Today’s guest post is by Dr. Elizabeth Markle, a primary care psychologist who’s found her passion in creating sustainable community and healthy living for all people at all income levels. Her story is inspiring, and the result — Open Source Wellness — is a breath of fresh air for the greater Alameda County community.
Dr. Elizabeth Markle
As a primary care psychologist, for years it was my job to help patients translate the “doctor’s orders” into actionable items at home. We’d talk about their diagnoses, the lifestyle changes they needed to make, and the ways that they could accomplish these changes.
After doing this work for a number of years, I had a realization: My physician colleagues and I were having the same conversations, over and over again, all day long, with our patients.
And despite our best efforts and our patients’ good intentions, many of them weren’t getting better. In fact, they would come back 6 months later, and they’d be sicker. We would talk again, and still nothing would change.
When I really stopped to listen to their stories, I realized that the lifestyle changes we were asking patients to make were impossible to sustain — that whether it was the single mother who rode the bus between two jobs and bought her children McDonald’s every day; or the veteran who struggled with chronic pain and PTSD; or even the wealthy executive who was tremendously lonely, anxious, and depressed; there were physical and psychological barriers to making the changes they needed to make. Most importantly, I realized that no amount of talking about it in my office was going to change these realities. Real change was going to require something experiential, fundamental, and powered by community.
These realizations would ultimately fuel my passion project: Open Source Wellness.
A doctor informs a patient that she is pre-diabetic. She needs to change her diet and start exercising. Instead of saying “Good luck, see you in 6 months!” or even “Talk to the psychologist,” the doctor says, “I’ve written you a prescription for our Integrated Behavioral Pharmacy, where you can learn, practice, and sustainably integrate these lifestyle changes in community. Let me walk you down the hall and introduce you.”
This is the vision that led to Open Source Wellness.
Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:
1. Behavior determines A LOT
The roots of the most common chronic, progressive, preventable, and tremendously costly diseases (in terms of money and human suffering) are largely BEHAVIORAL. Whether we’re talking about diabetes, cardiac disease, obesity, depression, or a simple desire to stay healthy, the basic “behavioral prescription” is the same:
- Move your body
- Eat healthy foods
- Manage your stress
- Connect meaningfully with other people
2. Lack of knowledge isn’t the problem
Most of us know what we could do to improve our health. Actually doing it is the hard part. Our lives are busy, and the idea of shopping for healthy fresh food, cooking it, cleaning up, going to the gym, meditating, seeing friends – all this after work and taking care of the kids – is overwhelming. It’s especially difficult for a parent working multiple jobs to support a family. And living in a neighborhood that lacks a grocery store or safe sidewalks makes it that much harder. It’s too much, so making the change seems impossible without support of some kind.
3. Willpower will never be as powerful as Community
This is where it gets personal for me. I live in community. It’s not a commune, and we don’t all share the same religious or personal values – but we do intentionally and thoughtfully design systems that use economies of scale to enable us to live well. For example, I cook dinner once every two weeks, but I eat a healthy meal every night. I come home to a freshly prepared, delicious, filling, and healthy meal on the table because another member of our household has cooked it for me. I am healthy, not because of willpower or wealth, but because the social and physical structures around me make it easy, socially rewarding, and sustainable for me to make the healthy choice.
Not everyone wants to live this way — or has the option — but everyone deserves to be part of a supportive community in some form or fashion. Open Source Wellness seeks to provide that opportunity for those who don’t know where to look for it.
I believe that community is the regenerative, untapped resource that has the power to manifest major changes in most people struggling to maintain healthy changes.
Open Source Wellness
Imagine what it would be like if a doctor prescribed a medication, and pharmacies didn’t exist. It would be up to the patient to find the meds somehow. Wealthy patients would pay a premium to get high quality medications, and the less privileged would often go without the medicine they needed.
This is exactly the situation today with prescribing behavioral health. We talk at length about what “behavioral medicine” our patients should take, but a behavioral prescription is of limited utility if there is no accessible and affordable “Behavioral Pharmacy” where patients can actually fill it.
The four things we all need to thrive are:
- Healthy Food
- Healthy Relationships
Open Source Wellness is a community dedicated to making these four things EASY, FUN, and SUSTAINABLE.
We function as a “Behavioral Pharmacy,” allowing medical providers to write “behavioral prescriptions” to support experiential learning. We fill the prescription for behavior change.
Open Every Tuesday in Oakland:
- 5:30pm Doors Open
- 6:00pm Movement for all fitness levels
- 6:45pm Welcome and brief mindfulness meditation
- 7:00pm Healthy, family-style dinner served
Individuals and families with children are welcome.
221 Oak St.
Oakland CA 94607
Curious? Questions? Contact Liz@OpenSourceWellness.org