Work.

I’ve spent the better part of this week sick. One of those nasty viruses that breaks you down into a pile of groans, aches and bodily fluids. It’s gross – but it gives you an awful amount of time to think.

One gift of embracing minimalism as a mind set is that it also brings extreme clarity. Without the endless distraction of stuff, busy-ness or extraneous time suckers, the mind is freed up to think through those particular sore spots that have long been left unattended.

Let’s begin.

***

I’m one of those rare lady INTJ types.

In fact, when I took the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator at business school I was relieved to finally give a name to and an explanation of what I knew deep down. Here’s an excerpt from a reflective paper I wrote at the time:

After completing Myer-Briggs, getting the result and reading the descriptions I felt relief, almost like the real me had found a space to be. That space was also without my own judgments about how I should act and feel.

This observation is reaching out to me from four years ago asking me to challenge my recent patterns of behaviour.

I have been cast into a mold.

Slip changes its composition as a result of sitting up against the mold; the mold itself produces a solidifying effect on the slip, it is a physical reaction…  it is in an active state of becoming a new form.

A mold is an ascribed identity. It is the cumulative effect of the times you’ve yielded, absorbed, forgiven or accommodated. It is the needs of other people before your own. It is being taken for granted, guilted into doing things and letting people get away with it.

To un-become is to shatter those expectations of what we should and shouldn’t do. What is of “our character” and what is not.

To break the mold is an act of defiance.

*** 

So what of it?

In my sickened state, I had time to fully process a recent conversation that troubled me. In it, I was being asked to compromise my values for the sake of another’s comfort.

People who find conflict uncomfortable are the first ones to deny their role in creating it. People who thrive on problem-solving try to fix things so that everyone can walk away happy – or at least knowing what to do next.

This was the dynamic I found myself in, trying to fix the problem through absorbing the discomfort and the need for a “truth”.

The devil, however, is always in the detail.

***

Guys who are “nice”. Guys who give lip service to equality but don’t live it. Guys who say they’re feminist, but make gross comments about a woman’s appearance or her lack of sexual activity or fuckability in front of other women – even when you have called them out on it before. Guys who don’t realize the role they are playing in the bullshit by using phrases like “it’s a lesbian conspiracy”. Guys who intimate that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Guys who make jokes about the women in their life being “so emotional”. Guys who get threatened by your intellect and capability.

Guys who can’t let that shit go.

***

So yeah – when that guy said “she was almost in tears” as a way to undermine her credibility, I was so livid I wanted to scream.

But I didn’t scream.

I absorbed his sad and wounded pride.  Because that’s what women do.

I took on the emotional labour, preserved the man-ego and fixed it. Because that’s what women do.

I allowed myself to be complicit in his denial. Because that’s what women do.

Because that’s what women do. Until we break that mold.

 

Image: Peter Nudo

#40af

This year I turned 40. 

A number of deep changes have occurred amongst this human milestone. I got a diagnosis for years of unexplained pain, I have paid off enormous amounts of debt (with more still to go), and I stopped giving a shit about many, many things.

Someone at work told me that turning 40 comes with physiological and psychological changes that produce this sense of letting go. For me, I have interpreted this new decade as a signal that I am absolutely enough, just as I am, without the artifice of wanting more. 

I have always been underestimated or overestimated – as if my fatness or intelligence or upbringing or “coolness” have been a predictor of my outcomes. But there are choices in life, and sometimes those choices seem strange to the people who are observing them and not actually living with their consequences.

I pursue knowledge without the need for prestige. I pursue meaningful work without needing the validation of false authority. I pursue a relationship without expectations that the person needs to complete me or be an accessory to a performance of a social life. It is enough to be mostly comfortable, mostly fulfilled and mostly satisfied.

Life is not only the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is fleeting at best, and if we’re lucky, we get enough moments of it that we can be okay with the downwards curve that is sure to follow. Meaning isn’t made by constant fulfillment; it’s made by experiences, some good some bad, and by remaining truthful to the reality of yourself through it.

I have had some experiences lately that only reinforce my resolve. Whether it’s an ill-thought out comment, a display of gross ego or bearing the brunt of other people’s projections of their own insecurity, through it I see that the path I am taking is the right one for me.

I have become more of that stoic I glimpsed in my 20s. I become less of the sage who absolves people of their guilt and responsibility with my endless understanding. I allow myself to say “enough” and mean it.

My minimalism is opening up space for intention. Less noise, more clarity.

Less wanting. More value.

Less. And less still. Until there is everything I need.

Image: Joshua Petker

When Disaster Strikes. 

It was a seriously weird week.

First thing on a Monday morning I crashed my car. Badly enough that it’s undriveable and possibly written off.

This happened on the same morning I found a poodle shitting on our lawn just as I was getting in the car. It was also the same day that started sunny, got really windy then got stormy and back to sunny again in a matter of a few short hours.

As I got out of the car – pretty shaken and dazed from the weirdness of it, I silently thanked myself for wearing comfortable shoes that day. The next part is a blur of phonecalls and broken English conversations as the other parties panicked/ pressured and got a bit shouty.

But this is not the real story.

In the aftermath of that moment I was forced to walk home carrying the equipment I needed to take to work (trying to get a taxi on a Monday morning is an exercise in futility it seems). I haven’t been able to take as many walks lately as I’d like with arthritis pain being a big barrier. But – like a totally weird pilcrimage – walk home I did.

On this walk I got slightly lost – in my own neighbourhood. Or should I say – the streets I usually drive by on the way to somewhere else. Carrying awkwardly shaped bags as I was, stopping from time to time and going at an unrushed pace was necessary.
What I observed was a slowing down of my senses, through physical necessity. I observed the shifting character of the streets. I walked through parks from different angles. I remembered moments of  joy I had spent in those spaces.

Flash forward to today where I have spent two weeks using public transport to get to work, and without ready access to a car have been forced to slow down and make deliberate, essentialist choices about my time and my activity.

I’m always the one who accommodates – the one who goes out of my way to help or make it easy for others. I do it at work, I do it with my friends and I do it with strangers in line at the supermarket. I take on your problem and discomfort as my own and try to fix it for you. It’s the guilty fat girl in me who just wants you to like me… and I’ve had to quickly un-become her  as my available resources have diminished.

This period of  time and these constraints are teaching me a valuable lesson about what matters and where my energy is best spent. It allows me to set boundaries.

But it also opens up a space where I have to accept kindness.

This is possibly a harder lesson – we’re taught that we must be ever resilient and never admit our weaknesses. As women we are told that we must be “better than” in order to take up our place in the world. 

Creating a softness around the expectations that you have of yourself is a way of uncovering the essential. Extreme experiences bring this into sharp focus. 

And now – on the train. 

The world whips by and in that space between here and there, the inert space which has no pressure to do or be, I think.

It’s a space of contemplation I haven’t had time for lately. All the busyness that crowded into the drive home – gone. 

And I’m thankful for the inconvenience. 

 

The D Word

Depression. 

I live with it. I deal with it. I suffer from it.

Coming out as having depression is difficult in a world which seems determined to slap a fake smile on all forms of human emotion. But – it’s a fundamental part of me, and over the years I have learnt not only to accept it but to be thankful for it.

It was last year while undertaking an intensive “women in leadership” program that I found the courage to “come out” and take ownership of what my depression does for me.

Depression comes at those times when you need to take a bit of time out from the harsh reality and bone-crushing boredom of life. It allows space for deep contemplation. It comes with deep, dark pain but also those moments of quiet where you truly know yourself.

This self-knowledge is freedom in a way. No longer encumbered by the need to please, depression opens up the possibility that perhaps we are good enough, just as we are, despite the sadness and maybe because of it. Through the act of existing, we are holding out against the pressures of conforming and against the expectations of a society that wants us to be compliant and “happy’. Depression is about as real as it gets; it’s certainly not pleasant but it does come with its own set of truths.

This is not an easy road. The constant tiredness and paper-thin barrier between you, your darkest places and the wider world can be overwhelming. It is natural to want to find ways to create distance between those feelings and actually feeling them. That’s what self-medicating is all about – whether your poison is alcohol, sugar, drugs or “stuff “- it’s all motivated by the same need to create distance between your pain and actually feeling it.

There are some amongst us who find depression to be a sink hole that they feel they can never escape from. If you’re one of those people, please tell someone about it. You can tell me about it if you like – get in touch and we’ll talk about it. 

Please. It will pass… trust me it will.

Depression and Minimalism

Today on one the minimalism groups I follow on Facebook someone asked if others found dealing with depression difficult when aspiring to living a minimalist lifestyle. Without the buffer of “stuff” – it’s accumulation, the hunt for that one thing that will bring a moment of joy – we are left with just our emotional states and no distractions.

It is hard. There are behaviours and patterns that show up in the down times offering glimmers of relief. My personal favourites are junk food, booze and shopping. Yes, a shiny new TV or a bottle of “something” distracts you for a little while, but once the excitement wears off you’re left with debt and/or a nasty hangover, and more tears than you ever thought possible.

It takes great personal commitment to resist the false charms of consumption. It’s a choice that you have to make over and over, and one that is easier to make when you’re also feeling well.

There is a practical reality to all of this too. Depression makes the smallest acts of self care feel like insurmountable obstacles, let alone actually committing to the life you envisioned when you started on your minimalist path. Every bit of the consumption machine is geared towards offering relief from problems you didn’t know you had. That’s why marketing was invented!

Resistance takes effort, and effort is in short supply during depression season.

The real problem with consumption as a form of relief is that it never lasts longer than the initial serotonin rush. Marketers have a name for this too; post-purchase dissonance. The unease that we feel between the purchase decision and the thing itself just feeds the feelings that we were trying to avoid by consuming in the first place… It makes no sense to continue.

(Customer care was invented to ease post-purchase dissonance – there is no product that cares enough about you to check in on how you’re really feeling about anything!)

The familiar emptiness of a home filled with regretful purchases is something that characterised my depression cycle for years. Breaking the habit meant taking a real look at the why that sat behind the stuff. I thought I was taking care of myself, being good to myself when really I was burdening myself further.

It’s not only the debt that racks up a burden, but the stuff does too. It’s a reminder of your sadness, your lack of control, of the compromises you’ve made to just cope. Worse… you have to clean up after it! Housework is bad enough without all of that extra “stuff” getting in the way.

Each depression season I would accumulate and then cull – once the darkness subsided I would feel oppressed by “stuff” and clear it all out to make room for my life again. Because I do function better in a clear, sane, organised space – and if you’re thinking about minimalism chances are you do too.

The shift has been in adopting a mindset that depression is a temporary but necessary part of my life. It serves a purpose – and over time it has become a reliable way for me figure out who and what really matters to me. It also lets me reflect – and this is best done without distractions.

REALLY Practical Advice

So – if you get depressed and you’re also trying to be a minimalist – here are some super practical things you can do. These things work for me and they’re how I cope during “the season”:

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Seriously. Dealing with depression and trying to show up for life (work/ family/ relationships/ study etc) is really freaking hard. If you can keep going, even if it is on autopilot, it is really okay. Falling in a crying heap on the couch is also okay.

Take it one day at a time and celebrate the successes where you can.


Reverse engineer it. A classic productivity technique which I swear by is the Pomodoro. During depression season I change it up to 25 minutes rest/ 5 minutes work. The trick here is to just start – even for 5 minutes. Once you get going, and without the pressure of having to spend more than 5 minutes it is amazing how much you can get done – whether that’s housework, actual work or some other task or activity that you want to do like exercise (or even decluttering!).

Another tip is to take your shower of a night time. Getting out of bed in the morning is pretty harsh during the season, so take a bit of extra time with it. An evening shower also offers an opportunity for visualising your way into a better sleep by imagining the stresses and pains of the day washing off and down the plug-hole. Try it.


Embrace the uniform. One thing that trips me up during depression season is deciding what to wear each morning. In these times nothing feels right – leading to running late after 10 costume changes, late night online clothes shopping binges and of course more debt. Adopting a minimalist approach to the wardrobe means taking away the emotions of getting dressed on focusing on utility. As for weekends – go the path of least resistance and wear whatever is technically not pyjamas – even if they are pyjamas.

This approach also works for feeding yourself – during the season I have the same breakfast and lunch every day. I already know it has the balanced nutrition that I need, and I don’t waste time (or guilt) worrying about it or trying to tune into unreliable feelings of hunger or non-hunger.


Outsource it. During some of the worst times I’ve been unable to clean, cook, make financial decisions or remember to take medications etc. There is no shame in outsourcing these things – pay someone to clean your house, get pre-made dinners, set reminders on your devices to do things like pay bills, take medication or get to appointments. Use as many systems and conveniences as you need to minimise the number of decisions or responsibilities you need to take care of. Save your energy for healing yourself.

Another form of outsourcing is asking for help from your trusted circle of people – most of whom will just be relieved that you’re asking for help at all. You’re not alone in this – so let people who love you look after you.


Let go. So there is going to be a lot of guilt about how you’re letting everyone down. Newsflash – you are not letting anyone down. You are taking the time you need to rest, process and recover. It is not a selfish act to limit the amount of “up-time” you have, especially if your energy is much more finite than usual.

Depression is tricky like that – it’s often those who care too much, who burn too bright and who put everyone else’s needs first who suffer from it. Your “normal” is most likely everyone else’s “highly engaged”. Take a break. Name it and let it go.

I like to make an announcement when I’m having a rough day – that way we’re all on the same page and expectations about how much I can be there are softened. You don’t owe anyone an explanation either, but a quiet conversation with those around you helps them to understand why you’re subdued. It also helps when you need to take a mental health day – they are real and yes you should take them.


Finally

If you’re out there and struggling with depression and keeping up with the minimalist principles you are trying to instil in your life – I feel you.

It is hard to keep working on yourself and living the way you want to when depression turns up and sucks all of the life out of you. I have found that a simpler life with less things and less commitments has meant that I can weather the depression a little easier.

Remember – all you can do is take it one day at a time. Tomorrow can be better than today.

And – all of this is a process. So let it be.

 

 

Minimizing Health

Five Years.

It’s been five years since I’ve felt well. Well in the sense of waking up full of energy and without pain.

Five. Years.

I had cause to reflect on this when I received a letter from the hospital informing me that my referral had expired. This fact means another 12 months has elapsed in my ongoing search to find that elusive wellness that I have sought for five years. 

It is an absolute mind-f%ck when your body starts to rebel on you. The first time I dropped a cup of hot tea on myself because my hands just failed to keep hold of it, I broke down in tears and then threw the offending cup across the room in frustration. This would be the first of many things I would drop, many things that would break, many things I could no longer rely on from my body which appeared to be imploding on itself.

Other weird body phenomena in this time has included; passing out in the middle of the night and waking up with a black eye (twice), my legs melting out from under me causing me to fall headfirst into the train, unexplained chest tightness and dizzy head after a normal day of gallery hopping, excruciating cramps on the tops and bottoms of my feet at the same time, aches in every joint of my body – and I mean every joint, stabbing pains in feet/ legs anywhere, dropping hands – seriously things just fly out of them, a loss of loudness of my singing voice, a softening of my speaking voice, levels of tiredness that induce hysteria, seriously high drama PMT and I could go on and on.

I’ve never been what one might picture as a “healthy” person. I’m fat, I’ve always been fat and I used to drink like a fish/ stay out too late/ work too hard/ stress out about stupid shit and whole bunch of other things that sensible people don’t do. But I was also someone with a lot of energy who could run, lift stuff, bike ride to work, swim laps, dance for hours and walk anywhere. And I was someone who could, with a blazing intensity, think/ write/ read/ absorb and create until the early hours of the morning and still turn up to a paid job and be good at it. I had my health.

Entering into the worlds of intersecting chronic illnesses has taught me an awful lot about patience.

At a very basic level, just waiting for appointments requires levels of patience that I struggle with as a person who values my own time. Hours spent in crowded waiting rooms, surrounded by people who look broken by the health system. Patience for the assumptions that others make about why you’re there, and the truth a heartbreaking reality you have to swallow on your own because the truth actually hurts that much. 

Other forms of patience include explaining your “story” over and over – a narrative of deficit that demands a razor sharp accuracy; when did you first start feeling like this? – when was the last time? – the first time? – what have you tried? – what haven’t you done right? – why are you asking for an answer when I know the answer is YOU’RE TOO FAT TO DESERVE BEING WELL!

What you are not told when you’re young is to record the first time something didn’t feel right in your body. As women, especially as FAT women, we are told that our bodies should endure pain because we’re women but also because of our “choices”. We are told that we’re making it up, that it doesn’t make sense, that if we did less of this or more of that, then maybe we’d feel better. We are forced to try one more medication – just in case this one is the one – but then we have to take something else to deal with the side effects of that.

In my life I’ve been on maybe 50 different medications for a variety of poorly diagnosed things ranging from stock standard depression to PCOS to chronic fatigue, restless legs, psoriasis and arthritis. There is still no definitive answer.

I have tried going gluten free, sugar free, dairy free and FODMAP free. I have taken naturopathic potions and pills, have spent huge amounts of money on myotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and basically anything that might bring some relief.

Amongst the diagnostic tests I have been subjected to are; cardiac stress tests, MRIs, a neurological exam, ultrasounds, x-rays, about a million blood tests and a bone scan which involves being injected with radioactive stuff and then – well  your bones get scanned.

(I will never forget hearing the sound of my own heart – it’s apparently a healthy heart by the way. Nor will I forget the experience of running on a treadmill, wired up with my boobs out while three people watched and assured me that they “do this everyday” – modern medicine is freaking weird.)

From my very first dietitian as a 10 year old to my very latest endocrinologist as a 39 year old who instead of explaining to me why I hadn’t had a period for 2 years followed by bouts of excruciatingly painful PMT,  decided it would a good time to suggest I try SlimFast if I wanted to lose weight; the efficacy of the medical model has been a mystery to me.

All of these experiences have taught me less and less about why my body does these things. Medicine tries to diagnose, to find a pattern in which all of the signs and symptoms can label us into a little neat box. We become reduced to the list of what ails us, without considering the totality of everything that we are.

The times I have felt truly well in the past 12 months have been when I’ve shared a private joke with Mr, or we’ve just been hanging out with our pets. It’s been when I have walked, at no particular pace in the sun around my neighbourhood and sat drinking tea and reading something good. It’s been when I’ve helped someone to see their own potential through just talking about it, and what they really want and what their real dreams are. It’s been when I’ve accomplished something real that I’ve been working on for a while and when I see others stepping into their own empowerment.

In another life when I wrote essays about Community Cultural Development I talked about the “Cult of Wellbeing” as something that is commodified and sold to us. It is a force of hyper-capitalism that compels us to buy our way out of unhappiness with a superfood, or the perfect pair of yoga pants or a slim-shake (or indeed a community arts project).

Of course Big Pharma is the ultimate tool of hyper-capitalism. The pills that deaden our response to what is clearly a f%cked up situation are sold to us as a cure for the stress-induced illness that continuous consumption creates. Now before you jump to any conclusions, trust me I know that illnesses, pain and suffering are real. I carry a few of them around in a less than visible way, and I get it, some medicine saves lives.

But me, I am consciously opting out of health and into balance. I am reducing my consumption of “wellness” and instead focusing on moments of well-being. I am stepping back from the rigid direction of medical practitioners and making my own decisions about what pain I can and can’t live with.

The truth is that when we tune into our body, we can give it exactly what it needs. For me, it has always been more vegetables and resting my mind and my body that does the trick. That and a cup of tea, a book and a big belly laugh with someone truly loved.

 

 

 

States of Existential Crisis.

What is going on up there? 

The new year has begun and like many other people I’m attempting some sort of rebirth.

This time last year I sparked joy as I KonMari’d my way through my wardrobe, books, general stuff, kitchenware, old habits and sense of fascination with folding things just right. Admittedly I found this process incredibly freeing, to the point where I was evangelising the virtues of the folded sock to ANYONE who would listen.

My mother (who is a serial offender for overdoing it in the kitchenware department) was non-plussed when I sent her the book to inspire her to let go of a few things. The book was sent back, I suspect unread, shortly after I sent it to her. Letting go is easy it seems.

But getting back to now. 

I’ve been diving deep into podcasts of late and have been taken by The Minimalists, two ex-corporate guys who have eschewed the trappings of “success” for a simpler path. There is something inspiring in the idea that less can lead to more… more time, more space, more of what makes life lovely and especially more time with the people who you love.

So… I’ve been taking some time to minimize.  Letting go of things, reorganising our space, reading and trying out some of the mindsets that can help in the process.

Starting to write again has been part of the process of processing change.

After many years of writing for some external purpose (work/ academic/ persuasion), I’ve decided to try writing for myself, and hopefully to add something to a bigger discussion of what matters and why.

Maybe like me, you’ve been shouting your thoughts into the algorithmic void of social media and getting nowhere. Maybe you’re a friend who I haven’t spoken to for a while and you’re curious about where I’ve gone. Maybe you’re just out there feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff too.

Whatever you’re doing here – we’re in it together.

Image: Gingerbreads in various forms of existential crisis