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How to Begin a Wellness Journey

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Welcome to Empowerology Health and Wellness!

A Wellness Journey

What does it mean to be well? There is so much information out there and so much influence over what it means to be “well.” What is “not well” is what makes our journey cloudy and hard to decipher what is true for us and what is not.

I write this post in hopes of finding anyone that can identify with any aspect of my story. It is scary putting yourself out there and I am generally a private person when it comes to sharing things like this. But, here I am committed to my growth and fearlessness to sharing my perspective. You don’t need to have worked in critical care or be into running. But if you can identify with the feeling, the human experience, this is for you.

The Unraveling

Years ago when I started my career as a nurse I launched myself into the fire that was critical care. It was truly my war zone- a continuous battle of mental health, physical wellbeing, emotional fortitude. It happened all at once and yet slowly. The loss of myself. I was so young when I worked there that I just thought, up until that point, that any change I see in myself is growth. And in some ways that is true but the unraveling of myself was a weakening before the strengthening. And what scared me the most was that I didn’t know I was being weakened. I felt so much anger and frustration I couldn’t bear it. Yet, it was the anger and frustration that made me feel strong. My heart would beat fast every waking moment, I could be triggered by the slightest of things, I would burn inside and I thought if I could come off tough, aggressive, “strong” everyone would believe I was, including myself.

I always told people that my emotional experience in the ICU was like a light switch. When I would punch in, I would flip the switch off and I would go into total “shark mode.” Cold, matter of fact, unbothered, apathetic even. Completely unattached. But by the end of my shift, I would punch out and flip the switch back on to my warm, feeling, and loving self. I did this 3 days a week for years, every shift. After perpetually flipping my switch on and off, the switch broke. It remained off.

What this meant in terms of work was I was able to operate and remain a functional critical care nurse, which was necessary so that work didn’t affect me emotionally. However, what is meant for my life outside of work was far more detrimental.

The switch was only me turning off my emotional expression, it didn’t mean I stopped absorbing the emotional experiences, I just disallowed myself from openly feeling them and releasing them. Instead it put me in a position where I was silently bound, watching my world burn and I couldn’t say or do anything. I felt powerless.

My grandpa and grandma passed away about one year apart from one another. And I remember hearing of their declines and their eventual passing and I attended each of their funerals. I don’t remember much of the details of what happened in my life during that time but I do remember tearing up once for my grandma. I never cried, I never felt the full range of emotions that one feels during loss and grief. I didn’t talk about this much but I always wondered to myself, “Am I a bad person? Am I a bad granddaughter? Do I not care about the people that love me?” I felt paralyzed by the thought that I could be an unfeeling person towards two people that were a huge part of my world growing up, people who I know loved me very much. Two people that I loved very much.

The more I thought about this experience after my grandma’s death, the more I realized that there were not many things that I felt at all. Searching through my mind and emotions, I realized that the only two things I felt and ever remember feeling since starting my job was anger and frustration. I was not sad, I was not happy, I was not excited by anything. This was another huge revelation that shook me to my core. Who was I? Was this who I was supposed to be? Was I actually a bad person?

More time went on and more traumatic experiences built up at work. Coming and going with each passing day and yet only coming and staying inside me each day. I built my walls higher and wider by the day, not wanting to feel what I knew was there. Not knowing if I could handle it. Not knowing if I was strong enough to help myself.

I knew I was unhappy in my job but when I realized I wasn’t happy in any part of my life it scared me. Those thoughts again barraged my mind…”Am I a bad person? Am I truly unfeeling and callous?” I remember talking with my husband, finally admitting, I was not happy. This was only a few months after our wedding and he asked me if I was unhappy with him. I felt a punch to my gut. I remember feeling so torn, like how could I be happy with my husband and our marriage and yet so unhappy in every other area of my life. And I knew in the moment of this conversation that even though I truthfully was happy with my marriage to him that eventually this too would be tainted by my pain. I thought, am I really just a person sitting on the train tracks waiting to get hit? Or can I move myself to safety?

My Turning Point

Not long after, I had a profound day at work. It was one of those days where I grossly neglected myself and my needs to save others. I was running around nonstop, handling situations that truly were dior and emotional and I passed through them with ease and unfeeling. Calculated, on-point, really the height of my intellectual ability. But I was totally and utterly overwhelmed, dying inside but ignoring that because it wasn’t productive. Towards the end of the day I was clearly tired, I had tried my hardest every minute of that 12 hour shift. I hadn’t eaten, gone to the bathroom or even had a drink of water. I had finally made it into my third patient’s room and I was met with disgust. This patient’s mother was sitting in a dark corner of the room and quickly rose when I entered the room. It was clear she was upset and let me know without hesitation that despite my best efforts to care for everyone, my efforts were not good enough for her or her son.

After fighting all day, in that moment in that dark room, I broke. I sobbed loudly in front of this woman. I felt humiliation. I felt so low, like nothing I had ever done in this life was good enough and that it never would be. At the same time, I felt angry. So angry that I had sacrificed everything I was to be here for them and I still wasn’t enough. I quickly exited the room and found my safe corner in the back stairwell and I cried. Long and hard for several minutes.

Crying to me during that time, though it may have offered some cathartic relief, it was never noticed by me. Crying was painful and I often felt worse after. And most times my crying would lead to panic attacks where my throat would seize. It felt as if someone had their hands around my throat and they would squeeze the life out of me. This would last for about 60-90 seconds before I could get a large gasp of air before I would be strangled again. The panic attacks ranged but would last for about 30 minutes.

This was a day that I knew I was done. I needed to get myself out of there and never look back.

It is funny though, a person's attachment to things that bring great harm to them. I knew this was a toxic place for me and yet I felt a certain level of lament when I left. I was going to miss my co-workers, the ones who were there with me in the trenches; the only ones that ever truly understood. I also was afraid I would lose my identity, the person I had cultivated while working there and all the pride that came with being that person.

Though those thoughts and feelings are valid, they are also bullshit. It was fear that swooped down in an effort to keep me there forever. A fear that I became angry with. What is my pride as a person if the person I am is someone I hate? But despite any residual hesitation, I knew my time had come to move onto the next part of my journey. I had outgrown the person I was, and that is often, in and of itself, a painful experience too.

Starting Anew

I started a job where I worked from home. I worked with patients that no longer belligerently yelled or called me names, they didn’t sexually harass me, they didn’t threaten me or my family, they were stable and happy that I was there with them. This was such a surprising experience, I had forgotten that most people didn’t want to hurt me.

I took that summer to unplug and enjoyed the new freedoms I had acquired. A full summer before I said, “I need more, I want to heal.” That fall I joined a local running group. A solace, sacred activity to my body and mind. Something so familiar yet so profound as running offered me a way out of my pain, once again. Running has always been that to me, a way out of my pain and back to myself. My truest self.

I always tell people that in running, you end up getting so tired that you can’t be anyone else but who you truly are. And restarting once again, I saw her. The Girl I was, the one I wanted to know again. I kept running towards her, for her.

Running also offers me the purest form of community. In my life, everything good has always stemmed from running. I met the people I needed in my life at that moment and I will always be grateful for them and they may not even know how they helped save me.

After getting into a steady routine of running, I knew I wanted more. So I started focusing on nutrition. At this point, I had so many sensitivities. So much that I “couldn’t” eat. This was a low point in my life as food is a source of life, sustenance for strength. And I felt I could only eat broccoli and chicken breast. I would end up binging a variety of foods I knew would make me feel sick because I was so angry at myself that I couldn’t have more. I fell into this pattern of self-loathing over and over again.

I eventually fell into information about how important ADDING in food was rather than taking it away from yourself. I started focusing on all the things I could have. This was enough wind to lift my sails and push me into a completely different and uplifting direction. I started falling in love with food again and using food as a way to show my body love by nourishing it. I found recipe after recipe that was exciting, exotic, fun, and left me feeling amazing.

So at this point in my healing journey, I had a strong foundation with my exercise and eating. And yet, I still felt like there was more. I felt residual anger and frustration about my past experiences and a deep heaviness in my core that I couldn’t seem to shake or identify. I felt as if there had to be something more, more to wellness than just food and exercise.

To me and I think to so many people, when we don’t feel good, nutrition and exercise are aspects of wellness that are easy to control. Easy to change and quick to see results. At least this is the illusion we are sold on. Only, if the healing journey starts and ends with food and exercise, it is often not sustainable. My underlying feelings of self-hatred, anger, frustration, shame, guilt were driving my actions and I no longer wanted them to.

The Strengthening

I wanted to take back my power. I wanted to feel my feelings in the full and colorful array that they exist in. I dove into mindfulness, breath work, meditation, Reiki, reflexology, massage, chiropractic, yoga, therapy, etc. To this day I still participate in all of these things. But I realized, though these are helpful tools and have been invaluable to my experience, my healing starts and ends within me. I started acknowledging that I have a relationship with myself and these were tools that I used to get to know myself, to let myself feel safe enough to come out of hiding.

The parts of me that were anger and frustration, were my protectors. Even though I saw them as a source of pain, they were the part that fiercely guarded and protected me during the most dangerous parts of my life. I knew that if I were to heal and grow the relationship I have with myself, I needed to learn to love and respect even the “worst” parts of myself.

This being said, I don’t want to give the impression that I have completed and moved on from this. This is something I will continually work on for the rest of my life and potentially beyond. I see myself as someone that I have to love like I love my husband, my family, etc. And I have to prioritize myself in order to be able to show up powerfully for everyone in my life.

One of the most helpful ways I started with cultivating self-love is observing myself without judgement. Is anger good or bad? Neither. Is fear good or bad? Neither. Is protecting myself from the world good or bad? Neither. It just is what it is and I have to find a way to relate to those feelings as a way of showing myself love.

I continue to work on releasing guilt and shame that I carry in so many areas of my life. Again, guilt and shame that are present in my life to protect me. I just remind myself that in my life, in my body, I am safe and I don’t need to protect myself from me. That’s not to say that every person feels safe in their life or in their bodies. I didn’t either and I am working on creating space for myself to feel safe. And this is something people must do in their own rhythm and time.

Wellness is not linear. It isn’t a race with a finish line. It is an ongoing commitment to yourself. It is finding compassion and forgiveness, love and acceptance of all parts of you. It is finding your support systems and believing you deserve them. You deserve happiness and wellness for no other reason than you are worthy. You don’t have to have it all figured out, you just have to meet yourself where you are at.

Where are you in your journey?


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