2020 closed and opened a lot of doors. It was a year of deep spiritual awakening for me; one which allowed a lot of old patterns and behaviors to die, and healthier habits to bloom. The world felt like it cracked open, like I was seeing facets of life and ways of living I had never noticed before, never thought possible. New belief systems, new ways of healing, new and less-than-traditional ideas of how to be a feminine and embodied woman. Incredible stuff. I latched onto all that newness and carried it with me.
And entering 2022, I've opened my eyes yet again to the disillusion of so much of it. Not to say that there was no value in all the new things learned, but certainly that the territory has edges and harsh lines that I am trying not to step into. I want to give notice to some of those territories today.
If you are even a little familiar with the "wellness" side of social media, I'll bet you've seen at least a few of the following:
Reels or TikToks with fast-moving, beautiful video footage of a young woman's life (or what she wants you to see of it), paired with a caption along the lines of "How I became THAT girl," or "Get ready with me," or "Morning wellness routine."
Advertisements for beautiful, but questionable "health" products (Moon Juice is a frequent contender on my feed).
Pictures of beautiful women on beaches or deep in the woods wearing gauzy nude-colored robes, captioned with a novel about investing in their divine feminine or how they just need to come out into nature to cry and feel their bodies...or something like that.
"Health coaches" or "Spiritual coaches" offering free masterclasses to teach you how to sift through your own emotions, where they'll give you a "discount code" to their multi-thousand-dollar program.
If I sound "over it," it's because I am. Now, I'm not trying to suggest that all of this is bad. I want worthy, well-intended businesses to build a successful platform and a supportive audience. I want people to be able to share anything they want on social media and feel seen, heard and comforted in doing so. So much of why I started Lead to Gold is because I wanted to feel seen and heard! Much of this is not new. But I suppose the beef I have with the online wellness culture/community of today is not the message of wellness itself, nor the voices of those individuals, but rather how it is sent out. How beautified it has all become. How much of a competition it's become. Most critically, how dangerously close so much of it is coming to full-on falsehood.
So let's talk about some of these sketchy areas. Let's make sense of it. I hope that in reading this, you'll be able to carve out what to avoid and what to walk toward, if you, like me, are on a "wellness journey" of sorts.
Blurred lines, everywhere
Face it: Taking care of our health is often quite boring and disappointing. There's nothing fun about going to the doctor for substantial fatigue only for them to tell you that you're just tired and there's really nothing they can do for you. Damnit, we want to feel better! We want to not be tired! So, of course, it's way more enticing to find someone on the internet who tells you that you can rid yourself of that pesky fatigue by focusing that minute energy you have left into the part of your body that feels tired. Or, I don't know, take a full day to be alone, curled up on the floor under a blanket and ask your inner child what they need to feel more energized. Or maybe it's just your moon cycle, and this is your period of rest. In a few days, you'll come around.
I feel it necessary to say again (and probably again, later): I have no qualms with tuning into your body to figure out what might be ailing you. I do it all the time because it helps me feel present. My point here is that we would so much rather turn to the flowery language of an internet stranger telling us what to do, offering suggestions, than our plain old boring doctor who simply tells us what we already know. These people offer a new way of thinking that, at least to me, is really attractive and interesting. The bigger problems arise when we start to trust these people over real, licensed professionals who know us. This leads to innocent people practicing yoga and toying with crystals suddenly questioning the efficacy of practiced, tested science, because it's not very interesting, suddenly not wanting to get vaccinated because there are "better," more holistic ways of dealing with these ailments. That's a slippery slope, sure. It doesn't happen to everyone. But it does happen.
By blurring the lines of true medicine and science, what we've come to understand of these terms in the Western world, and whatever alternatives may exist to them, we've created a population that doesn't really know who or what to believe anymore. I'm pretty fully convinced that if we could somehow make doctors' visits and pill bottles more aesthetically pleasing, perhaps used the right lingo to get people interested in them, we'd have more people willing to participate in that realm of medicine. Not saying it's better than practicing holistic health, I'm just saying. We are so convinced by the looks of things, and by the right language. Of course we're going to turn toward that which uses it. This goes way deeper than the world of wellness - it's human nature.
On a similar note, all of that skilled advertising is used to sell us something, whether it be a product, a service, or an idea. It's all around us nowadays, so we have to be extremely aware and discerning over what we read and absorb. The definition of misinformation is "any message that is ambiguous in meaning and has the ability to confuse its audience, though not necessarily with intention (that would be disinformation)." So here's a great example: the concept of plant medicine. I've seen herbs referred to as plant medicine, which makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. They're plants, they have potentially beneficial qualities to the body, cool. Plant medicine. I have also seen various psychoactive drugs labelled as plant medicine. Marijuana, yeah, fair enough. Psilocybin mushrooms, I guess. Ayahuasca? Kambo (literally the poison secreted by some exotic frog species that people inject into their skin with a needle...which obviously does not come from a plant)? Now we're getting into some dangerous territory. Calling these intensely hallucinogenic substances "plant medicine," thereby making them sound harmless and innocent, is giving an audience the idea that they are completely safe and normal and should be practiced with. I have heard various coaches and public figures talk about their bad trips with these substances as "meetings with God" and "life-changing learning experiences," and this is when I step back and wonder how the hell I got into this dark hole of "wellness." Again, not saying that partaking in hallucinogens is inherently "bad" - if it makes you feel good, and if it helps you meet with God, that's awesome. The problem is in confusing people. Plant medicine has no one solid definition. It is whatever the user wants it to be.
An adaptogen, similarly, sounds like a really attractive substance to put into your body. It is a substance intended to work with your body's normal functions and "adapt" to make them function even better. If you don't know, most adaptogens are literally just mushrooms - and not the fun kind. Moon Juice, as I mentioned previously, sells adaptogenic powders and capsules that are supposed to increase your energy, your libido, your relaxation...all the things we wish we could fix about our bodies, I guess. The thing is, they are selling you pulverized mushrooms for something like 45 dollars a bottle that most likely won't make a noticeable difference in how your body feels or behaves. But because they use the word "adaptogen," it's convincing.
So how are these brands and faces tricking us into buying stuff that doesn't actually work? Well, that's the power of misinformation. It's all about the sound of it.
Strange connections with money
This might be the most irksome territory of the wellness community to me. I see it time and time again with coaches who seem to care about their clients' best interests, and genuinely want to perform a service with authenticity and love, until the money gets to their heads. This was a leading factor for why I "broke up" with my first wellness coach. The second they start talking about how their salaries have tripled, how they're making multiple six-figures from telling people how to live, I get a major ick. I'm turned off. I no longer want to work with or associate with them.
The worst part is that so many of those people will then make you feel like that icky feeling is a you problem. I beg to differ.
It's not that these people shouldn't want to make a business out of coaching. Please do! We need more of it! What we need less of is bragging about wealth. It's disgusting to me, frankly, to go on Instagram and proudly share your enormous and rapidly-growing salary with your likely mostly wealthy audience while people down your street are on welfare. Come on. The strange thing is, I don't see wealthy people in other professions doing this at all. Successful app developers, nor engineers, nor lawyers, share that information with any sort of public audience. It's their business. But for some reason, parts of the wellness community have started weaving money into the core of what it means to be "well."
Do they mean to say that those who are not wealthy, those living paycheck to paycheck, those who can't move out, those who have families to feed, those who rely on donations and food banks to survive, do not deserve wellness? Because that's what it sounds like to me, when they brag about their salaries so publicly. Or when they charge thousands of dollars for a service that promises one can't be truly fulfilled without. Or when they smile and say that "you too can have this! You can quit your corporate job and live just like me and have access to all this wealth if only you'd stop being so constricted with your money! If only you'd realize all the worth you have and use it to attract the money you deserve!!"
That attitude is beyond insulting. It becomes the opposite of what wellness should be, and I urge you to run far away from any public figure who spreads messages of the like. It does not promote the type of wellness we should be striving for as a society. It cheapens it.
Unrealistic expectations & magic
In the worlds of astrology, shadow work, spirituality, healing, embodiment, and all the sort of esoteric realms of wellness, the word "manifestation" pops up at every turn. I'm not going to knock it; manifestation can be a great tool. But I've learned to discern all those money-braggers from the ones who truly do the work, and have come to understand that manifesting is just a fun little codeword for dreaming, and maybe planning. Nothing happens without action.
Some of the potentially excusable money-braggers will go way more in depth with how hard they've worked to create their business (it's still no excuse to brag about how much money you make, but that's the last time I'll bring that up). It becomes no secret that you don't get what you want without working really hard for it and taking the steps necessary to get from where you are now to where you want to be. We've all known this. What I fear is that toxic wellness culture is starting to convince people that there is some magical cure, or some magical formula you can follow to solve all your problems. We keep getting sold the idea that if we only follow these clear steps in a certain order, buy this supplement, take this kind of bath, do this kind of breathwork, and eat these kinds of foods, we'll be healed. We'll be free. If we do some visualizations, we'll rid our bodies of all the trauma stored within.
I have to laugh at myself here, because I have been sold these promises time and time again, believing them wholeheartedly, and ending up disappointed. It's only now that I'm beginning to understand the power of presence and action that I'm beginning to see the changes I've been wanting. Manifestation is not magic. The result of honest action, however, can feel magical.
If you have been here, lost in this maze, I want to reassure you of something. You're not stupid. You're not misguided. You're human, and you're trying to get better. That's the most human desire there is. If you've gotten sold into the magic and the misinformation, and now you don't know what to do with it, or maybe people have made you feel weird and crazy for believing it, I want you to know that you're not alone. We get tricked sometimes, and we learn lessons from it! Even more so, we know what's right for us, and we can trust our intuition. If we end up being wrong, I promise we'll learn from it. That, to me, is part of the truest wellness journey.
Here are a few of my bottom lines for the topic of toxic wellness: there are a lot of falsehoods out there, and social media is only becoming more and more of an endless echo-chamber. I'm reminded of a scene from a recent episode of Euphoria, where Kat is stuck scrolling on her phone, and she's tired of the "self-love" trope because she cannot get herself there. These women keep shouting at her to "Love yourself!!!" until it's so overwhelming, they invade her room, they get up in her face, they take over her entire waking presence. That's exactly what social media feels like sometimes - even the wellness community, which is unfortunately the last place that should feel so invasive. If we are to truly promote wellness and feel good in doing so in the online space, we have to be so careful and cognizant.
The true bottom line is that wellness is what feels good for YOU. It is always accessible, meaning you do not need to make more money or change any part of the way you live to experience it. It could be as simple as feeling the sun on your face and sticking around for those thirty seconds to notice your mood shift. Simple as that. Wellness is available at all times.
On getting into some of the esoteric ideologies - pseudosciences, if you want to call them as such - we can also feel lost and confused. We want to practice embodiment and movement and prayer and astrology and what have you, but we feel crazy or stupid for wanting to do so. I have been given shit from friends over some of the things I practice. But I think it's okay to look beyond science sometimes. If we want to get scientific for just a moment longer, I'll remind you that the placebo effect is real, and if all of our practices only boil down to placebo, who cares? If it's something that makes you feel good, keep fucking doing it and ignore anyone who makes you feel weird for it. So long as your practices aren't impeding on the quality of life for others, do it if you love it. Eat adaptogens and go on ayahuasca retreats if you love it. It doesn't have to be proven, or make sense to others as long as it makes sense to you.
On the other side, let others do what they want in order to feel better (again, so long as it doesn't impede on another's quality of life). If you're happy with prayer and they're happy with taking an antidepressant, do not look down on them for making a different choice. Stay in your lane.
I feel my best when I am present, even if the moment is not a happy one. When I have enough energy to enjoy the things I love to do, see my friends, get outside, go out on the town, and be present for all of it. Doing yoga and intuitive dance helps me feel my body, so I do it when I need it. I love knowing just a little bit about the moon's cycles and the symbolism between her up there and the feminine energetics down here. I like believing that there is a connection. I love feeling into my Aries sun when I need to spice life up or get shit done, then leaning into my Virgo rising when I need to slow down and organize. I love following the astrological calendar because it helps me focus on different themes during each new season of life. It makes me feel well-rounded. When I put focus into the practices I enjoy, I find I can better follow my physical routines. I can deepen my spirituality and my relationship to self, and I can put my best effort in at work without overextending or exhausting. It all comes back to presence. Wellness is full presence for me, right now. And I'm working on it.
It's hard to promote presence online, but that's what I hope to do here. I hope you can find what wellness means for you, right now.