Written by Alta Clark 

Alta Clark is pursuer of many paths, her current one being the start of a degree as an R.N., where she hopes to take her knowledge and apply it to her world climbing, skiing, dancing, and traveling. She has traditionally filled the role of mentor and educator, and is inspired by working with young people and women. Her life goals include being able to incorporate medicine with exercise physiology and psychology to help people understand that there are infinite approaches to serving their bodies and spirit.

Well-Oiled Machine

Athleticism has defined my existence for as long as I can remember. When I feel lost, I have always been able to come back to my body and movement as my grounding force. Furthering this potential is often at the forefront of my consciousness, and is historically where I’ve devoted most of my energy. In my mind, this is what it meant to practice “wellness.” I built habits associating my wellness with my body’s ability to operate as a well-oiled machine. I built my life around ensuring total control of my inputs and expenditures, and largely ignored perhaps the most important piece to wellness – the relationship between my mind and body, and a love for what exists – now.

This vision of wellness was deeply influenced by how I grew up. By “growing up” I don’t mean how my parents treated me as a child, but rather those very formative years for young women as we enter the real world and decide who we want to be. At a young age I decided that the person I wanted to be was someone who embodied “wellness.” I wanted to be someone who moderated their caffeine intake, drank tons of water, exercised regularly, ate clean, and practiced good sleep hygiene. What I strove for is what I now call perfect surface-level wellness. I grew accustomed to treating my human needs as a duty, which manifested in an obsession and constant feeling of inadequacy. My focus very quickly shifted from a celebration of what my body could do, to methodical punishment for what I perceived as imperfections.

Losing Power

Years into this way of being I finally hit an impasse. This carefully curated person that I designed for myself started losing power on all fronts. I stopped being able to sleep, I developed so much body pain that I was unable to exercise, and I found myself in a vicious binge-purge eating cycle. The harder I strove to control my health, the more it slipped from my grasp. I started to obsess over not being able to sleep. I continued to try everything in my power to get myself to sleep, but the more energy I devoted to it the worse the problem became. Much like how I’ve tracked macros and calories over the last decade, I focused my attention on my pre-sleep routine and logging my hours. I took the same burning for control, and turned it onto another source. Much to my dismay, the more attention that I focused on my sleep (and the lack of it) the more I concretized this reality. 

My disillusionment became clear when these things that I knew how to do, like eat healthy and build a strong body, stopped serving me. As has been the case with most of us, 2021 has shown me what a new level of stress looks like, and the disruption of changing  my life trajectory that would have been stressful without the looming presence of a global pandemic has been amplified. I developed insomnia, and I made the decision to go back to school which catapulted me back in time to when these habits first started developing. When I’m down to the wire with my assignments and struggling just to get the most out of my brain off meager hours of sleep, I resort to obsessing about the tiniest deviations from my meal plans and sleep schedule – grasping at straws trying to find something I can improve on to help find relief. And yet, every time I am greeted with more resistance. The harder I pull at what I can control, the more life pushes against me.

True Wellness

What has come to my awareness is that rest, and freedom, and enjoyment are just as integral to our wellness as more quantifiable things like sleep and nutrition. I think because they are more quantifiable they tend to be low hanging fruit, versus the true introspection that occurs when we sit with ourselves and love them. I am only knee-deep into the process at this point, but this is what I know now: I’m an insomniac, I have a tendency toward disordered eating, and I like to be in control. But most importantly, that is who I am and the only way I can move forward with her is to love her, not try to change or improve her.

Where I thought I needed control, instead I needed to surrender. Where I thought I needed to supplement, I actually needed to sit in stillness. I’m slowly but surely learning what it means to feel gratitude for exactly where I am at, and not continue to push for more. I am slowly discovering that the world won’t end if I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep tonight or don’t hit all of my macro goals for the day. In fact, there’s a lot more to bear witness to, and a lot more to enjoy when time isn’t spent focusing on that stuff.

I am learning that true wellness for me does not look like measuring, tracking, and planning. It is more fundamental than that. It’s about my relationship with myself and gratitude for my process of learning, growing and aging.

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