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January 25, 2001 Wellness check challenges a student's resilience



Wendy Fletcher

Photo by Matthew Friedman.

by Wendy Fletcher

Coming to grad school in Montreal, 5,000 km from my seaside sweetheart, was a thrill, but it left me reeling. It took a “wellness check” to set me straight.

I took the plunge as an assignment in a Journalism course. It was to be a first-hand report on the Concordia University Health Services Wellness Check, the only one of its kind in Canada.
I sprang from my waiting-room chair at the sound of my name and sailed past an intriguing array of birth control devices and reference books toward Suzanne Dumais’s office.

Dumais designed the pro-active “quality of life check-up” two years ago. It is based on her extensive experience in community health care, which included interviewing women as national coordinator for the Canadian Women’s HIV Study.

She has been at Concordia since 1995, and has grown sensitive to the challenges and opportunities of student life. Her goal is to help students identify areas of their lifestyle they would like to change or improve, and offer them strategies to do it. This term, she is coaching between eight and 12 students, as well as doing follow-ups and regular clinic sessions.
I was next. I was immediately at ease under her warm brown eyes. They looked like an angel’s through my haze of tears 10 days later.

I began my first visit by filling out a personal wellness inventory. It uses a wheel with eight spokes, each representing an aspect of your life: Relationships, Play and Relaxation, Employment and Finances, Nutrition, Sex and Reproductive Health, Exercise, University Experience and “Other” — any area that affects your quality of life. You draw a line through each pie-shaped segment where you think it belongs for you. A perfectly round wheel is 10 out of 10 in each area.

My otherwise robust wheel had a big slice out of it, a 2/10 on the “Other” spoke, which I had labelled Inner Peace and Spirituality. A conundrum of values, stress and uncertainty about future work had left me feeling rudderless.

The wellness wheel allows Dumais to do what she considers nursing: “Helping people deal with what they are experiencing overall.” Together, we looked at each spoke and decided that score of “2” needed attention, because that kind of deficit can affect your whole life.. It was time for me to “set goals and priorities for lifestyle change.”

At Dumais’s suggestion, I met with Ellie Hummel at Campus Ministry. Though I arrived skeptical about being converted, I found myself on one of Ellie’s little couches several days later, trying to define faith.

My natural exuberance had been eroded by the toxins of anxiety and insecurity. My lust for life had shrivelled in the face of mounting pressure to cope.

One day at midnight, I sent an emergency “Mayday” call to Dumais. Putting the CLSCs to shame, she returned my call immediately. We met again, and this time, I really was the patient. With her words of encouragement and an appointment with a university psychologist the next day, I went home.

The psychologist and I parted due to irreconcilable differences, but another visit to Hummel and chats with friends got me through.

“The key to coping with life is having supportive people around you,” Dumais said. She identifies relationships as her key to wellness. “They help you stay healthy when you’re feeling crazy and unable to cope with life.”

Now that I am once again a functioning Journalism student, I appreciate what she says. My wellness check raised existential questions for me. The search for answers was frightening, but I was rewarded with strengthened relationships, self-awareness and renewed appreciation for life.

Wendy Fletcher is a student in the intensive one-year Graduate Diploma in Journalism program. She is from British Columbia and has a degree in environmental biology. She won a Susan Carson Award from the Gazette this year.