Around 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2021, three sheets to the wind on top shelf champagne, I wrote a blog post setting the intention for 2022: the year of ‘less.’
I can’t say I defined ‘less’ well in the moment or if I knew as I made the proclamation what exactly I needed less of. Sure, I need to get rid of the items that crowd my basement, but that wasn’t it. I knew I was overwhelmed and exhausted and I had been overwhelmed and exhausted for as long as I can trace back. Whether or not I could put my finger on it, I knew there was “too much” and I was tired of the rat race, tired of the self-imposed struggle, tired of striving to be everything to everyone and be the best. It was time for less.
I ceremoniously began the year with a book evoking the theme: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
A critical component of less is learning to pause. It’s considering that everything you say Yes to is saying No to something else, and it’s about living a life of intention, based on your own set of values, rather than allowing yourself to be pulled in a million directions.
I was being pulled in a million directions. Much of the time, it was me, my poor executive function, and my ADHD coupled with a “not enough” feeling that is deep in my core, rooted from parental abandonment and neglect that was tugging the most. No fault of anyone else. Regardless, I was overextended.
Less of What?
I didn’t know all of what I would be doing less of, but I did know that #1 to edit out of my daily life was social media. Early December 2021, I unfollowed everyone I knew on Instagram and Facebook. Even my best friends. (Well, not my big sister, I’m still seeking her approval at 34, ha!). After too many times doing the deactivate/reactivate ChaCha, I knew that was my only way to finally get off the sauce.
Another thing I did less of was texting. I absolutely abhor text conversations. As a writer I fret over every word, every comma. I’m plagued with an obsession over conveying my message clearly. This makes for overly thought out emails and too much fuss over a form of communication that many use to share their stream of thought in real time. It’s inefficient and easily misunderstood. It’s not a good use of my time. Unless it’s plans for meeting up, I generally wait until our next physical meeting to address something that was sent in a text.
With notifications turned off for texts and without following anyone on social media, I starkly cut out excess noise, distractions, and rabbit holes that I would revert to in the past. But it also meant that I had less thoughts about how I was being perceived, and I cared less of what others thought of me.
This led me to feel less anxious, less guilt, less shame about my non-responsive text behavior. I was already bad at texting. But I started to own it. I talked about it a lot. The expectation became really clear that it wasn’t them, it was me—that isn’t my medium, I don’t want to participate.
And then there was less than I intended…
In late February, early March of 2022 I had some strange experiences that led me to the doctor’s office. And then to another, for a second opinion. Through a long road, I was ultimately diagnosed with a chronic pain illness. This requires its own blog post or three, so I won’t go into detail.
The thing is, when I said less I didn’t mean an inability to do more. Yet, faced with debilitating pain and fatigue, that’s where I found myself.
I also found myself in an all-out identity crisis. I realize now that I formed much of my identity on my high energy level, my ability to complete big goals and daunting tasks. I know myself to be a doer. I get it done.
When the chronic fatigue and pain held me back from that, I didn’t know how to continue on. I couldn’t figure out how to live life without being that person, I had determined my worth by the things that I complete, ways that I compete. And it was so much harder to complete, impossible to compete.
I’ve been managing my pain through daily physical therapy, watching my diet (the illness is an inflammatory one), managing my central nervous system (more on this in another post), rest, breath, and hormonal medication (I was adamant that I wouldn’t begin to take pain medication from the beginning of my diagnosis). I’m getting things done, but I had to separate myself from the desperation of finishing. I had to learn to pace myself and enjoy the progress, the process. My illness pressed me into learning how to focus less on the outcome and to take things moment by moment.
Less is More
Whether in architecture, poetry, or fashion, we’ve all heard this phrase before, and know it to be true. But in our hustle culture, we forget that art imitates life and the same applies to how we live. When we pause to determine whether certain activities are valuable to us or if they’re only urgent to someone else, the resulting decisions we make lead to a life that is more fulfilled and filled with activities and pursuits that give our lives more purpose.
Insisting upon Less of what I found to not be essential freed up more time for reading books, and less time reading news or topical articles. Though there may be quality writing online and that may be the first place to go for information, I learned that I’m less likely to absorb information like that in such a way that allows me to connect with other things I know or to explain to someone else at a later time. I made it a point to dive deeper with evergreen information in books, and this year I was able to read a total of 53 books—more than a book a week!
At the beginning of 2022, encouraged by kind commenters on social media, I resolved to pursue ways to market my art. Whenever I would share my paintings, there would be many people who would compliment the work and several who would encourage me to pursue art as a career. The idea of this was thrilling to me—life goal material. At the same time, I feared that turning play (my hobby of painting) to work would ruin an activity I thoroughly enjoyed. The act of painting is a gift I bestow upon myself, and I’m cautious about sharing that gift with others if it could lead to the drudgery that is work. I’ve done it to myself in the past with my writing, and I know how soul-sucking it can be to create for a client rather than for the sake of the act.
I’m not one to let fear get in my way, but the risk is big on this guy. As recently as November I found myself in conversation with a friend about my art, during which I shared: “Well, I made it my goal to learn about photographing and having my art printed for the purpose of selling it this year back in January, so the clock’s really ticking on that.”
The thing is, that the less I heard from my peers about the paintings (from not sharing on social media) the more I was able to listen to myself and how I really felt about the idea of pursuing that goal right now, at this stage in my life, with my current responsibilities vs access to childcare. I completed a commissioned work in October. I fretted over it, paid too much for babysitting to get it complete on time, felt the weight of worry over the client’s approval of it, and experienced the heaviness of wanting to spend time with my kids when I had a deadline for it.
It was “not it.”
This is not what I’m choosing for myself at this stage in my life, though it is a goal. Because I was answering less to others, I was able to have the silence required to acknowledge this.
Fitness & other work
As I grappled with my undiagnosed and untreated illness, my eating habits, my exercise habits and my mental health was fully crashing around me. The pain was too much. Was the exercise exacerbating it? It was so risky. On top of being tired throughout the day, my sleep was low quality—waking in the middle of the night from the pain.
Once I received a proper diagnosis, I was able to delve in to understanding my illness through books and research articles. I was able to understand what does exacerbate my chronic pain, and I was able to feel a sense of agency in my life, in my health, that debilitating pain makes seem impossible.
Agency is everything when it comes to your mental health. You have to feel like there is something under your control that can affect your circumstances.
Once I understood what actually made things worse, once I realized that I wasn’t experiencing a muscle strain from over-exercise but rather a symptom of this big bad shit that’s been a key player, I was able to take back control.
This year I hit a few fitness milestones. I hit a record 55 double-unders on New Year’s Eve. I checked in with the my gym’s attendance software a record 244 times, despite those sick days. And when there was an opening for a new trainer, several of my workout buddies suggested I get certified as a personal trainer.
And I DID. I’ll begin work soon at my gym. This is another decision I was able to make with the pause I described in the previous section. This is a rare space where I can literally take my preschooler to work and he can receive childcare on the spot, with other kids and toys and a great time. This is a position where I literally can’t take my work home with me, I can’t find myself in the same deadline-dread 24 hours a day like I did in my work-from-home positions. I can encourage others. I can share with others a gift of a great 45 minutes a day, where they can fully disconnect with whatever slows them down and fully connect with their body.
That’s amazing. That’s big, and it came from less of the rest.
These happened, too. I did a lot more than I expected, especially with all of the time I spent on my back, on the couch. So much so, in fact, that my son mimicked me:
That’s for another post.
In December 2021, the day after a cocktail party, I spoke to my therapist about some interesting women I had met and how weird and embarrassing it was that one followed me and commented right away about how I was only following one person. That I thought she was cool, maybe I should text her to get together, etc. I was still really tender from losing friendships in a group text snafu and felt like the “right thing” to do for my mental health was to pursue new friendships.
Her response was a game changer:
“Yeah, you could do that. Or you could also just enjoy your family and have a nice quiet life. That’s what people used to do.”
Y’all. This may sound really simple to you. But LITERALLY NO ONE (!!) had ever told me that was an option. Granted, my television and the streets had shared custody of me. But still. In our culture, it’s all about HUSTLE, about striving, about worth tied to money and status and fame and leaving a lasting impression.
So I did. I was already all in on my kids, yet my marriage had been suffering since my youngest was born. A magical thing happened when I was taking good care of myself and not distracting myself from my problems with More: I figured out solutions to those years-long problems instead. CRAZY, right?!
My marriage is the best it’s ever been. I had more “girls’ nights out” this past year with different groups of women than I had since maybe college? (Maybe ever? I used to hang out with guys mostly) My solid friendships are unshakeable by a similar misunderstanding that left me so tender. My chance interactions with strangers are more full of laughter, joy, and connection. Presence created that.
Less or More til 2024?
Less has been more for me. Focusing intently on my values has always been a part of my parenting and my life, but it’s not until I put boundaries in place for what isn’t valuable that I was able to really reap the benefits.
Less will still be important to me through the following year. But it won’t be my focus, it won’t be my theme of 2023. That’s for another post.
Until then, I’ll leave you with a notion that may have never been presented to you before: