(Sarah Drake is the founder of herARTS in Action, a nonprofit organization that locally uses art as a tool for social change and in Burkina Faso helps to provide access to health, education and employment by starting with a water and sanitation project. Through Sarah Drake LLC, she contracts for teaching artist residencies, project/program management, social media and website design. Sarah is a graduate of SCSU with a Master’s of Science in Social Responsibility.)
Do you have career/academic goals? What about wellness goals? Do you have a plan to keep you healthy enough to reach your goals?
I’m a mom, an artist, a business owner, the founder of a nonprofit, a board member, and my list continues on, as it does for many of us. I often put other people first – and this can be to my detriment sometimes. I’m a helper and a do-er. I have a business plan. I have goals for the water project I founded with herARTS in Action. I have plans for things I want to do with my daughter and things I want to do once she graduates. However, I didn’t have a plan for my health and wellbeing. I have multiple medical issues (fibromyalgia, degenerative disease in my spine, spinal stenosis, hypothyroidism, food allergies and many other things, including chronic pain). These were great excuses for why I gained weight, why my pain prevented me from doing certain things. My injuries contradict each other and an exercise that works well for one flared up the other, which prevented me from working out and doing a lot of meal prep.
That was my mentality at least. I thought it had to be hard and a lot of work. I heard people talk about meal planning, eating clean food, drinking plenty of water, creating exercise plans, but I was too busy and had too much pain for that. I was doing great things in my art, in my volunteering – both in the community and abroad, but I was helping from an empty cup and I was struggling physically.
In 2011, I went to the west African country of Burkina Faso. I was there as an artist and was forever changed by the people, experiences and inspiration there. Unfortunately, I got sick and ended up in the hospital, yet I saw it as a blessing because I learned about the serious issue facing Burkinabes and the lack of access to clean water and secure sanitation. Through my illness, a passion for access to art and water was born.
Passion also became purpose, plus my guilt of having more than and caring about the well-being of Burkinabes became a risk of my own health. Two trips to Burkina Faso equaled two hospital stays. My family told me not to go anymore because my health was too important. This fire of determination burned inside me though, and I kept trying to find ways to make my artwork successful, which would then fund the water project, and I tried to be healthy. At least that’s what I told myself that I was doing.
The last couple of years have been really difficult health wise. My pain has made it that I can’t paint. Something that was so important to who I was, to the water project, and then, suddenly, it was gone. It was impossible for me not to create, so I found alternatives. Turns out I can do paper collage and enjoy it more than painting! The persistence I had to find a medium that wouldn’t cause me more pain was slowly becoming channeled into my health.
During my most recent trip to Burkina Faso in Fall 2016, I noticed that my pain dramatically decreased while I was there. A major part of this was do to higher temperatures and higher air pressure, but I also observed that the food I was eating had no chemicals and was from farm to table. When I returned back to MN, I decided to focus on manageable steps for my health. At first I was all, “I can’t do that! I can’t eat that! I can’t afford that!” That didn’t mentally set me up for success, though. Something I learned in Burkina Faso was that you can make the best of everything and you have the choice to be grateful. So, I changed my mindset to, “What can I do? What do I have access to in order to be successful?” I started to think about my eating as being relative to my passions and purpose. I know that I need to be healthy to do them and enjoy them, so now I focus on clean eating, drinking a lot of water and being active.
Each day looks different, but I do the best I can. On days when I’m not at my best and can’t prepare my own food or I’m running all over town for work, Quarks American Bento is my go-to because not only does it help me achieve my clean eating goals, it’s portable, and it tastes great, too!
(Wow – what an incredible story, Sarah! We’re certainly impressed! If you’d like to help make a difference in the lives of the people in Burkina Faso, you can click here to help partner with her ARTS in Action. Next week, on our blog, the incredible inspiration continues with the passion, power, and plies of Lucille Guinta-Bates).