They say people often get involved in the line of work that they most need for themselves, and that is probably true for me as a long-time health advocate. I have always been drawn to issues of health, probably because I was a young gay during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and everyone I knew was thinking and talking about that aspect of health, so health was like the water that I swam in. But it's one thing to work in a field, and it's another actually to put the lessons of ones work to bear on ones own life. Here I'll focus on some of the ways that I think I have been successful at incorporating what I've learned.
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Community: I've always felt instinctively that community and participation in community are valuable elements to a healthy life. When I am isolated, I am less able to get access to the things I need to build my health, and when I am in community I do get that access. So I have sought out as many communities as possible to provide support. Of course, the benefits of community correlate to the level of participation, and I have focused on participating in a few communities in which I feel that I am cared about and supported. I often think, "If I were in trouble, which communities of people would drop everything to support me?" The Radical Faeries, both in Philadelphia and nationally, have played a huge role for me in terms of such a supportive community. If I were to sum up what they provide, it would be a loving support of everything I am up to, and willingness to help me with challenges that arise in all areas of my health. I also have an informal "Board of Directors" of close friends who are aware of the details of my health and welfare, and on whose care and kindness I depend.
Creativity: I've played piano since I was a kid, and over the years I have noticed that I play the piano most in times when I am feeling good. I can use creativity as a barometer of things being out of balance in various areas of my life-- creativity is usually the first thing to disappear when I am not well. I also know that increasing my creative output has a great impact on all areas of my health-- I physically feel more energetic and awake, and my mental, emotional, and spiritual health also benefit.
Cat: I could say that my cat has been better for my mental health than therapy and support groups combined, and that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Madeleine the cat is a sweet and calming influence on my life, and seems to know intuitively when I am feeling lonely or depressed. She's also a reminder that someone counts on my health for her own well-being. If I'm not well, I'm not available to take care of her needs, and she lets me know in many creative ways. So I am a fan of pets, whether you are a cat person, a dog person, or a lover of other species.
The key to health for me has to become aware of the telltale signs that things are out of balance-- each of the three examples above provide these signs to me. Often the signs are small: Have I flossed my teeth recently (basic self-care) ? Am I taking too many taxis (life too rushed) ? Did I have breakfast (life too rushed) ? And I aim to keep an eye on these barometers of health so that I know when I am off track. Perhaps most important of all, I am gentle with myself when I am.
-- Chris Bartlett
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