The Head & The Heart: A Unified Life

Well it is official-official, I received my diploma reading that I am a “Master of Public Health.” Public Health was once described to me this way, physicians look at symptoms at the individual level, public health practitioners look at whole groups. Much like after my first yoga training, in the MPH program, I learned there is so much more to learn. I feel as if I am a master of nothing but hungry for more and inspired in wildly different and new ways. Previous to the MPH program, I spent ten years in employee benefits, a segment of corporate insurance. When the yoga studio opened, I felt I was living a double life: corporate insurance & a healing space. They felt so far apart, my head & my heart.  When I learned about public health, I followed my gut without thinking and I landed myself in graduate school.

My world expanded. I learned about health disparities, injustice, social programs, prevention. I learned about the challenge of advancing complementary and alternative medicine because it doesn’t fit in the bucket of bio-pharmaceutical research. I learned about the United States medical system, about global medical systems, history and incredible advancements. For example, the importance of hand-washing became known when an OB-GYN was transferring infections during childbirth. Things we take for granted that impact our health.

 My definition of health changed. I began to consider all the potential factors like environment, diet, water source, job, house location, personal relationships. I also felt like a fish out of water. I felt old and out of touch with technology. I felt guilt. One of my projects took me to a part of Cleveland that is struggling economically, a place with similar infant mortality statistics to impoverished countries. It is 20 minutes from my house. I found myself fired up about politics in a new way, a spark that had been inside of me always but muted in the right-wing world of insurance.  I learned about addiction. Prior to the program, I’d read Dreamland, a book outlining the story of the opiate epidemic, largely based in Ohio. I felt drawn to the subject of addiction because I believe yoga and meditation can be an option for healing. I focused nearly all my coursework, electives, and research on yoga and meditation and particularly its impact or potential in the areas of recovery. I learned about how co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression and addiction are treated separately. How can a person heal from addiction without healing anxiety? How can someone with childhood trauma, an extreme empath, or grief also in the throes of addiction heal wholly if things are addressed separately? Add socioeconomic disparities or where/how a person is born/raised, and it is an entirely different level of challenge. It can feel heavy.  

Enter the light-makers, I got to meet people (students and others) that have self-directed their lives to be honest and be of service in a way that their heads & hearts have a shorter bridge. They didn’t choose to be quiet in fear of ruffling feathers or displeasing clients. They were often the voice for others. For example, I met Katie Kurtz through my sister, Lauren. Katie was kind enough to be a consistent mentor and guide through the MPH program, even taking me under her wing for my thesis. She was also an example of living a unified life: you meet the same Katie at work that you do at coffee. In all areas of her life, she is kind but opinionated, educated in her decisions, and someone that makes a difference in people’s lives. I thought back to “corporate courtney,” when I’d removed my nose ring and filled my closet with clothes that always felt like costumes. I lived a disconnected life, unknowingly.

I don’t know where my degree will take me. My resume reads a bit bifurcated and it is hard to represent how inspired I feel by what I learned. I know that my education was an important part of my path to understanding. I am proud of the risk I took in leaving financial security for a life that doesn’t feel separate. My heart and my head feel more connected and isn’t that what it is all about?