Book Review: Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

Ask a bird how to fly, and it might tell you to remove the weight from your wings

– Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow

I can’t remember where I first heard about Erin’s book. It might have been a podcast or a blog. The title stuck in my mind. Chasing Slow. I liked the notion. After all, am I not in pursuit of a simpler lifestyle?

It was not what I expected. When I cracked the spine, I thought I would find a how-to guide. Tips and inspiration for slowing down, simplifying, savouring life instead of charging ahead with blinders on. I did find tips and I did find inspiration, but not in the way I had thought.

Chasing Slow is at it’s heart a memoir, the recollection of a struggle and a journey. Erin doesn’t claim to have her shit together – she is upfront about the fact that she doesn’t. She finds slow, and then lets it slip through her fingers as she is lured by want of more. She stumbles and falters and fails and is unflinchingly honest about it all.

Erin made herself a household name through her blog. Her sense of style and creative eye had her recieve countless opportunities and accolades. She was one of the first to beta Pinterest. Such sucess is hard to resist – I don’t know that I could – and sometimes, often, Erin doesn’t. I find this so refreshing. While I love The Minimalists, they look like they’re established minimalists. A finished product. But I’m not, and neither is Erin. Neither is anyone. There is something novel about the admission that we are going to screw up. We are going to buy things we don’t need and overspend and forget our values. It is hard not to want more. It is hard to keep your foot on the brakes when everyone around you is pumping the gas. Pedal to the metal.

I have friends with their own businesses, their own homes. They have wedding bands on their fingers and babies in their arms. I see it on Facebook and Instagram and I look around and feel disatisfied. Happy for them, but upset with myself. I likely won’t have a big career and the jury (or doctor) is out on whether kids is a good idea for me. It meant something to read that Erin, as successful as she is, felt the same thing.

Erin opens up about her husband’s terminal diagnosis, her own struggle with panic attacks. She doesn’t back away from her failures and faults, despite aditting how much she desires to control. She suffers from impulse buying and imposter syndrome. This isn’t Erin with an instagram filter. She is unfiltered and human.

While the bible verses grated on my agnosticism a bit, I envy her faith because she finds so much value in it.

The book reads more like a confession than a sermon. Erin is talking to you, not at you, like a lot of these books seem to.

It reads easily, though some of the metaphors are a bit heavy-handed for my tastes. Repitition is a key part of Erin’s style. But it’s a matter of taste. I devoured the book within a day and found value in it.

While it didn’t teach me how to chase slow, Chasing Slow did teach me that it is an endless process. It is a meandering journey. It is ok to fumble and fall and veer off the path to simpler living. As long as you dust yourself off, readjust your course and, more importantly, forgive yourself. There is no such thing as perfection. They key is to not let chasing slow be about perfection. It is about you. What is best for you.

If you find yourself stalling or stressed, I recommend picking up Chasing Slow. It wasn’t what i expected, but I think it’s probably a bit of what I needed.

Quick update

Hi friends.

I’m sorry I haven’t been very active the past two weeks. It’s flu season here in Sydney and I came down with a really bad case and I’m only just on the up-tick. I’m going to get back to posting this week. Some of the posts in the works include ways to minimise beyond your belongings, some essentials I can’t live without, a look into waste-free living and maybe a recipe or two! I hope you guys will enjoy it. Stay tuned!

My Morning Ritual

I like the word ‘ritual’ more than ‘routine’. To me, a routine sounds dull, monotonous. Mechanical. A routine is intentional, as minimalism is intentional. It is something I have crafted for myself to give myself a good start to the day.

To be perfectly honest with you guys. I am not a morning person. I’m not even an afternoon person. My chronotype is a bear, meaning I crave sleep and am most productive mid-morning. I have trouble getting up and am pretty eager to climb back under the duvet at the end of the day. In the mornings, I more or less resemble this:

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Suffice to say, mornings are rough for me. So I take them slow. My alarm goes off at about 5:30.

Yes. 5:30. While I need sleep, it’s about quality over quantity and oversleeping can damage the quality of sleep you have at night. The early wake-up ensures I get enough z’s but have time for an easygoing morning. That said, I don’t get up straight away. I like to have a leisurely stretch because my muscles will be tight and tender. I’ll start on the glass of water I leave beside the bed. After 15 minutes or so, I get myself up. Patrick is a night owl, so he’ll still be sleeping.

I’ll stick in some earphones and listen to a podcast or some upbeat music while I wash my face and brush my teeth. It helps to wake me up. Next I’ll do a yoga video (Yoga With Adriene on YouTube is my favourite) followed by some guided meditation on Headspace. Keeping calm is central to my health and gentle stretching is great for my body so I try and do both. Even if it’s just ten minutes apiece. Afterwards, it’s time to make breakfast. My current breakfast obsession is ‘cinnamon toast breakfast quinoa‘ by Cookie and Kate. I like to top it off with some chia seeds and blueberries. I make enough for two and try and coax Patrick out of bed to eat. If not, it goes in the fridge for later. I like it when he gets up, though. A few minutes with a loved one is a great way to start the day.

I’ll make up a mug of cold brew coffee to have with it and only then do I allow myself to check my phone if Patrick is still sleeping. Usually it’s to check out the headlines on my Flipboard app.

After breakfast, I get dressed. I have a shower and pick what I’m wearing the night before so it’s a snap to get ready. My makeup is pretty minimal because my medication makes my skin pretty acne-prone. Just some concealer under my eyes, some tinted moisturiser and brow filler and I am done. Then I usually have time to have a quick play with my cat, Leo, before it’s time to kiss my boys goodbye and head out the door.
How do you like to start your day? Let me know your favourite morning rituals in the comments.

You Look Fine

My legs are all wrong today. Flimsy and weak as if, instead of bone and muscle and sinew they are made of paperclips and rubber bands. 

They tremble under my weight so that I feel like I’m about to collapse at any moment. At the same time they feel taught, tied up too tightly. So tense it hurts. It hurts all the time. I massage them, stretch them and it only hurts more. 

“You look fine.”

It’s only one of the many symptoms, the many glitches of my body screaming sick sick SICK. 

It’s only one. But it’s the one that makes me feel the least in control of my body. 

The legs that dances and jumped and kicked and ran. Powerful legs that once won me medals reduced to crumbling foundations.

If I can barely walk, what else will this take from me?

Your hands, my body replies.

Hands once splattered with paint and ink, sticky with fresh cookie dough. Eclipsed with pain and plagued by constant trembling.

I am full of words, frothing at the mouth with language eager to run out of me. I can hardly hold my pen. The letters I try and form look foreign to me now.

“You look fine,” they say. The surface of my skin unmarred and masking the chaos of nerves and pain and sickness. 

“You look fine.” I carefully monitor what I eat. No sugar. No heavy oils. No gluten. No soy. No coffee. Jesus Christ no coffee. No coffee despite needing at least nine hours of sleep and still waking up exhausted. Eat clean. Reduce inflammation. Don’t fuel the fire.

“You look fine.” I count out the sevdn tablets I take every morning. Hormones. Stomach. Antidepressants. Anti-inflammatories. Vitamins vitamin vitamins. I eat so well but my body burns it up, my blood churns it out. Cries for more.

“You look fine.” I’m in the bathroom, aware it’s the second time in less than an hour I’ve had to step away from my desk. Did they notice? Are they counting? 

“You look fine.” Another painkiller that I know won’t work. Muscles. Headaches. Cramps. Abdominal pain. More pain than pills. A body in revolt.
“You look fine.”

How I Got Here. AKA from Healthy to Hell

We – meaning myself and my doctor – can trace the beginning of this hell to April 2014. I was studying a Bachelor of Arts at a university in Sydney when I woke up one day and could barely walk. My body twitched and trembled. I remembered watching my hands, feeling as if they were suddenly alien to me.

I skipped my next class and went to the nearest GP. I tried to move quickly but it was as if I were wading through water. Luckily, it wasn’t far. I can still picture the blue-gray colour scheme of the waiting room. The wailing of sickly kids.

The doctor had no answers. They took some blood, gave me a certificate for missing class and sent me home to rest.

Then, at about 7pm that evening, the doctor I saw called me from his mobile. I could tell by the distorted audio that he was talking hands-free while he drove. He tells me to go to the emergency room. My white cell count was at 23,000. Which, apparently, was very bad.

Medical students take turns trying to put a drip in my veins. Blood is drawn. Pee in this. Lie down there. Does this hurt? How do you feel? You look a bit pale.

I joke that it’s just how my face looks. I’m scared. I was a healthy person. I wasn’t too into exercise but I ate well. Didn’t have more than the occasional cold. I had never broken a bone or needed stitches. Hospitals were for people who were sicker than me. Surely I couldn’t be that sick?

Four days in hospital with antibiotics through a drip and then the doctor shrugs his shoulders, writes down ‘viral infection’ and has me discharged. They thought it might have been leukaemia, but there was no sign of cancer.

Two months later, I’m in agony with three slipped discs and muscles that spasm with the slightest pressure. I go to physiotherapy for three months and I breathe a sigh of relief. That was it. It was over.

I would have another several bouts of being unable to walk, of strong pain in my legs, over the next two years. I would be tested for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other diseases. Everything came back clean and the doctors sent me away.

Then, in August of last year, I started having the worst digestive problems. I was sleeping more than nine hours a night and waking up tired – I didn’t see how this was a problem, I was always tired. It was just what I knew. I was put on a gluten free diet for seven months. It eases the digestive problems, but does not make it go away. The pain in my legs returned, and as the months passed, it spread. My legs, my back, my hips, my wrists and hands. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue. Pain, pain, pain.

The wrist pain is the worst. I live with my hands. I’m a writer, an artist, a cook. I derive joy from these things, and the pain took it away from me. My wonderful partner, Patrick, and my mum were supportive and helped me when I couldn’t help myself. But I hated being so dependent.

My doctor finally gave my hell a name – Fibromyalgia. A chronic disease with over a hundred symptoms. Every ill could be attributed to this disease. And there was no cure, only treatment. I was struggling to work a full day at my full-time admin job. I’d run out of sick leave. I felt trapped. I knew that at some point, I had to get out of full time work, but financially that wasn’t feasible. How could I afford to live if I couldn’t work?

On one of my many bedridden days, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It followed a few people, but centred on two young men called The Minimalists as they went on a book tour and talked about their journey into minimalism. They were happy. They had financial freedom. They had less stuff.

I will be the first to admit that I’m a shopaholic. Clothes, books, games, stationery, whatever. I hoarded. I was constantly buying things that I really didn’t need. I could feel the weight of maintaining an overflowing wardrobe when I could barely manage laundry. Maybe the key was to get rid of it.

I watched Minimalism again and again. I bought books, listened to podcasts, looked at half a dozen blogs about this thing called minimalism. I wanted to try this. I wanted to see if living simply, living deliberately, could help give me the space – physically and mentally – to cope with my disease.

That’s where this blog comes in. There are millions of people struggling with chronic disease and mental illness. I don’t know how much this journey will help me, but I want to put it out there. Maybe it will help someone else.

My name is Alexis, and this is my minimalist journey.