The Feast

A reflection on nature and community as nourishment

Rainbow Lake beach
Image description: photo of Rainbow Lake, with canoes and a boat house on the beach – taken at Camp Dawn. Photo by Julie Nowak, 2016

Note: This piece was originally presented in September 2016 at the closing ceremony of Camp Dawn, an annual 4-day camping retreat for brain injury survivors in Ontario, Canada. While the reflection is, in part, about the Camp Dawn experience, I think the sentiments can be applied to the general experience of navigating the world when disabled and the need for nourishment.

Content warning: mentions of ableism, healthism and hardship after brain injury; the use of starvation as a metaphor

I breathe in the fresh air as I sit beside the small lake. The water and surrounding forest fill my senses with serenity as I bask in the sun and feel the September breeze on my skin. I am by myself in this moment, feeling the calm of solitude in nature. Yet I do not feel alone, as behind me lies a camp full of people – teeming with excitement and friendliness as they participate in various camp activities.

This – this is what I need right now. To be honest, this is what I need a lot of the time, though I don’t always get it. In my daily life in the city, I try to spend time in parks and go for walks in the forest when I can; but this “nature therapy”, as I call it, is not enough. I need nature immersion, not just nature breaks, in order for my being to actually be rejuvenated and strengthened. I have a hunger for nature that can only really be satisfied by escaping the city and escaping all of the chaos of my life that is there. I believe that all humans have this hunger, but some may crave more nourishment than others. For many of us, the realities we face – by simply being ourselves – are so harsh and hostile that we are depleted of our reserves. We are starving. Starving not only for nature and for a break, but also for community and solidarity. Continue reading The Feast

Defining The Seasonal Body

After a hiatus, The Seasonal Body is back! We will soon cover lots of great topics, but first I would like to dive more deeply into the concept of this project. The name “The Seasonal Body” may not immediately bring to mind everything it encompasses, though hopefully the tagline “connecting food justice, body image and disability” gives you an idea. I would like to flush this out a bit more in this piece, to help ground all the interconnecting topics that will be addressed.

“The Seasonal Body” is twofold: it is both a concept and a framework. First, as a concept, it means that, simply, our bodies are influenced by seasonality and nature. And when there is a disconnect from nature, and especially a lack of interaction with the seasons and with food, issues with our bodies can arise. Thus, an approach to healing and wellbeing is to engage with nature, connect with our food sources, and align our bodies with the seasons.

Some have already discussed the topic of nature disconnection in relation to various aspects of health – which, holistically, includes all aspects of our bodies. For example, the author Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” to describe the phenomenon of humans, and especially children, spending less time outdoors. This can have many effects on our bodies, such as depression, attention issues, and decreased exercise. Others in the ecopsychology field specifically focus on nature connection as a vital part of our psychology and wellbeing, and promote ecotherapy, also called “nature therapy”, as an approach to addressing many health issues, and which can be used as part of rehab programs. Horticultural therapy/therapeutic farming is a specific type of ecotherapy that often includes educational and social elements in order to offer skills-training and community development for vulnerable groups of people, while also providing access to fresh, local food. Keep in mind, though, that nature therapy can also be as simple as spending time in a park in solitude.

Continue reading Defining The Seasonal Body

Brain Injury Anniversary

Content warning: brain injury, physical trauma, mental health, depression, anxiety, ableism, pain

How do you commemorate the accident that disabled you? Or should you at all? This is something I had been pondering a few weeks ago, leading up to March 5th – the one-year anniversary of my bike accident that was the start of my current life as a disabled person living with post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

Today – March 18th – is Brain Injury Awareness Day in the U.S. (and March is Brain Injury Awareness Month; though in Canada it’s June). In honour of this, I am sharing with you how I chose to acknowledge the anniversary of my brain injury a couple of weeks ago. On the day of the anniversary, I wrote a letter to my former self (pre-concussion Julie) from my current self (post-concussion Julie), explaining my experience over the past year. I then took the letter to a park, burned it, and rubbed the ashes on myself as a symbol of purification. The whole process was emotional and therapeutic, and I’m glad I was able to honour both the accident and myself in this way.

Before burning the letter, I typed it up to keep a copy. While it is very personal, I have decided to share it here – to help raise awareness about brain injury, as well as to help those around me understand what I am going through. Perhaps other brain injury survivors will relate, though I would also like to express a trigger warning for those who may have had similar difficult experiences.

………………………………………………………….

Dear Pre-Concussion Julie,

How are you? How is life back in early March 2014? I’m guessing swell, as things seem to have been going pretty well for you: you’ve been working a wonderful, new job for the past half year with your dream employer; you live in a beautiful intentional community; you’re involved in various fulfilling volunteer initiatives; you enjoy spending time with friends; you are often found cycling around the city….

Many of these things are going to change for you. You’re about to have an accident that may not seem serious at the time, but will drastically affect you, your abilities, your life. The bike accident will be painful and traumatic, but it’s not the broken nose, cuts and bruises that will change you – it’s a concussion/mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that will have not so mild lasting effects, in the form of post-concussion syndrome. For the next year, and who knows how much longer, you are going to struggle with your brain, your body, your identity. Be brave.

Continue reading Brain Injury Anniversary