What Sustains Us

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This week has felt like an eternity. It’s hard to believe it’s finally over. After working from home most days for months, having a full week at the office with a packed schedule was insanely exhausting. And it looks like I won’t have any less work to do next week either. I consider myself someone who is very easily overwhelmed. So it’s a miracle I’ve been able to keep it together so well this week. It’s been a struggle though.

I’ve been trying really hard to keep the promise to myself I made last week, to use whatever comes my way. Growth is always uncomfortable. And I’m trying to look at this week and the next as chances for growth. Even though it’s been stressful, I must admit there is something satisfying about making it though tough times. It seems like we are always somehow more capable than we think.

As I reflect back on the past few days I feel only gratitude. One of the things I’ve noticed is that when we find ourselves struggling just to keep our head above water, it gets easier to find gratitude for the smallest things. Things I’ve taken for granted for the last few months were the very things that meant everything to me this week. When you are home every day it can be easy to forget just how wonderful it is to be there. To light a candle, to burrow into soft, warm blankets while sharing the body heat of loved ones, to rest your head on a plump pillow at night once the time to rest has finally come, to lovingly prepare a hot meal, to enjoy a cup of tea. All of these things often blur into the background of life. But when it comes down to it, these are the moments that really matter. These are the experiences that sustain us, that make it all worth it.

If given the choice I imagine we’d all prefer for things to always be easy, but it’s actually the difficult times that provide the context that allows us to truly enjoy those easy moments. It always feels extra amazing to rest after you’ve been working hard, to shower after working up a sweat, to eat when you are really hungry, to drink ice cold water after a long run on a summer day. This week has reminded me of that. So as this week finally comes to a close, I am grateful. Not only for the chance to rest and recharge, but for the struggle that will make this time spent resting feel truly divine and well deserved.

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Finding Balance

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I’ve always struggled with an all or nothing mentality. No matter what I do I’m either pedal to the metal or not even in the car. It is hard for me to find any grey areas or middle ground. I tend to fluctuate between pushing myself way too hard and crashing and burning for awhile. It’s a very tiring and chaotic way to go through life. Not to mention it leads me to always set myself up for failure.

There are a lot of things I want to work on this holiday season and in the coming year. And thanks to Covid-19 coming back stronger than ever in the US, I have at least two more weeks of remote work coming my way. Although I wasted the summer months I had at home, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to make a plan for myself that I can stick to and be productive with my newfound free time. (I honestly don’t have much to do at work, so working from home is basically paid leave.)

Here is a brief summary of the things I’d like to accomplish so you have an idea:

  • Plan holiday food
  • Finish Christmas shopping
  • Make detailed New Year’s resolution goals/plan
  • Decorate for the holidays
  • Organize/minimize my things
  • Deep clean my house
  • Hygge-fy my home
  • Set up TVs
  • Put up wallpaper in the kitchen

It feels like every time I am feeling overwhelmed by my mental to-do list, writing it out makes it seem far less daunting. I think I will definitely be able to accomplish a good deal, if not all, of those things in the next few months. My only problem is actually allowing myself to space it out in a reasonable way.

The main reason I haven’t already gotten around to doing a lot of these things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now is that I overwhelm myself. Normally I would look at “deep clean my house” and be paralyzed. I’d imagine every little task that larger one entails and feel forced to tackle every single one in an afternoon. I imagine that if I can’t get it all done at once, it will feel unfinished. My OCD is not pleased.

Rationally I know that even doing a tiny piece of it is better than avoiding it entirely. But I am easily immobilized by my own demands. That is why I am going to try to set aside time to break these larger goals down into MUCH smaller tasks. Then I can space these tasks out over as many days as I need to until the whole goal is achieved. For instance, organizing my things doesn’t have to be one task encompassing every nook and cranny of my two story house at once. I can first break the house up into rooms. Then sections of those rooms. Maybe on Monday I will organize my bedroom closet, the dresser on Tuesday, my desk and surfaces on Wednesday, etc.

Those seem like much more reasonable goals that I will be able to feel happy about completing each day. In this way I hope to be able to find a little more balance in my life. I don’t have to choose between reorganize my wardrobe, the kitchen cabinets, and every closet in the house on one single hellish day or avoiding the idea all together.

When I think about the smaller tasks I’ll be able to do rather easily adding up to the final goal being completed, I am even excited! I get that nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid and would happily clean and reorganize my room. I may have done that in the span of one Saturday, but I need to remind myself that it was only one room back then. I can’t expect myself to do that with an entire house in the same length of time.

It is going to feel so good to finally be gentle with myself. Not to mention actually make progress towards these things I’ve wanted for so long! This post was mostly just for myself. Spilling out all the thoughts that have been running circles inside my head and reaffirming my resolve. However, I hope that you can use this as a reminder to also be gentle with yourself. Are there any goals you would like help breaking down into smaller bits? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to reign yourself in so you don’t end up burning out? I’d love to hear you thoughts and/or advice on finding balance.

An Overwhelming Age

In one of my psychology classes in university I remember learning that one famous psychologist suggested an interesting correlation when it came to freedom and happiness. I tried to look up who it was, but I wasn’t able to settle the matter with any certainty. My best guess is that it was Erich Fromm.

Anyway, the idea was that while having no freedom leads to unhappiness, too much freedom can as well. We feel powerless when we don’t get to make any choices for ourselves, but we also begin to feel overwhelmed and distressed when we have too many choices. This idea has stuck with me ever since.

I truly believe that in our modern age, most of the world has started to experience that unhappiness due to too much freedom. Never before in history have we each had so many individual choices to make each and every moment of every day. We are constantly being advertised to, we have twenty or more different options for each product we need to purchase at the store, and we have an unlimited number of options when it comes to the internet which is now an integral part of our everyday lives.

I personally feel paralyzed with indecision on a daily basis. And it has certainly only become worse as society and technology has progressed in my lifetime. I am mentally exhausted from weighing endless choices. Most of the time all I can do is try to shut it all out and do nothing. I used to think this was solely due to my anxiety disorder, but it does provide some comfort to know that this effects everyone to some extent.

It brings to mind a quote by Sylvia Plath that has always deeply resonated with me:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I have felt this way all of my life, yet never could have created such a splendidly perfect metaphor. I am not sure what we as a society can do to address this problem though. It certainly seems wrong for the government or some other entity to limit people’s freedoms in order to protect them from being overwhelmed by choices. But I do often long to have been born in simpler times. While I am grateful for all the freedom I have, I am also somewhat fearful of it.