It seems a little strange to see this on a health blog under the heading of 25 rules for better health. When most of us think about our health we think about exercising, eating healthier and losing weight. These things are still very important for our physical health, but sometimes we overlook some of the spiritual, emotional and psychological factors which determine how healthy we really are. I learned a long time ago how our emotional health is directly related to our physical health. You could be a world class athlete with strength, speed, agility, and a perfect physique, but if you're not happy, loved, needed, and fulfilled, then life is pretty empty. I would like to tell you a story of a remarkable woman who is on her own personal journey to better health. I hope Sarah can teach us all why it is so important to reach out to those around us, and why this is so important for our health.
If you were to see Sarah striding confidently down the street attired in a simple, but stylish business suit, with her long blond hair blowing in the wind, and an ever present smile on her face you would most likely stop and take a second look. She is not what society would call beautiful. She is tall with shoulders a little too broad and a large frame which carries just a little excess weight. Her face is unremarkable. Except for the bright blue eyes you might not notice her features. Yet, there seems to be something unique and special about her. It's hard to put your finger on it. She seems to carry herself with a subtle yet obvious grace and a sense of purpose which at first glance is hard to define. She is heading to her job as a fashion designer in one of the towering buildings up ahead. She is just starting out, but her designs have been widely acclaimed, and she has been deemed a rising star in the fashion world. As she nears a corner she slows as she approaches an elderly woman dressed in an assortment of mismatched clothing which look like they had seen better days. The homeless woman wearily rests against a shopping cart which holds all her possessions. As Sarah approaches she stands straighter, and eyes which only minutes before had seemed dull and lifeless now shine with life. A thin smile creases her mouth as Sarah greets her. "Mary, you're looking good today," Sarah says as her long arms embrace Mary's small and slender frame in a tender hug. "I feel good, though my arthritis slows me down a little on cold days like this" says Mary. Sarah reaches into her bag, and pulls out a small sack and hands it to Mary. "I have your favorite today; roast beef on rye with swiss and a little mayo." The sack also contains water bottles, candy bars, an apple, a bottle of aspirin, and a few crisp bills hidden at the bottom. As Sarah leaves, Mary watches her move swiftly away and doesn't look in the sack until Sarah has turned the corner a block away. The same thin smile remains on her face, long after Sarah is gone.
Looking at Sarah today you would never realize what type of life she has lived. Let's look back and see where Sarah's journey started and how she came to reach where she is now. Sarah as a child was physically abused by her drug addicted parents, and was eventually sent to a series of foster homes until she was eighteen. Out on her own in the world Sarah found herself lost and alone, often homeless, and involved in multiple relationships which lead not to the love and acceptance she craved, but to a recurring pattern of physical and mental abuse. Eventually she married a man who dealt drugs out of their small apartment. He never physically hurt her, but sometimes emotional abuse can be much worse. Stuck in a loveless relationship, Sarah whose self esteem had hit rock bottom began to abuse her body. She started with alcohol, then it was drugs which were always readily available, and then with food. She found that food was an escape from her day to day problems. As her weight continued to grow, her self esteem continued to plummet and a sense of depression and hopelessness descended on her. It was at this time that the apartment was raided and Sarah and her husband were arrested for drug possession with intent to deliver. Sarah's husband was convicted and received a sentence of twelve to sixteen years. Sarah received a year, but was paroled after six months. Released into a world which seemed as dead and lifeless as ever, Sarah spent most of her time, alone in a small apartment where her weight continued to rise as she took comfort in the one thing that seemed to give her pleasure, and helped to dull the pain just a little; food. She was hospitalized several times with weight related issues including high blood pressure and the onset of diabetes. On most days Sarah would sit in her apartment and think about her life and continue to eat. Once in awhile she would look in the mirror, and all she would see is ugliness. She wondered how anyone could ever love someone like her. It was no wonder her parents had always called her ugly and would tell her what a bad person she was. She often thought how easy it would be to end it all. She still had those pills the Doctors at the hospital had prescribed for her. She was just one life among many. If she left this world, no one would miss her. There would be no one to mourn her passing. Her death would be easy and painless. As she held the small bottle in her hand, she heard what seemed like a light, but frantic knocking at her door.
Opening the door she is met by a small girl who couldn't have been older than nine or ten. She was small and thin with an unruly head of blond and curly hair. Her thread bare clothes looked like they had come from thrift shops and hadn't been recently cleaned. "Could you help me please," said the girl. "My Mommas on the floor and I can't wake her up." Sarah almost closed the door, but something about the little girls face made her stop. It was a face which though still a child's appeared wise beyond it's years. It seemed to contain fear and pain, but also intelligence and determination. Sarah realized that it was almost like looking at her own face from when she was a child. The Paramedics determined that the little girls Mother had overdosed on drugs, but would be fine. Sarah lies about being the girls Aunt and the child is allowed to stay with her until the Mother is released from the hospital. The little girl's name is Tiffany Ann Morningstar, and she is a survivor. She has survived a Mother who is a drug addict who spends her days selling her body for her next fix. She has survived loneliness as well as the taunts of children at school, who make fun of her clothes and the lunches she packs for herself from whatever she can find. Sarah's apartment becomes her second home. It becomes a refuge, and a safe haven from the fear, pain and loneliness that her life had become.
Sarah begins to go shopping. She looks for healthy foods that a growing young girl would like. She fixes Tiffany breakfast each morning and packs her a lunch for school. After school they have dinner together, and Sarah helps with homework. On weekends Tiffany stays over, and they stay up late together watching movies, eating carrots, and fruit and talking for hours. On Sundays they take walks in the park and feed the pigeons. Healing begins. It is a healing not just for Tiffany, but for Sarah as well. Her Life slowly, but surely begins to have meaning and purpose. She has someone who loves her and needs her. She throws the prescription drugs in the trash. She starts to notice that her clothes appear to be looser. She has been losing weight and her health is slowly but surely improving. She starts taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Yesterday morning she helped old Mrs. Simms in apartment 3-A bring in her groceries. They have coffee together. It becomes a daily routine as they talk for hours. Sarah begins to help Mrs. Simms who has bad arthritis with shopping and cleaning, and errands. Mrs. Simms used to be a seamstress and still has an old sewing machine. She teaches Sarah all she knows. Sarah buys the latest fashion magazines and practices for hours. She buys material and makes outfits for Tiffany to wear to school. Tiffany has begun to make friends and they sometimes come to Sarah's apartment after school. Tiffany also helps with Mrs.Simms, and the three of them become almost like a family.
Sarah has changed not just on the outside with the loss of over one hundred pounds, a different hairstyle, and a new wardrobe, but on the inside as well. She is finally realizing how wonderful life can be if we just open ourselves up to others. She has learned that she is not only capable of loving those around her, but of being loved as well. Now, when Sarah looks in the window she sees not the face and body of the fashion models in the magazines she reads, but she doesn't see ugliness. She sees the face of someone she likes. She looks at a woman with a bright future who has so much to offer and is only now spreading her wings to fly and take on the world. She finds her self smiling more and starting conversations with strangers. She is just now learning that she has a gift for listening and putting people at ease. She has friends who call her and ask how she's doing. They all say she looks great, and ask how much weight she's lost. A nice man who lives in apartment 3-G asked her out on a date. She hasn't decided yet whether she'll accept. Mrs. Simms say he's a nice, polite man, and Tiffany says he's pretty cute. She may go out, but she's been so busy lately. She's been volunteering for Meals on Wheels on Mondays and Wednesdays, she is a classroom aide on Fridays at Tiffany's school, and she just landed an interview next week for a job as an assistants, assistant to a clothing designer at an up-town fashion house. It brings meaning to the phrase; "starting at the bottom." It doesn't matter though. Sarah has faith in her abilities, and has even started taking evening classes at the local community college.
In quiet moments of reflection Sarah will think back to her past and how it seems only yesterday that she was alone in her apartment staring at a bottle of prescription medicine. Now she has people who love her and need her. She has meaning and purpose in her life. She takes the time to say a short prayer, takes a deep breath and thinks of what's next. She hears the phone ring, and rushes to pick it up. "Hello, Maggie. Are you okay. You sound a little down. If you need someone to talk to I can be there in five minutes."
Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles. What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other.-----George Eliot
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.-----Albert Einstein
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that you cannot sincerely try to help another without helping yourself.-----Ralph Waldo Emerson
After reading the story of Sarah you can see how important reaching out to others can be for are physical as well as our emotional well being. Sarah is like many of us. She has been beaten down by circumstances, and lost her way. Even though she was lost; who she was and the goodness inside were always there. It just needed to make it's way into the light of day. Here are a few other things you may have gotten from this story.
1. Turn the focus from your own problems to the problems of others.
2. Look for meaning and purpose in your life.
3. Learn to love others, but also learn to love yourself.
4. Build support networks of people who care about you.
5. Don't be afraid.
6. Volunteer and keep busy.
7. Put on a smile and try to be happy.
8. Look for opportunities to help others.
9. Realize that life is precious and worth living.
10. There are always second chances.
11. It is never to late to change.