Contributing Author: Elizabeth Ortiz, APAAC Executive Director, Phoenix (AZ)
(Or … everything I needed to know about wellness I learned in kindergarten)
I reached (another!) milestone birthday in 2021. As has become our custom, I celebrated in big and small ways with friends. Those celebrations meant so much to me. The import of this birthday, perhaps amplified by the pandemic, caused me to reflect on how much I value the friends who have provided a daily lifeline and supported me in my quest for wellness.
Upon reflection, I realized that this support is not new to my current (mid-life) friends. Throughout my life, friends have been an essential part of my physical, emotional, and mental wellness. To paraphrase the title of a well-known book, everything I needed to know about wellness I learned in kindergarten.
Kindergarten taught me the basic axiom that to get a friend, be a friend. In other words, be nice to people, take an interest in people, and try to help them when you can. In turn, most people will do the same for you. Those childhood friends gave me someone to eat lunch with (school cafeterias!), someone to play with on the playground, someone to listen to me, and someone to listen to.
High school really wasn’t much different. Although the topics of the lunchtime and late-night talks (this is WAY before texting and social media) may have been different — the support that my friends provided was the same.
Remember college — when we thought that moving into a dorm instantly made us adults? My friends and I supported each other as we realized that while “adulting” can be fun, it is also hard and scary. Although we were passing our college classes, we did not necessarily have any idea what we wanted to do with our lives. Sharing our fears and our vulnerabilities with each other helped us to see we were not alone. The world is less scary when you are navigating it with a friend.
Today, with the benefit of decades of friendship, I recognize that my friends are priceless. Life challenges, stressors, disappointments, twists and turns are inevitable. Throughout it all, my friends comfort me, ground me, help me see my value, challenge me (in a good way), provide me hope, and give me the privilege of being part of their lives. I don’t think wellness is something we necessarily achieve, as we continually face new life challenges which can challenge our state of wellness. One thing that is certain, though, is that my friends will stand by me just as I stand by them. And together we get through life with tears, laughter, and love.