Adrienne Nolan-Smith believes healthcare can change.
After battling several unusual ailments as a young person and watching today’s conventional medical system fail her mother, she decided to change courses and enter the world of healthcare technology. What she witnessed while working in hospitals was the last straw: She realized that she needed to do more than lament the current healthcare situation. She needed to change it.
Ultimately, she took the skills she amassed while getting her MBA from Northwestern University and launched WellBe, a platform to highlight and discuss the intersection of wellness and healthcare, which she hopes will help instigate a shift in strategies from simply Band-Aiding symptoms to looking at overall wellness and root causes.
Here, the change-maker explains why taking a more holistic approach to healthcare is positive for individuals and the greater good:
Live The Process: What is the concept behind WellBe?
Adrienne Nolan-Smith: WellBe is a media company focused on the intersection between the wellness movement and the healthcare system. Our mission is to inform, inspire and empower people to take control of their health and demand a system that supports them. At the moment, we have a website, weekly newsletter and various social channels. Readers and viewers can expect a lot of original content in the form of inspiring interviews with people who have overcome health challenges when the conventional healthcare system didn’t have the answers and informative interviews with experts and change-makers (from Integrative MDs to brands providing better options to help get and stay well). Our WellBe guides—which break down complicated topics in wellness and related industries—make sure people really understand and, therefore, can make changes because they make sense, not just because someone tells them to. Our WellBe roundups focus on the events and news items that are important to the integrative health and wellness movement—from new research and studies to conferences to big changes for brands and organizations to relevant policy.
LTP: What inspired you to create WellBe?
ANS: I have had several healthcare experiences over the past two decades, starting with chronic Lyme disease at age 11 that was caught too late for antibiotics to work. I’ve struggled with hypothyroidism, chronic back and jaw pain, losing my menstrual cycle unexplained for two years and—most impactful— my mom’s battle with schizoaffective disorder from 2005-2010, which had her in and out of mental hospitals and ended when she took her life in December 2010. Being her caretaker during this experience opened my eyes to just how un-holistic and drug-heavy the current approach to mental healthcare is. Her death prompted me to switch careers after getting my MBA to work in healthcare technology. I spent three years working with hospitals, and that’s when I really got to see the chronic disease crisis in America up close. Finally, it hit me in 2017 that my own health experiences, my mom’s experience, hospital care today—it’s all the same problem: No one in the healthcare system is focused on getting to the root of the problem and embracing wellness and integrative health to prevent and reverse chronic diseases. I believe a lot of our runaway disease rates and costs would disappear if integrative health became the norm. WellBe launched as a response to that on July 12th, 2017.
LTP: How would you define your personal journey to wellness?
ANS: I would describe my journey to wellness as a slow drip with some major blasts of water. When I saw that my mother was able to cure me and my brother of Lyme disease with integrative therapies—after conventional doctors told her there was nothing left to do—that really planted the seed in me that you have to take control of your own health. Then, when I went to college and saw how I was able to get rid of some of my healthcare problems simply by following a certain diet—taking supplements and Chinese herbs, doing consistent yoga and swimming, getting acupuncture—I thought, “Okay. So, there is a way to get and stay well. It just takes a little work and commitment.”
I remember the first time I went over my blood work with my naturopath at age 20: my mind was blown. I saw that there is an explanation for everything that happens in your body and that it’s all connected. If I ever hear, “We’ll call you if any of your results are abnormal,” from a doctor, I leave their practice immediately. Your health is a spectrum and, the more you understand it, the more you want to self-improve and take control of it. Finally, my mother’s care in mental hospitals, as well as working in conventional healthcare, was really the tipping point. Seeing what I saw, it was like, enough is enough. I knew I needed to be a part of the change.
LTP: What are your personal wellness rituals?
ANS: I sound like every other yuppie New York girl, but I love SoulCycle because I love music, especially singalongs. (Hello, Michael Jackson, Hanson, Mariah Carey, Roxette, Bonjovi!). I am terribly uncompetitive with others (only with myself), so the combination of singing along to fun music and just riding to the beat—with a little spirituality and self-reflection mixed in—works for me. I go once during the week alone and once with my husband on the weekend; he loves it too.
I also like yoga, Pilates, barre, walking outside, playing tennis, swimming, playing football with my brothers, dad and husband a few times a year and rollerblading. I hate running! I have to fight my creature-of-habit tendencies to mix up what I eat, but, alas, Anita’s coconut yogurt with nuts, blueberries, Oatio’s and a little Hu Kitchen granola is my go-to breakfast most days. I also get acupuncture, myofascial release massage, see a chiropractor, take a few supplements, Chinese herbs and probiotics; and I try to bring lunch to work and cook whenever I’m home for dinner. A lot of my money goes towards my health, but I know that I'd rather pay the farmer/acupuncturist/etc. now than the hospital later, when it may be too late.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
ANS: Happiness for me is a three way balance: The first part is getting to enjoy time with my husband, brothers, dad and close friends, exploring the world and my hometown of New York City, seeing art that inspires and live music and meeting lots of interesting new people. The second part is having a career and mission that is truly my calling, putting my blood, sweat and tears into it. The third part is continuing to care for, maintain and develop myself, making time for mindfulness, body work, exercise, preparing my meals, sleeping, reading—even cleaning out my closet and my inbox gives me a lot of joy! But doing all of it all the time is impossible, so happiness is also recognizing that and not beating myself up about it.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live the Process" and how can we all do that more every day?
ANS: To me, “Live the Process” means treating everything I do or don’t do every day as healthcare. And, actually, this is one of the definitions of what it means to “get WellBe” on our website. It means that there are no shortcuts, no free lunch. Like a car, I know if I treat my body (and mind!) like it’s disposable—running it down until I need a new one—well, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Living each day in a way that heals and nourishes and protects is living the process. Simply being mindful—right before you take the elevator instead of the stairs or eat a burger or an ice cream bar or decide not to go to yoga—that all those choices are healthcare. That’ll help you “Live The Process.” And since it’s a process, not an all-or-nothing, if you do skip yoga or eat a burger, forget it! Wipe the slate clean, get up the next morning and try again.