This weekend, the Times Magazine published an article entitled ‘Have You Joined The Cult Of Wellness?’ It documented the routines of four people who’d incorporated wellness practises to a lesser or greater degree.
I was one of the subjects, and woke to a flood of messages and notifications on the morning it was published. Many were to congratulate me for being featured on the front page or to discuss some of the parts of my routine, but some, primarily from Twitter, carried condemnation. How dare I suggest I did anything like tongue scraping when it wasn’t backed by science? How ‘self-indulgent’ our ‘soul-crushing narcissism’ was. How boring, how dimwitted, how frightened we were.
I am well aware that the words cult and wellness both arouse suspicion. Of course they do. Wellness has come to be synonymous with perfidy, a promise that means nothing, bar parting with lots of cash, while the idea of being involved in a cult of wellness implies a wanton lack of sense. But anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how newspapers construct features (as many of the people tweeting who are in the media would unquestionably have) would understand that nobody involved was part of the decision about how to frame the piece, nor were we asked to prescribe a routine, merely to state our own.
Besides which, wellness means different things to different people. I cannot speak for my fellow subjects in the piece, but I personally consider it to mean constructing a life that tends to my emotional, mental, and physical health. And, while I realise I am in a privileged position as a freelance writer with the opportunities and time to make the choices I do, I stand by my way of life.
But that’s not to suggest that I am consumed by getting things ‘just right’. In fact, quite the opposite is true; when working and broadly following the framework I’ve constructed for myself, I don’t need to think about it at all. I simply crack on with whatever it is I’m doing, eating when I’m hungry, sleeping when I’m tired, and doing yoga or my other circulation-boosting bits when I’m cold or feel a little achy from sitting at the computer.
Sticking to it on most days allows me the freedom to stray from it safe in the knowledge that I am not swinging wildly on a pendulum. I know that if I eat a lot of extra rum kugels (my mum’s Austrian, Christmas was a rum kugel extravaganza), watch an entire Netflix series in one gulp and therefore do sod all else, or stay up all night chatting to a friend I don’t often see as I did recently, that I’ll return to balance with relative ease because I’ve found and practised something that works for me.
I would assume those commenting also have some sort of routine in place, be it salubrious or otherwise, but none of them chose to invite discourse, but rather to pass snap judgements, using the centuries-old techniques of mockery and condescension to hold us to account for using an offered platform to share information pertaining to how we lived. I found this hugely disappointing and hurtful when it came from those I considered to be thought leaders - surely they should’ve tried harder not to direct their following to poke fun but rather to open a discussion.
Look, I totally understand that elements of my routine may feel faintly ridiculous. That’s fine. Have a private guffaw at my expense if you must. But know that going on Twitter to point a finger is confronting and cruel.
Besides, don’t we all have little odd bits to our routine? Perhaps I just happen to know a bunch of mad eccentrics, but in my immediate circle are people with perfectly respectable jobs and busy schedules who also maintain borderline bonkers peccadilloes. Among them: a shoe products salesman who listens to ASMR during his lunch break and bathes with crystals, a consultant who can’t sleep unless he’s listening to a bedtime story, a solicitor who unfailingly goes to Barrecore thrice weekly and eats two snacks a day at Itsu or doesn’t feel at their ‘peak,’ a charity worker who exclusively listens to lyrically-dubious hip hop, loudly, and a restaurateur who unfailingly eats a bar of Lindt each night at work between seating customers.
Are these parts of their day ‘odd’? Unquestionably. It is my firm belief that there are elements of weird and wacky to everyone. Do they deserve shaming? Categorically not. They do what they need to do to get through their life. As do I.