What does it mean to be healthy? For a long time, I associated the term good health with firm muscles or a flat stomach, or maybe I just didn’t consider its meaning much at all. As a younger man, in my twenties and early thirties, I certainly misunderstood or blissfully ignored the basics of well-being. I was a man who sat in a car for many hours each weekday so that I could sit in an office for many more hours each weekday (the whole while dreaming about doing something different with my life). I had a nice existence—a wife, a supportive family, a steady income, and some fun on the weekends—but I wasn’t really in touch with my body, my mind, my creative dreams, my emotions, or my soul (at least not on a consistent basis).
As that younger man I tried, in fits and turns, to find balance and good health. But the grind was always too formidable an enemy. Professional, financial, and personal responsibilities (along with youthful restlessness) left me too busy and stressed to find much quiet time or inner peace. So I was mostly content to live on soda, coffee, cigarettes, takeout food, beer, muddled ambition, and too little sleep. And when things weren’t going well, there were prescriptions to fix that. I lived on antianxiety medications (which actually caused me a lot of anxiety, among other problems), and when the pills and the lack of exercise they encouraged caused high blood pressure, there were prescriptions for that, too.
Eventually the whole arrangement blew up in my face as I approached my midthirties. At my wits end, I asked myself where this whole thing called “my life” was going. I found myself confused, angry, and out of shape. I was careening toward some sort of bottom, so I decided that I would begin to pursue actual health and true happiness, even if it killed me. Because the other arrangement was already killing me anyway.
The first thing I did was quit the Paxil and Xanax that I’d been taking for almost a decade and a half. The pills were prescribed to me in college for anxiety—and they had worked for a while—but now they were contributing to malaise, fatigue, high liver-enzyme numbers, high blood pressure, anxiety, spiritual disconnectedness, and a host of other problems, and I figured that my life would be better and more authentic without them. However, I didn’t know about this mystery illness called “Withdrawal” (also known as Benzo Withdrawal and SSRI Withdrawal), and when I stopped taking the medications, my life immediately got worse instead of better.
I was sleepless, restless, without appetite, depressed, and suffering through strange mental symptoms. I couldn’t make sense of words or time or emotions. I had pains—strong pains, frightening pains—in every inch of my body, and this all went on for a few hellish years (yes, years, no joke). The doctors I saw were either uneducated or in denial, and for perhaps the first time in my adult life, I realized that I was the one who was charged with nurturing my own good health. In the midst of that breakdown, I also realized, for the first time in a long time, that good health wasn’t just about losing weight or avoiding hard drugs or major surgery. It was about every aspect of our spiritual and emotional and mental makeup. It was a complex, but wondrous, picture.
Crawling off the Bottom
As I began crawling back from a certain breakdown, I did, for sure, take steps to get physically healthier. I quit smoking cigarettes, I cut back on alcohol, I began walking and then running, and I also started eating better. I was eventually able to wean myself off of all blood-pressure medications, and for the first time in my adult like, I could proudly say that I needed no orange bottles from the pharmacy to survive.
But as my withdrawal and healing continued, it became clear to me that good health had other aspects, ones that were perhaps even more important than the physical.
Emotional health was crucial, I realized. And as the pill residue continued to leave my system in sweat-soaked thrashes, and as my own emotions returned to me, I began to value them all the more. I began to realize how often we, as a society, are willing to suffocate our negative emotions at the expense of the good ones, and I considered how important a diverse emotional experience is to an authentic human experience.
And not all of my emotions were pleasurable. I began having many nightmares about past heartaches and failings—things that dated as far back as high school or even earlier—and I began to realize that everyone must make some sort of peace with past demons if they want to find peace and joy moving forward. I realized that smiles and laughs and relaxation are our birthright, not vices to be guiltily enjoyed when no one was looking.
Then, as my mind settled a bit—as my capabilities of logic and reason returned—I began to doubly value the miracle of my brain and my consciousness. A nearly straight-A student in college (I received one B that I still contend as false), I had always prided myself on my intelligence, and when it was momentarily stripped from me, I prayed and prayed for it to return. And in those conversations with God, I realized that spiritual health was a part of the equation, too. Actually, it was the equation. God was in me and I was made from Him.
On my knees looking up to the dark skies and crying, I realized that a fervent and personal spiritual connection was necessary for good health. I realized that I wasn’t obligated by God to serve the stresses, rituals, and political confusions of obsessive church attendance and formal religion, and I once again began reading the Gospel messages on my own and considering how the Source of those messages was speaking to me directly.
Maybe the World is Wrong
During the course of that wilderness journey that was my later thirties, I began to see true good health as a four-quadrant picture that I refer to as Total Health: It is physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health. Those four elements perpetually overlap each other, and if any one of them is ignored, the others suffer.
Total Health is something that we don’t easily understand, because it isn’t a concept that is sold to us on a daily basis. Instead, we are told to simply keep the hectic treadmill moving at all costs. Joy be damned. Dreams be damned. Emotional and spiritual needs be damned. Soul be damned. Maybe we are falling apart (or worse yet, hollow) on the inside, but if we can keep a job, a car, and a home while attending an occasional church service and getting a vacation per year, we are fine. If we can just get to the gym and to the doctor occasionally, we are paying attention to our health.
But then, when a breakdown happens, we realize that true good health is about so much more than outside appearances. It’s all, really, on the inside. It’s deep and authentic, and it’s as necessary to our daily existence as clean air and water.
We can be at an ideal weight with muscles rippling out of the tailored dress shirts our nice salaries pay for, but if we aren’t creatively and emotionally satisfied at our jobs—if we are just going to the gym every night to work out frustration that will return with the next day—then we are ignoring the emotional and mental aspects of good health, the aspects that are attached to pursuing our true professional dreams. And if we are taking medications that block anxious thoughts or depressed feelings, but those medications are, in turn, blocking our inspiration and the nuances of our unique emotional experiences, then a crisis of the soul might be in the making.
And we need to build self-confidence, too, and learn to speak our minds and make valuable contributions to the world as ourselves. Enjoying good mental, emotional, and spiritual health means realizing that we are valuable—realizing how we are valuable as individuals—and then taking small strides toward personal development each month. It isn’t enough to just go through the motions in life, that isn’t true good health.
Where Can We Find True Healing?
Are you enjoying good health right now? True good health? Usually that question isn’t able to be answered by scale measurements and blood-pressure numbers (although such things can point out some problems), but the answer comes from a gut feeling we get when we are asked that question. And when we then begin to consider the following questions:
Are we happy with our relationships? Are we feeling spiritually connected? Are we excited with our professional life? Do we feel that we’ve given our dreams an honest shot? Are we trying to develop ourselves on a weekly basis? Are we trying to become more compassionate and be of some use to the world around us? Are we feeling true joy at some point each day?
Guess what? Most doctors aren’t going to give you the roadmap (or at least not the total roadmap) to good health, and in fact they will often do the opposite. They will throw expensive and destructive medications at your deepest needs and then claim ignorance when the whole thing eventually blows up in your face. They often don’t have the motivation, time, or perspective needed to offer the sort of total-picture healing and well-being that we need. That is something that we must find and continually nurture for ourselves. It must be a journey of the body, mind, and soul.
We, as modern-day citizens of a high-tech- and high-profit-margin world, aren’t the first to struggle with finding true healing and good health. Consider this story from the Gospel of Mark, words that were written nearly 2,000 years before big corporations and shiny ads told us that our every need could be met at the bank or pharmacy:
“Jesus went with him (a man whose daughter was ill), and all the people followed, crowding around him. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’ Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.”
She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. Does that scenario sound familiar to any of you out there? Are any of you still searching for true healing for you pain? Are any of you still searching for true well-being?
The truth is that we are responsible for our own good health. It is our own responsibility (a frightening realization at first), but it is also our privilege and opportunity. When we begin to value our emotions, our mental facilities, our bodies, and, of course, our souls, we can begin to truly care for these things. And when we do that, we can begin to experience a joy and a sense of inner strength that we might not have known in a good long while.
The Total Health picture is different for everyone, and that is exactly why doctors, who serve the masses, usually aren’t able to present it to you. Total health is individual, which is both the trick and the beauty of it all. Because it is individual, you can be assured that it always exists for you (even in times of extreme pain or confusion). And because Total Health is individual, it can be maximized for your greatest personal returns.
In the upcoming week and months, start paying attention to your Total Health picture, the one that has four, interrelated quadrants. You are a complex and valuable individual, a person who requires a comprehensive and balanced approach to good health. If you begin to move, even slightly, in a direction that more passionately cares for every aspect of your self—your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health—then you will begin to enjoy a progressively better life, one that utilizes your potential and enjoys both work and play.
Please message me with questions and comments, and please remember to take care of yourself and your dreams.
COACHING NOW AVAILABLE
PS: I’m moving in the direction of my best Total Health, and now I’m helping others to move in such a direction, too. I’ve recently begun doing some coaching work (via Skype and phone) with individuals who are suffering through the pain and confusion of prescription-drug withdrawal, and together we are mapping out paths to healing and a better future. The withdrawal process can be lengthy for some individuals (I know), but with the proper tools and mindset it can be survived and even used for greater growth. If you or someone you know might benefit from my coaching sessions, please email me and I will send you more information so that we might talk further.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is is a writer and personal development coach. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and over the years he has used both fiction and nonfiction formats to comment on politics, sports, relationships, and spiritual issues. Last year he released a workday devotional, The Lovely Grind: Spiritual Inspiration for Workdays (ORDER HERE), and he currently blogs about a variety of topics at michaelpriebewriter.com and lovelygrind.com. You can get all of his blog posts by signing up for his mailing list here, and you can enjoy all of his YouTube videos here.