I am a second-gen holistic health professional.
It’s true, I was one of those kids. The kids with special diets and unnatural levels of knowledge about healthy lifestyle choices. The ones who made life complicated for everyone and always smelled vaguely of essential oils and natural cleaning products. Did you know any of them in the 80’s or 90’s? If you did, my apologies. You may qualify for compensation.
I promised myself this post would be honest. So here goes.
I grew up in a family that viewed natural health care as a second religion. It was my parents’ profession and obsession. Our home culture was a strange fusion of religious conservatism and medical cosmopolitanism. In the crucible of our household, traditional medicine from all over the globe fused with the new trend of evidence-based natural medicine and became a cornerstone of our existence.
It influenced everything from the food on our table to our cosmology of good/evil, past/present/future, and behavioral ethics. Of course, those wellness ethics did not always prove healthy in our interactions with “non-believers.”
But let’s be real, circa 1990, the U.S. Midwest had not yet embraced the natural lifestyle medicine trend. Not unless it snuck in via veggie casserole or a weight-loss menu. A little bit of cross-cultural conflict was to be expected.
No, we did not have sugar or coffee in our house. Yes, the latter caused much distress for our houseguests. And yes, we probably made them feel bad for even requesting such a (basic) thing. For this, I apologize. My parents were converts, and that lends itself to early fanaticism. At this point, I think we’ve all eased into a more compassionate way of co-existing.
This information may shock you, but when you are in elementary school, it does not earn you popularity points to fixate on health. For example, at my 10th or 11th birthday I was adamant that we serve homemade fettuccine alfredo. There were mushrooms, real organic (white) cheese (KRAFT was a forbidden word in our household), and horror of horrors, gray (spelt) noodles. I loved it, but gradually realized that I might as well have served the girls a plate of slimy blue snakes from Mars. Ask any of my childhood friends: that party will live forever in inedible infamy.
We didn’t have to travel to Mars to maintain this alien diet, but grocery shopping was still a pilgrimage. Shopping at a regular old supermarket was always a last resort. I knew every natural foods co-op in the Twin Cities metro better than my own backyard. When one of my childhood friends started going to natural food stores a few years ago, she told me breathlessly, “I finally figured out what that smell in your old house was!” Think of a more rustic and grassy Whole Foods scent, and you’ll probably get the idea.
The literal backyard itself was big–too big. For us kids, trying to tame that acreage was a wonderful adventure and a backbreaking burden in equal measure. We tried (unsuccessfully) to develop an organic hobby farm on a piece of land just outside the metro area: the edge of small-farm territory. Mostly, we ended up with too much garden, forest, and household upkeep to satisfy our initial vision. On my own part, childcare for a troupe of younger siblings… And then there was the other baby — the family business, too. I treasure them all, but wow, the work.
As the oldest kids among you know, you never really stop looking after your younger brothers and sisters. And the same goes for the family health care business, which is only a year younger than myself, and thus might as well be my twin. We grew up together, fought each other for dominance, stole each other’s toys and food and sanity. Sometimes I didn’t know where I ended and the other began.
Despite my having more intellectual interests than I could satisfy in a lifetime, it was a known fact that I would start working for the family holistic health clinic as soon as I was old enough. It wasn’t a legal guardianship. Just a natural extension of the personal relationship we had always had.
So I started with accounts, admin, and clinic assistant work when I was 15. I also attended my first holistic and natural medicine professional development seminars at the time. Eventually, partly due to a loss of my college savings fund in my senior year of high school, I put off attending a four-year school and opted to go into a two-year massage therapy program while working full time as a clinical assistant and coach at the family clinic.
I also found a new vocation in education when I started an educational side-business with my father. We began teaching our own holistic health care seminars to natural medicine practitioners around the tristate area. The curriculum was based on our own clinically-tested protocols. Those unusual protocols were the reason our clinic thrived. We were the last stop for a lot of people who had tried everything. And people got better. Lots of people.
You probably know the old epithet: “Physician health thyself.” Well, it’s true. A lot of health professionals compulsively push themselves too far, often citing the “mission” as the rationale. For me, full-time work and school over that period in my early adulthood induced several chronic illnesses that I live with to this day.
However, I wouldn’t take it all back. Sometimes the best way to help other people is to go through something yourself in the most visceral way.
Since those early days in a clinical setting, I’ve worked and learned in a wide (too wide?) range of environments: teaching health and health care modalities, practicing herbalism, working for a public health research initiative, facilitating youth development programs, acting as a historical interpreter for a historical farm site in the Twin Cities, and teaching world history and geography. According to my family, I’m a bit culturally promiscuous: I fell in love with Southeastern Europe, Asian languages (Mandarin and Hindi), Persian and Urdu poetry, South African culture and intellectual progressivism, and more (but I won’t bore you with the list).
These days, I’m working toward becoming a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, the highest standard of professional qualification in the U.S. On the average day, you can find me reading or studying ethnomedicine (traditional ecological and medical practices), earth and human microbiome studies, the historical geography of food, and the connections between chronic health conditions and the environment.
But I no longer have to study or teach holistic health in order to encounter it. It’s a surreal experience to find that the products and therapies I had to defend and search for ten years ago are mainstream health resources now. I can drive to my local supermarket and find the food necessary to help manage my chronic illnesses. Most people I know have some knowledge of holistic therapies. The friends confused by my strange lifestyle when we were kids have now adopted similar lifestyles. Best of all, I love that I can have a real conversation about intestinal health around the kitchen counter without dark looks and quick changes of subject. (Though maybe that’s because those folks have kids and managing bodily functions takes up a large percentage of their time.)
Our awareness of our health needs/options has advanced more quickly than I could have dreamed. For some of us, although those key resources are at our fingertips, we don’t know how to use them. We need to design a better life for ourselves, but we often don’t have the tools, the guidance, or the virtual studio space to experiment with better strategies. We can’t see all the variables, so it’s hard to test our personal health theories. We’re too close to our own skin, our relationship dynamics, our home or city, and our subconscious cultural beliefs about health and healing.
Like it or not, you are not an island. You are an archipelago of islands. You may not be able to improve one of your islands without improving the others. That’s a big project for any one person. Especially if you have a chronic illness.
Despite what your pain or fatigue is telling you, you’re not alone. I’m here to help. The Global Wellness Lab is dedicated to providing practical education and health coaching for tough-to-manage chronic illnesses and symptoms. This is what I’ve done all my life, and I hope to continue doing it for you.
My goal through GWL is to both teach you and to learn with you. This is a place for low-anxiety virtual learning and experimentation … for health coaching AND health creativity. I’m not a specialist. I’m the consummate generalist–the very jack-est of all trades. I want to help you explore beyond your immediate physical reality for a broader reality that may be obstructing your goals. This is where my geographic, historical, and cultural training comes in handy.
But I’m also here to use my lifelong experiences in holistic health strategies and coaching to help you DO something with the contextual factors that may be influencing your specific chronic health condition. Once you have a bird’s eye view of your situation, you can create an individualized health strategy with our resources and recommendations. I’ll also direct you to professionals or organizations that I trust to provide in-person and specialized care. And in our podcast (coming soon!) and guest articles, we’ll bring specialized experts to your (virtual) door.
The Global Wellness Lab is a work in progress. Just like you. Just like me. In time, we will provide a wide-range of resources, self-management protocols for a variety of symptoms and conditions, and virtual coaching services. For now, I hope that everything we do is useful for either you or someone you know.
May the next year be kind to you,