About this post: There is no predefined path to wellness. Try a DIY approach or work with a therapist, or whatever is best for you! The wellness journey can have many starting points, multiple strategies, and different steps to those approaches.
Truth. Authenticity. Radical acceptance. Wellness.
Each has become politicized words, but the real truth is that there are many truths, and each person lives their own version of it. One person’s authenticity doesn’t make all else inauthentic. Radical acceptance shouldn’t mean that some polar opposite must be wholly rejected. And wellness is not a commodity to be bought and sold. There is no one right answer nor one way to live a fulfilling, healthy life, and anyone who tells you otherwise is often trying to sell you something. After all, the wellness industry is a multi-billion dollar business.
At graymatters, we are also a business, but we are not in the business of selling wellness. In our years of practice, I have found that the less we try to sell ourselves, the more people want to be a part of us. We are honest and transparent with our clients, which lets them know that we have their best interests at heart – we tell our clients when they are better and that they don’t need to see us anymore. We admit that there is a lot we don’t know, and so we count on our clients being the expert of their lives, with us guiding them as their mental health consultants. We are the first to say there is no 8-week masterclass to “the new you.” There is no one course, but many, many divergent roads, which, with persistence, can lead to the life you long to live.
So, how do you figure out your path? Where do you start? Which fork in the road do you choose? The honest answer is that you just have to figure it out by educated trial-and-error, like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. There are wellness “gurus” who, for a monthly subscription fee, will dole out each step to achieving lasting wellness. It goes something like this – realize that you don’t need medicine, radically change your diet, balance out your microbiome, culturally misappropriate some Eastern healing philosophy, and form connections with people, yourself and with nature. Oh, I almost forgot the part where you undergo expensive tests to figure out which equally expensive supplements you need to buy. Now, most of these elements are not wrong in and of themselves, but there is something wrong with the idea that there is a prescription to wellness that works for everyone, except those who are too “lazy” or cash-strapped to implement it. If you have tried to follow a wellness regimen and “failed,” it may have been because you didn’t have the emotional, social, or financial resources to move forward in that moment, but that doesn’t mean you “failed.” It means that the regimen itself failed to validate your complexity as an ordinary and yet extraordinarily unique human being.
And if your journey includes medication at any point, no one has the right to shame you for weighing the risks and benefits, and making a healthy choice that’s right for you. Medicine is not a first-line treatment strategy, and when it is recommended, it should always be prescribed alongside therapy or other restorative or preventative health strategies. Still, for many people, certain medicines can be life-changing. They can give you a reprieve from the brain fog, the panic, the depression, the worry, the “meh” and the “blahs,” freeing you to be able to take steps toward your health that you otherwise were too weighed down to contemplate. These same symptoms can stunt your progress even if you are already engaged in psychotherapy. Medicine can free your thoughts from getting stuck in negative loops, allowing you to get even more out of your therapy sessions. Especially for those people whose symptoms are particularly interfering with their lives, adding medicine to their wellness plan can be the final act toward recovery.
Still, medicines have side effects that can impact your everyday life, like weight gain, stomach upset, headaches, or sexual side effects. Sometimes, they can even worsen your current symptoms. Other times, they may not even be a needed part of your wellness journey if you’re in a place where you can add in lifestyle changes to diet or exercise routines. Adding medication isn’t a straightforward decision, but neither is declining it. In our practice, just as routinely as adding medication, we lower it and even stop it. We realize that each person is unique, as are the moments of someone’s life in which we are weighing the pros and cons of medicine at that time. There are no easy answers, so we just need to be open to the idea of medication and also open to the possibility that it could have been the wrong option or that it stopped being the right option at some point.
There are also many moments when, as clinicians, we feel strongly that medication is an important part of the plan, but our client disagrees. In these moments, we have frank discussions about the factors in our clinical experience that inform our opinion, and we listen to the factors from the client’s perspective that inform their lived experience. If our client declines medications, we forge forward with the types of interventions and strategies that are right for them in that moment. Sometimes, the client later decides to add in medicine, and at other times, we are happy to admit that medicine may not have been necessary, given what the client worked on in other areas of their health.
Just as the addition or timing of medicine needs to be weighed, so do the addition and timing of other interventions. As a clinician, I may advise you that becoming vegan, stopping antibiotics, and adding daily cardiovascular exercise would be game-changing to your health, but that doesn’t mean that you’re ready in that moment to work on this. Maybe you’d rather focus on strengthening your personal connections, and doing this first will give you the reserve to tackle other areas. Or maybe there are certain strategies that you’ll never want to implement. Maybe there are certain dietary or exercise strategies that you should NOT implement because it would compromise your health in another way. One person’s panacea can be another’s downfall, and so even “natural” or lifestyle remedies need to be questioned and customized to the individual.
Our clinicians know that their first and foremost goal is to connect with their clients, understand who they are, and then validate their experience by giving them all the options that might fit their needs and situations. Sometimes the order of steps needs to be flipped, or trial-and-error points us in a totally different direction – but believing in an iterative process and being curious about each step and its outcome are what forge a customized path to wellness. For some people, they truly don’t need us on their journey and they are happy to research independently and try out various wellness interventions on their own. For others, even if they are educated health consumers, it can help to have a consultant guiding you through a process. There is no one-size-fits-all intervention nor approach to that intervention. Each step toward wellness is a choice – choosing your own adventure, whether DIY or guided, and seeing it through.
Written by Dr. Tejal Kaur, founder and medical director at graymatters