There’s a difference between health and wellbeing. I’ve been ill with a virus recently. Although I had a headache, watery eyes and blocked sinuses, I didn’t feel too bad. Because I didn’t have a busy work schedule or young kids and knew it would pass in a few days, I rested and rather enjoyed an excuse to curl up with a book in the cold weather. With some medication, I felt quite well although I was technically ill.
A few days after I recovered I had a blood test and DEXA scan that I have every two years because of a chronic endocrine disorder and consequent osteoporosis. I knew there would be no significant deterioration this time because I feel so strong and well, particularly after my recent Gap Year. I exercise; I walk and dance and do Yoga and Pilates. I follow both traditional medical advice and alternative approaches to my nutrition. I was unprepared, therefore, for how devastated I felt to find the worst results and the most rapid deterioration in the 12 years that I’ve been tested.
Technically I was not ill, but I suddenly felt unwell. My body was the same as it had been the previous day when I felt strong and well, but after being told my bones would be considered fragile for a 100 year old woman, I felt myself crumbling. The following day my shoulder and knee were painful and I saw myself shrink over the next few days. Eventually I realised that at some level I have failed to accept that I am getting older. With all the new opportunities and possibilities I’ve experienced recently, sixty somehow seemed to be a golden age. Research conducted in America, Europe and Australia has recently confirmed that happiness peaks, on average, at sixty-five. In my quest to age positively and productively, I’d effectively denied the physical facts of my increasing age. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing what I’ve been doing and sink into meek acquiescence. But it does mean I’m more mindful of accepting my body as it is, still trying to look after it and keep it well, whilst savouring and engaging with life.
In our society, it’s easy to ignore our body and health as we focus on work and relationships. As we age, the reality of our bodies and eventual death face us more urgently. In my previous work as a physiotherapist and community educator, I noticed that after menopause, many women seemed to discount and disconnect from their bodies. To act effectively in this world, we need to feel ‘at home’ in our bodies. Our bodies are our home for life, our vehicle for living. Women report feeling uneasy, anchorless and ‘not-at-home’ when they disengage from the reality of their bodies. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes Mindfulness meditation as coming home to rest in our bodies, coming to an awareness and acceptance of what is, as it is, here and now.
I feel well again. For me, wellness is about my enjoyment, energy and enthusiasm for life. I’m grateful that I am not inconstant pain or suffering from a terminal illness. But having worked with people with disabilities and chronic illness, I’ve been amazed at people who radiate wellbeing while having significant physical problems. I’ve seen others who feel deeply unwell despite having no discernible disease.
Whereas health usually refers to an absence of illness or disease, wellbeing is a more holistic term introduced in the seventies. Wellbeing refers to a person overall feeling of wellness – to their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. What do you think about your body growing older? How do you think it will affect your wellbeing? More importantly, what does it take for you to feel really well and be able to enjoy life to the full? This wonderful photo was taken by Hailey Bartholomew at youcan’tbeserious.com.au