I get this question a lot, and I suck at answering it. Well, until now. I was never going to be just a nutritional counsellor, I have often wished that was all I wanted, but I have never done anything the easy way and, as you will see, I have never wanted easy things.
The other day @bonesandmarrowbroth asked me to give them a little definition of what 'holistic nutrition' is and I realized that I finally had a proper answer. I fully knew what it meant to me, my practice and my consulting work. It took forever to finally find it in it's entirety and it's no one's fault but mine that it took so long. I have been trying to nail down my 30 second elevator pitch since I got back to Manitoba in 2011, even took the full Business Plan Development Course at The Women's Enterprise Centre TWICE to try to get my pitch down. The problem hasn't been that I don't know what I am doing at a particular time, it's because I was always still building something, I had a long way to go and I knew it. I didn't want to define anything because I wasn't done.
I've never taken the most direct route for anything, always opted for the scenic route and there have been pros and cons to that. 'The Road Not Taken' was always my favourite poem. I even met Robert Frost's great nephew on a trip to the states once. We were friends for a while and stayed in touch when I was kid. I took it as a sign. My ambitions have never been "normal." When I was 12 I decided on my list. I was going to live in New York and do very cool things, wear high heels, eat fancy food and champagne (check.) I was going to make music that charted on the radio and sing in a band and sign autographs (check.) I was going to have 4 kids (nope, doesn't work with the rest of the list apparently, but I did get to have one!) I was going to live in Europe (check - London, 3 years - close enough) I would walk through old castles and stay in them (a weekend at Castello Banfi worked for me) I was going to dine in a palace in the middle east with royalty (check - some members of the Bin Laden family, who are almost royalty really, and I got to sit in the chair that the Saudi King sat in when he visited - CLOSE ENOUGH :) I was going to be a Naturopathic Doctor or something like that (Holistic Nutrition, close enough for me) and somehow it was all going to fit together into something I was going to do to help a lot of people. (currently checking this one I think.) And then I was going to be one of those interesting people that tells crazy stories at dinner parties and write a book (we'll see...) I also always knew I'd never make much money while I did most of these things, I was learning, I was preparing and investing in myself, so it was a big decision to follow this path instead of something easier. I knew that I HAD to know so many things before it would all fit together.
Anyway. Going back in time... when I first went to university I met with the counsellor to talk about majors and minors and I told her I wanted to do a double major in Music and Biology. She looked at me like I was high or something. She said, "Do you mean music and math? They go together, music and biology don't." Sigh. I hated attitudes like that, still do. I registered for courses the way I wanted to anyway - and then I met the future producer of my first record in a music course. Later, at a cross roads in university I chose to pursue music instead of finishing my degree. I have never regretted it. I knew statistically the odds were small of any success but I also knew that I would always wonder if I didn't try and I couldn't stand the thought of living that way. So I gave it a shot. I released a record (that was a LOT harder to do in the 90s than it is now,) won some songwriting awards, toured (40 shows in 6 months at one point) played the Winnipeg Folk Fest, almost got signed a couple times. Statistically to even accomplish that much was a miracle but I didn't get the full miracle. When I want to be non-personal about it, I blame the deal that fell through on Napster and how a lot of us in TO fell through the cracks those years as record companies scrambled to avoid bankruptcy. Give me a glass of wine or put me in front of a blog screen and I would tell you that over the 6 months of being courted by a rather large music publisher, what actually happened is that the publisher decided he liked me more than his wife, (who just so happened to manage one of Canada's biggest bands,) and announced this to me in an inappropriate way - so the real truth about my deal is that I walked away from it. In the middle of something that awful it's hard to celebrate keeping one's integrity when it required one to lose the most important thing that they had ever wanted. But I don't regret that one either. A lot of the stories that I have to tell have two versions. One I tell you to help you feel okay about the story I am telling, and one I tell you if I am feeling okay about telling you about the humanity I have encountered in my life.
So with music off the rails, I applied and got accepted into two Musical Therapy Programs in New York - my soon to be husband was already living there and I was going to head that way as well. (and I just left soooooo much out.... but this will get too long) It was the logical post-trying-to-be-a-rockstar career move, but at the last minute I said no to starting the degree. After being a songwriter, touring with the guys, winning things (mostly for the song "Ashes Fall Down in 1999) being on a bill with the Mathew Good Band, getting calls from Nashville and Toronto when everyone freaked out about one of my other songs, working with Russel Broome, being mentored a bit by Rik Emmett, recording tracks till 3 am in a studio on Centre Island in TO and having to sleep on a dirty couch next to Gord Downey's Masters with Dale Morningstar's cat(because there were no more ferries to the mainland,) the lights, the road, the fans, it just wasn't something I could do. I felt like I would die in a structured musical environment, so I took the car off the road and into the ditch to avoid a head on with what felt like a semi-truck that was hauling the end of my life. I don't regret it. (The times I have tried to be something I am not, to keep the peace, I have become quite miserable, even depressed at one point - which I found unacceptable, so I quit not being myself. I don't regret the decision to quit not being true to myself but in that process I hurt someone very much - to this day, hurting my ex-husband in 2010 is the only thing in my entire life that I actually regret.) but I am getting ahead of myself... I started my 'holistic nutrition' course instead of music therapy, before it was cool (2005) and while it was still cheap (SO cheap.) It is now cool and very expensive to take that two year diploma and there aren't really any 'jobs.' You have to be able to make it happen yourself. (again, not the easiest path) I choose that diploma because I knew that to do what I wanted to do I had to know how the body worked, I needed to understand cause and effect and health. And I did go back o the Music Industry for closure, eventually. In 2010 I released a Christmas Record "Carol" with a single that charted on AC and Hot AC charts, and then I was done, I had closure. So I walked away from the industry and never looked back.
There are so many stories from that point on as well, perhaps I will save most of them for that book, that I may or may not have started writing... The point for today, for this post, is that I don't actually need to groan internally anymore when someone asks me what I do because I've finally got it. I know what I have done and why I did it all and I know what I do now: I have taken all of the observation, empathy and insight that made me a good songwriter, all the humanity I encountered in the music industry, all I learned from my rather smart business consultant/banker of an ex-husband, what I learned from the patients at the HIV Day Treatment Center in Manhattan where I taught nutrition classes, and from my colleagues at the New York Open Centre - one that had lost three family members to breast cancer and one that had lost her fiancé in 9/11, what Dr. Guy Meadows PHD (The Sleep Doctor in London) and his wife taught me, being in London for the crash in 2008, all the things I learned working for Neal's Yard on Kings Road in Chelsea, my time with the Bin Laden family (I had my biggest and most beautiful aha moment of my life with them, will save that story for another day,) Jewel's Wingfield & Madeleine Bocker and all things soul and spirit that they taught me and helped me heal, the short but revelatory time I spent with Dr. Shahram Ayoubzadeh, MD & ND, in Ottawa, my clients across the world from so many cultures all with their own stories that taught me soooo much, and I fused it all into a strong and flexible net of knowledge and insight that I can replicate, tailor and then give to others so they can learn how to catch their own health and happiness before it disappears completely. I weave all of my knowledge, insight and experience together and turn it into wellness strategies for individuals, families, companies and communities. That's what I do. I am a health and happiness strategist. If you come into my office, I will help you out with food, therapeutic supplements when needed, stress management and lifestyle counselling, cooking lessons, recipes, shopping lists, prioritizing so you can do things in small steps and avoid getting overwhelmed, referrals to other practitioners that you might need more than you need me, education, encourage you to set some personal boundaries, 50% chance you will cry in my office, 95% chance you will have a personal revelation or two, or 5, I will invite you to seminars and workshops that I teach to help my clients along, create family activities involving food, digital sunrises and sunsets, whatever you need I will provide it - or if I can't - I will do my best to help you find it. I will also probably help you check in on where your own self-worth is at. It's hard to treat yourself well and give yourself the chance to heal if you don't like yourself. Once you're feeling better, good chance I will end up helping some of your family members as well. If you're a company and I come to your office, I will do the same things for you because to me you are also a living organism with many moving parts: you are a macro of the micro that I help in my office everyday. And that's why I believe I might just have a strategy for our community, because employees in all those companies are the individuals that make up our community. Individual nutritional therapy/counselling, employee wellness consulting and collaborative community wellness events are all the same thing to me. It's not rocket science, it's just humans.
And since we're chatting, there's a newer question I seem to get these days, once people hear some of my stories:
"Why on earth did you come back to Morden?"
That answer, my dear friends, is quite the story - a story with two very different versions ;)
I guess I should really get on that book now.
"I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
~The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost