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Is wellness a white thing?

Updated: May 31, 2023


So – I saw a post on Facebook the other day that scoffed at the idea of quitting your job and going to travel. The poster asked the question, “how am I supposed to buy plane tickets when I don’t make enough to pay for both food and electricity.”


The question made me stop and ponder – this idea of wellness, is it available to everyone?


I mean – I went to an extreme. I quit my job and came to Central America to become a dive instructor. Can everyone do that? Probably not. But, does everyone need to? I don’t think so.


I come at this question with curiosity. You see, years ago I worked with this amazing woman, who has since become a good friend. I will call her Amanda to protect her anonymity. Amanda is smart and talented. She is opinionated. She is artistic and thoughtful. She never said anything at work, despite her having amazing ideas that she would tell me later at the bar. I never understood it. Why wouldn’t she just speak up? She kept telling me, she couldn’t. She kept telling me it wasn’t the same for her as it was for me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it until years later she had stuff happen at work, and she spoke up. It didn’t go well. There were consequences. Me in my whiteness didn’t understand it before. I have a better understanding now.


I giggled to myself when I see Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage. While I very much respect Ms. Brown’s work, I find it slightly tone deaf for a middle-class white woman to talk a lot about bravery. Surely the bravery it takes for such a woman to talk with her husband about what the other is thinking does not fall into the same category the bravery of standing up for one’s rights or one’s beliefs. Nor does it fall into the same category of being black and having to confront prejudice and discrimination every single day. It has bothered me since I saw her movie on Netflix.


So, when I think of wellness, are there ways in which someone who is not white has the same room to explore wellness? Or, maybe race is just a small aspect of this question. Does wellness depend on status? Can you be in a minority group with regards to race, economics, gender, sexual identity, religion, etc., and explore wellness in the same way? Perhaps not. Perhaps there are consequences that I do not have to face.


Dr. Peggy Swarbrick is credited with coming up with the eight dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, spiritual, vocational and financial. She is white. Does that matter? I don’t know.


I don’t know where I’m going with this thought, except I don’t think it ends here. Strangely enough – during my divemaster training, someone asked me what I hoped to do with my training. I told them, quite honestly, I had no idea. A woman diving off the boat I was working, told me about a podcast she thought I might enjoy (we had talked earlier in the week, and she knew I was a lawyer/social worker). The podcast is called “Into the Depths” and it is a black woman who narrates her time scuba diving to find slaveships. Listening to this podcast when I got home was one of the first things that made me want to quit and pursue diving.


You see, diving for me is incredibly fun. It’s incredibly relaxing. It’s incredibly therapeutic. And, for the most part (at least in my experience) it is incredibly white. Part of what I hope to do is bring diving to communities which generally would not have access to such things. Because – in my mind, identity issues should not matter when it comes to wellness. Everyone SHOULD have access to wellness. I know that not everyone does, but I truly believe everyone should.


And, I’ve started with race here, but it doesn’t end there. Economics matters, unfortunately, significantly when it comes to accessing wellness. So does physicality. So does geographic location. When I was just starting my journey into diving, my instructor told me about a program that he went to that taught him how to teach diving to people with physical and mental disabilities. My dive sister (we met during divemaster) worked with a program in New York aimed at bringing diving to the LGBTQ community. I’ve since learned of programs that work with veterans.


So – wellness matters. We may not all approach it the same way. The dimensions that are most important to me may not be of concern to someone else. I don’t think that is problematic. I also acknowledge and appreciate the fact that I might have more room to explore wellness than many others. That might be become I’m white, or because I have more economic means, or because I have enough support in my life.


But, can you explore wellness? I think you can. It may look different than my exploration. You may not have the same opportunities I do. But, I think there is room to determine where your life is balanced and where it’s not. Can you quit your job and move away? Probably not. Not many people could. I have the benefit of living in a two-income household with no children. That has provided me room to explore wellness in a way that many others cannot. But, wellness is not an all-or-nothing concept. There is much room in between to explore.


Picture above is taken from National Geographic's website for Into the Depths. You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/podcasts/into-the-depths/article/episode-1-trusting





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