I didn’t realize it, but I have been on a quest for the past 20 years.
At first, it felt like I was just trying to figure myself out. I wasn’t happy with my life as it was laid out for me. So like many people in their late teens and early twenties, I bounced around from place to place, trying on different “personality outfits” to see which one would fit. I wanted to be tough and escape the Midwest, so I joined the Navy. I started yoga, but I also started kickboxing. I learned a new language, but decided I wanted to be a doctor. I was a college student by day and supported two wars by night. I was defined by my lack of definition.
As I grew older, I started to figure out how to blend the tough girl with the gentle girl, and turned my pursuits to health. That also went in fits and starts. Like many, my initial goal for health was purely aesthetic. If I was healthier I would look better. In this pursuit I tried on many different “health outfits.” I was the yogi, the kickboxer, the runner. I dabbled in Krav Maga and even got trained as a yoga teacher. I was a vegetarian, a low-carb-er, a calorie counter, a gluten-free casein-free dieter, a food allergy restrictor, and an eat-whatever-you-feel-like-er. For the longest time, each individual pursuit was an attempt to reach perfection. If I missed a day of running I would miss a whole week immediately after. If I had a single scoop of ice cream, it would trigger a cascade of poor eating decisions. (With this being the time for New Years resolutions I am sure you can relate.)
It took me the better part of 20 years and dozens of different “outfits” to finally realize not only that I was on a quest, but what the goal of that quest was. It took me looking at the bigger picture patterns of my life. When I did this I saw that in spite of tremendous obstacles, I had achieved a great amount. In spite of more than my fair share of traumas and a few very hard failures, I had bounced back and come out on top every single time. It was with this realization that I saw the error in my pursuit of perfection. It is not in perfection that we find health, it is in resilience. When we can bounce back from things that are both within and beyond our control, that is when we have achieved health.
This concept of resilience as the hallmark of health has come to be the core of my current passion and profession. My relentless pursuits led me to my calling as a naturopathic doctor who works with those struggling with their mental health. This simple definition of health has had profound impacts for myself as well as my patients. Resilience helps to combat the negative images we are bombarded with in the media, from the airbrushed ideals of beauty to the poor portrayal of those with mental illness. It helps to not be taken under when circumstances beyond our control interfere with our stability. And resilience helps to improve physical health as well as mental health.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this concept is all that is needed to achieve remission or stability. What I am saying is that it is the measure I use for myself and my patients to assess current health status. It is also the goal of all health interventions that I utilize in my practice. And yes, there are ways to improve, learn and facilitate resilience of both the mind and the body. They are complex and must be tailored to the individual, but there are some general diet and lifestyle approaches that set the stage for resilience. For those who are in southern California, I will be sharing these in more detail in my upcoming talk for the International Bipolar Foundation. For those who aren’t, check back here or on my website at www.DrJenniferBahr.com for more specific details and resilience tips.
In the meantime, I encourage you to pause and consider the times you have been able to bounce back and the times you haven’t. Can you find common themes that were present in one but not the other? Perhaps medications weren’t being taken correctly, or health overall was not a priority? Perhaps fear motivated decisions more than trust? Identifying these common themes is the most significant first step you can take to getting onto your own path to a place a resilience and therefore to health.