I will write every day. I will begin my day with writing. And walking. I will write for thirty minutes then walk for thirty minutes. Every morning. Every day. If I had a dollar for every time I declared this…

Because, then, life happens. Excuses happen. Writing wanes, and walks become sparse and short.

I know what I should do for my health, for the anxiety that pushes against my chest and threatens to explode everything in its vicinity. I know what makes me feel hopeful, energetic, and kind. Those two actions—creative writing and walking through my treelined neighborhood—calm my singed nerves and clear my head. What I didn’t know until recently is that research proves that engagement with the arts and nature should be a part of my healthcare plan.

That research began at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed. The researchers, working with patients diagnosed with brain injuries, found that ongoing engagement with the arts and nature reduced the need for pain medications. With initial research complete, The Institute for Integrative Health(TIIH) picked up the baton.

The Institute, a Maryland charitable nonprofit in that “aims to create a wellness and medical model to shift our society’s focus from managing disease to promoting lifelong health,” furthered NICoE’s research through community wellness, arts, and nature initiatives that  targeted the Veteran community.

From this focus came Vet Arts Connect. Founded in 2016, Vet Arts Connect matches Maryland Veterans with healing experiences in art and nature. Because of the NICoE research, engagement offered through Vet Arts Connect is ongoing;  participants can reap the wellness benefits of continuing their art and nature experiences. Acting workshops stretch over months, multiple fishing and kayaking excursions are held throughout a calendar year, pottery classes go on for weeks, and weekly jam sessions for musician Veterans offer recurrent opportunities for connection, skill development, and recreation.

JW Rone, Director of Veterans Initiatives who manages the Vet Arts Connect program, described his mission of connecting Veterans to programming as “all about engagement and breaking those norms for the Veteran that sits at home and doesn’t go out.”

Aside from being a Veteran himself, JW’s passion for reaching Veterans who have decided to disconnect exists for a very good reason:  The collected data demonstrates that impressive wellness benefits are gained through participation in Vet Arts Connect programming. According to the Institute’s 2018 Annual Report, Vet Arts Connect participants reported a 26% reduction in anxiety, a 25% reduction in depression, a 21% reduction in anger, a 16% reduction in sleep disturbances, and a 13% reduction in social isolation.

I struggle with anxiety, sleep disturbances, and occasional depression. A reduction in any of these areas would be like tasting the best chocolate gelato in the world and then discovering that eating an entire pint in one sitting will melt ten pounds off my hips. Yes, it would be THAT good.

Now that I know the facts, I know I have made mistakes in my wellness plan.

My first mistake was not making a real plan. My second mistake was not sticking to it. Here’s the cold, hard truth:  If wellness benefits are reaped through ongoing engagement in arts and nature, my start-and-stop method, heavily laced with excuses, isn’t working for me or anyone around me. And, because I do not live in Maryland, I must try to create my own opportunities for engagement.

Here’s my course of action, based on my opinion that all plans should be achievable and have accountability:

  1. I will continue to follow my doctor’s prescribed protocol. (I’m not a health professional and do not pretend to be and would never think I am medically smarter than my doctor.)
  2. I will change my priority order. My current priority order is family, work, home, then self. My new order will be family, then self (creative writing and walking), then work, then home. The kid remains first because I have to take care of the kid every day or the kid will go hungry while naked and covered in schmutz. I have to take care of my health every day or spin around like a top overwhelmed by all the spinning, so self must be high on my list. Therefore, I must remember that if I don’t complete all work tasks in a single day, those tasks will remain unchanged and so will my life. My house being a little cluttered with dull floors and unmade beds will not actually result in the entire house burning to the ground. It just means that my house, like me, won’t be perfect. I’m okay with that.
  3. I will commit to accountability. I will post monthly updates of my engagement progress. I pledge to tell all of you what artistic engagement I have accomplished and how I am feeling mentally and emotionally.

    The next thirty days will be challenging as I interrupt my current norms to establish better norms, but we military people excel at change, right? (Just agree with me here. I’m going to need the support.)

    My challenge to all of you is to examine your own engagement with the arts and nature. Is your engagement ongoing? Do your actions support your wellness plan?

    I would love to hear your engagement story. If you would like to share your story with me or have your story published on the Clear22 blog, send your story (500 words or less) to jodie@clear22.org.

    If you would like to read more on Vet Arts Connect or learn how to establish engagement opportunities in your community (because we don’t all live in Maryland), click here.


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