It’s a curious thing to start asking yourself the question, “What do I need?” On some level, you’re asking yourself this question all day long: Am I hungry? Do I need coffee? Do I have time? But you’re probably not really asking the question – or, at least, not answering in a way that’s cultivating your best health and state of mind.
That’s what Katie McDonald has made her business: helping people ask themselves “what do I need right now?” and, even more, helping them find the right answers. You might think you need a cookie. The parade to my office vending machine indicates that people often think that. You might think you need a drink at the end of a long day. I’ve thought that more times than I care to admit. You might think that you need, really need, to tell off that jerk parent of your kid’s friend. Through Bnourished, her holistic nutrition and wellness practice in North Kingstown, Katie helps people find their real needs, and more importantly, to honor them. Because if you’re a better version of yourself, everyone in your life benefits from that.
Quite a tall order. And one, in the spring, that I decided to undertake, working with Katie for several months this year to become better at living my life. At least, that’s what I was hoping for. The results? Well, you’ll have to ask my loved ones about that.
First things first: Bnourished is not therapy. I’m all for therapy – it’s done great things for me – but this is different. I like to call it “holistic life hacks.” While I was working with Katie, at bi-weekly meetings in my office or at her gorgeous home studio overlooking a pond in Saunderstown, we did talk about my life. But it was through the lens of: what’s going on with me, and what lifestyle changes can help alleviate those things? Basically, what do I need?
The answer was: a lot. I have this habit where I say yes to everything, do as much as I possibly can, take on an unmanageably big workload at my job, make more time for other people than I have. Yes, I’ll take that spare ticket to the theatre tonight. I’ll just skip eating dinner. And yes, I’d be happy to bake a cake for your daughter’s birthday. I can get up at 5am tomorrow to get it in the oven. And no, it’s no problem to get away for that last minute weekend, if I add two hours to each workday this week.
As much as I was enjoying my life, I wasn’t fully enjoying it. Most of the time I felt so exhausted and drained that I wasn’t present with people. I would lose sleep over what I did and didn’t say, things I didn’t do well enough, things I forgot to do or couldn’t get done in time. Apologies that needed to be made. Mistakes I wish hadn’t been.
So what I needed, first, was to take a breath. At our first session, Katie asked me how I could do more things for myself. It was a daunting question, because I was already doing so much. I didn’t have time for more. My happiest place is on the yoga mat, but I was struggling to get to the studio. We set some intentions for our work together: to commit to time for myself for inner peace, creativity and movement; and to add better whole living practices to my daily life.
I stumbled into our second session exhausted and late, as per usual. I had made some improvements to my daily smoothies, at Katie’s instruction: adding hemp seeds for protein 2nd, ground flax for digestion, using greens besides spinach and kale – ways to cut additional calories and still feel full. I told her about this weird thing: that the more I was feeling drained, the more I craved citrus. Katie said it wasn’t weird at all. Citrus fruits are natural mood boosters. It opened up a conversation about aromatherapy that has - without exaggeration - given me a way to improve any malady I’m feeling: White Fir for malaise; Sweet Orange and Grapefruit for the blues; Lavender for calming and rest. She gave me a little bottle of Lemongrass Oil, which is bright and invigorating. Later, at my desk in my usual 3pm slump, it gave me a mental boost that allowed me to avoid the coffee I usually turn to to power through the rest of the afternoon. Two sessions and my life choices were already better.
The next two sessions focused on food, particularly how the right choices can make you feel better. I had the basics down, mostly forgoing white flour and processed foods for quinoa and vegetables. But I was eating too many protein bars as meal replacements, and eating way too much sugar without realizing it. Each session, Katie greeted me with a mug of tea (she has her own blend she makes with Farmacy Herbs in Providence) and a treat. Once it was a homemade raw chocolate hazelnut mousse cake, once a few raw cookies. She showed me that dietary changes could be delicious and, more importantly, painless. I thought that I had been making generally healthy choices, but I was choosing foods marketed as healthy that are anything but.
The following sessions focused on cultivating sacred spaces, especially making space for myself in the middle of my life. Starting to say no to things, and to people, is probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. Not in terms of actually doing it, but of the emotional work it took to get there. The impulse to make people happy runs deep. But once I started observing how much better I felt from saying no once in a while, I wanted to do more of it. I started giving myself one night a week, then two. I was still doing for other people, but I was also doing for myself. For the first time I was realizing that I was also one of the people in my life who needs to be taken care of the way I take care of others.
A few weeks after our last session, someone said, “What's going on with you? You seem different. I haven't seen you around as much. You seem like there's something big going on.” And really, there was. There still is. The changes I've been making to my life have been subtle, and slow. But they're on a track that I'm happy with, and they’re choices I feel proud of. All because I finally started giving real answers to that one big question.