When Ken Watts’ father, George Watts, passed away while he was in his third year of university, the elected chief of the Tseshaht First Nation made the decision to lead a healthier lifestyle and begin his wellness journey.
George Watts, a prominent Nuu-chah-nulth leader, suffered a massive heart attack at age 59 while he was helping his son move apartments.
Watts went on to finish university and became the Vice President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) from 2012 to 2017.
“During that time sometimes I overworked myself and I needed to ground myself a little more and I actually ended up getting a carotid body tumour,” Watts said. “I really struggled with my mental health then and my anxiety because they didn’t know if it was cancerous or not.”
Luckily the tumour on the side of Watts’ neck, who was 32 at the time, wasn’t cancerous and he underwent surgery to remove it.
“I waited on a wait list for six months to get it removed and it just drove my anxiety through the roof,” Watts said. “I was on anti anxiety pills, same as anti depressants, and I got really stressed about it and it really threw my health for a whirl. I gained a lot of weight because I was just eating and not exercising and somewhat depressed.”
During this time Watts would visit his doctor and chiropractor on a regular basis who both told him he was too young to be feeling so rough and that he needed to be careful because his dad was diabetic.
“I got a bunch of blood work done and [the doctor] said ‘you have high cholesterol, Ken and if you don’t change your life you’re going to end up like your dad,’” Watts said. “[My dad] never got a chance to see me graduate from university or see me get married or see my kids born so I always said I’ll never let that happen.”
That was all Watts needed to hear to begin changing his lifestyle. In 2018 as a New Years’ resolution Watts began going to the gym three to five days a week and began eating healthier. He also quit vaping e-cigarettes.
“In 2018 I think I was about 215 pounds at my most and then I got down to 185 but I didn’t want to lose too much so now I’m around 200 pounds and I’m perfectly content with where I’m at,” Watts said. “I think diet is still a bit of a struggle with where I’m at right now. When you’re in a rush and now that I’m chief councillor sometimes I have a hard time finding that balance.”
It’ not just the physical wellness for Watts, he said when he’s not practicing spiritual, cultural, emotional and mental health routines he feels unbalanced.
“Since my dad passed I’ve gone in and out of counselling just to help talk to somebody,” Watts said. “I think if there was something that was bothering me mentally, a lot of it could be dealt with at the gym. If it was me holding on to things the gym was like my release or my outlet to let it go. So there’s a deep connection between the mental and the physical.”
Watts said he’s always been willing to reach out to Nuu-chah-nulth staff, family or friends when he’s feeling off mentally or culturally.
“It’s tough during COVID, I’ll be honest that’s been the tough part spiritually,” Watts said. “The lack of singing, coming together and singing. Covid-19 hasn’t helped and it’s challenged me and everybody else.”
It’s important to have supports when starting your wellness journey, Watts said, and to reach out for help when you need it.
“In our Nation we have staff, family support and a wellness team,” Watts said. “I think first starting with your staff and talking to your doctor too, I think that was really an eye opener for me for my doctor to tell me ‘hey you’re not healthy.’”
Since beginning his wellness journey, Watts said he’s gotten completely off anti depressants which he attributes to a consistent gym schedule.
“What I’ve realized is finances can be a burden for some people but when my dad passed I used to try to encourage him to walk just a little bit everyday, take a few more steps every day,” Watts said. “There’s people at every end of the spectrum. You don’t need a gym to become healthy…but I think once you see results that’s when it’s a game changer.”
Watts said it’s all about taking that first step, whether it’s going to the gym or calling somebody for support.
“You just have to take the initiative. You’ve got to put in the work yourself,” he said