that’s meaningful to you–from hope to love to power and way beyond.
Well, I had my word for 2017 picked before the leaves even began to change in 2016! In mid October 2016, I decided (well-meaningly, but with not nearly enough prayer or thoughtfulness, or, really, grace for myself) that 2017 would be The Year of Health. I was finally going to take the necessary time to process my fibromyalgia diagnosis that I had received in July and do everything I could in my power to start feeling better. After all, I totally could get healthy on my own, right? That was totally something I could control (note heavily laden sarcasm).
Well, if the foreshadowing in the last paragraph was any clue, those early attempts to get a head start on my 2017 “year of health” failed dramatically.
So it’s the first day of 2017, I just got done with a long and draining but rewarding morning at work and afternoon parenting, and my daughter is asleep and I’m finally taking the chance to breath. I get on Facebook, and one of my friends has asked people what their word of the year is.
There were some excellent ideas there–possibility, rise, Nutella–but all I could do is feel like a failure already, since it was only the first day of 2017 and I had already “failed” at my word.
And then, out of nowhere, as if it was bubbling up from within me–from God, I’m sure, came another word: similar, but, for my particular year ahead and place I am at this beginning of 2017, much better. There it was, so obvious: my word of 2017 is wellness.
What does wellness mean, exactly, and how is it differentiated from health: why is it so important to me that I chose one word over the other?
The words are often used interchangeably, and can mean different things to different people. But to me, the difference is that good health generally means “free of illness and diseases.” I view wellness more holistically: what is the state of the whole person? Are they doing their best on any particular day? Leaning on their support systems, families, and friends? Practicing good self care practices? Being kind and patient to and with themselves and others? Taking small, consistent, steady steps towards progress in any area if their life they have control over? That, to me, is wellness, and I realized that while I could definitely meet my health goals within the wellness mantra, it was so much more encompassing and allowed so much more self-grace that really all people–not at all limited to those with chronic illnesses–desperately need.
The other big reason wellness seemed like the clear fit to guide my 2017 is because wellness, unlike health, is something I can always achieve. Despite outward circumstances, or sickness, or problems, it can still be well with my soul. The words to one of my favorite hymns, “It is Well With My Soul,” which I haven’t sung in years, suddenly sprung to mind as quickly as my 2017 word.
When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows rolls, whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul. But is it? In today’s society, full of hustle and bustle and mayhem, how often do we stop and check the wellness of our own souls?
I cannot control how healthy I am, not completely, whether it’s physical or mental health. I can try my best to eat healthy, to get enough sleep, to see my doctors regularly, to take all my medications, to get light exercise, to stay informed on my conditions. Those are all incredibly important things to do, and I’m not discounting them at all.
But with chronic illness, I can do all those things, even make myself crazy fastidiously adhering to my practices of making sure I do all those things, and I can still be unhealthy. With my low immune system, I can still get sick even if I’m doing everything to attempt not to.
But wellness, unlike health, is more about perspective. I’m not saying that perspective cures everything: mental health is just as important as physical health, and perspective alone does not change mental health issues. But what wellness does mean is looking more at the big picture: at everything you can do, rather than can’t, and at who you are, rather than your limitations. And taking the knowledge that you are important, strong, and beloved, and using it to take small steps towards being well, not just necessarily healthy. Steps that, yes, might be exercise and diet and keeping doctors appointments. But they might be self care; setting limits; doing things that feed your soul; getting people to help you and remembering you’re never alone; breaking things into small, doable chunks. There are as many ways to be well as there are people, and I am determined to find my own way to be well (with God and my support system’s help, of course!) in this new year.
Go well into 2017, and I hope you can find one thing today, however small, that brings wellness to your life. I know I’m trying to.