The Opposite of Chaos

My mother tells me I willed myself into existence. Despite her health problems, despite preventative measures, here I am. That sounds about right. I wanted to exist, and so I did. And it didn’t stop there; I came into this world knowing exactly what I wanted and unable to except anything else. I was a born perfectionist with a need for control. This made me a difficult infant, but an easier toddler. As a toddler, so drastically unlike my older brother, I stayed where I was put. Where some parents would have to regularly check that their children were still where they left them, I kept close tabs on my mother.

“Mu-um.”

“Yes, Princess?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to know where you were.”

I was a nervous child, who hated noise and chaos and unpredictability.

I enjoyed playing in the sand pit and rolling down dirty hills, but the moment I didn’t want to be dirty, I ran to my mother, hands held out before me, hoping she would clean the dirt from my fingernails. If I felt I couldn’t do something perfectly, I would refuse to even attempt it. My mother tried her best to train me to be more flexible, but so much of my perfectionism stuck. I couldn’t get rid of my need to control things.

Though my decluttering has cleared space in my home, my life has no room for my excessive control, my high expectations.

I commute to and from work. I live a short distance from the train station and all-in-all, it’s pretty convenient.

Except for the elevator.

My local station has several flights of stairs up to the concourse and then down to the platform. As someone who needs to walk with a cane most days, this is an impossible task. I’ve been bedridden by laundry, stairs are a definite no. So I have to take the elevator. Only, I’m not the only one who wants the elevator. Nobody likes the stairs and so, each day, after the nine-to-fivers pile onto the platform, there is a line for the elevator. People wedge themselves in like sardines. Often one too many try and squeeze in and the doors won’t close until someone is booted out like Ned Flanders from a bomb shelter. The elevator has to make several trips. Despite making the long trek through dense crowds to the first carriage at my boarding station on the way home so that I can get off closest to the elevator, despite getting up a stop early to wait by the train doors, I will never get on the elevator the first time around.

Before I got sick, before the cane, I would always make way for those who needed seats and elevators more than I. I still do. It is an endless source of distress for me that not everyone will extend the same courtesy. The same woman who spent a good portion of the trip staring at my cane will suddenly act as if she cannot see me and push in front. People who get off the train after me casually sidle in front of me, gazes averted. If they don’t make contact, they don’t have to give way. They don’t have to feel guilty.

On one occasion I broke into tears when I got home because I was so frustrated that people would openly stare at me, until they wanted to utilise a service – which is intended for people like me, the elderly, or people with suitcases and prams – for their own convenience. I couldn’t control these people, couldn’t make them be anything other than who they were.

So I gave up. Because the opposite of chaos isn’t control – it’s surrender.

I started getting on a more convenient carriage rather than shoving through the crowds. I made the walk to the elevator and paid no mind to the people who tried to push in front. I surrendered to something I couldn’t change and made better choices for myself.

That’s what I have to do with other aspects of my life. Life is messy at the best of times and with a chronic disease, it is harder, messier, less predictable. I can’t tell when I will be able to manage without my cane and when I will be bedridden. Instead of trying to control my disease, trying to live life the way I expected rather than the way I could, I surrendered. I accepted. I embraced.

Sure, I have to wait longer for an elevator, but it’s less crowded.

Sure, I’m not going to be able to have the career I wanted, the kids I wanted, the life I wanted, but my life is less crowded.

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For the Love of Busy

“No matter how busy a man is, he is never too busy to stop and talk about how busy he is”

Author unknown

You know that guy, who complains about how stressed and busy they are, how little sleep they run on. They complain, but there’s a glimmer of pride as well. Maybe you’ve been that guy at some point or another. I know I have. We read articles about successful CEO’s who sleep for four hours a night and work long hours for six figure salaries and we want to be like them because that is the ideal. Who doesn’t want to be rich and successful? So we push ourselves. Five hours sleep, running on nothing but caffeine and willpower. The shiniest, most productive cog in the machine. We live in a world obsessed with productivity.

But here’s the kicker, folks. Busy and productive are two very different things. It doesn’t matter how fast I run on the wheel, I’m not going anywhere.

Busy is not something to idolise. Busy is not something to love. But we do. We love to hate it. To wear it as a badge of honour to prove the lengths we go to, the demand we’re in, how much we contribute to the world. I have to wonder, though. What are we contributing? What are we sacrificing? How does this all balance out?

When my health took a serious turn for the work this year, I was in denial. I wanted to be fine. I expected myself to maintain the fast and efficient level of work that I had been capable of before hand. Instead of maintaining my work, however, I started making mistakes. Lots of them. So many that I soon found myself in a meeting with my boss, staring at a warning letter. Something had to change. It took a major job scare for me to realise a few crucial things. My job wasn’t a career. I didn’t want a career. I enjoy my job, but it should not be the centre of my life. I shouldn’t be damaging my own body trying to keep up a standard I thought they expected of me. I should work to live, not live to work.

I also realised I wasn’t the same person I was when they hired me. Not physically, emotionally or mentally. I needed to adapt to the new way my body operated. It was a slower pace than I was used to, but it would have to do. I talked to my partner and we both decided that full-time work was not ideal for me so, once he graduates university and starts earning more, I could reduce my hours and go part-time.

With the pressure off, I stopped pushing myself. I acknowledged my limits and made them clear to those I work with. Before that meeting, my boss had no idea what I was going through. She had no idea I was constantly sick and in pain. Once it was out there, she offered help and support.

Now I manage my work better. I make sure deadlines are clear so I prioritise better. If there’s an extra task added on, I make sure I know which is the most pressing so I’m not scrambling to get everything done. I learn to say no (politely of course). I don’t work through my lunch break and don’t linger after hours unless it’s an emergency. I take regular breaks and make sure my health and wellbeing is my number one priority.

This doesn’t just apply to work, either. I need to accept that sometimes my shelves get dustier than I would prefer, or there are dishes sitting unwashed. I need to know when I can go out with friends and when I need to stay home.

You know what? I’m not stressed or busy but I am productive. I give myself the space to ensure my work is good quality and being calm makes it easier to troubleshoot and come up with solutions when things do go wrong.

Some people enjoy being busy. They thrive under pressure. For me, I prefer having things to get done, but too much and I start stressing out. Anyone with my illness will tell you that stress is like poison. While I may have immediate physical effects, stress is damaging to everyone. People have died from work-related stress. There’s even a word for it in Japan, Karoshi meaning ‘overwork death’. How terrifying is that? We live in a world that literally works people to death. No job, no paycheque, is worth running ourselves into the ground for.

I’m trying to opt out of the rat race for want of something slower and simpler. I’m much happier on the sidelines.

Self Care Sunday: Magical Magnesium

This is the first in my new self care series. On Sundays I will be posting things I’ve been doing to take care of myself. Mostly to keep myself accountable for my own care, but also to encourage you guys to take the time to focus on things that make you feel good.

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I’m not a huge fan of the consumerist version of ‘treat yo self’ because I’m trying to live with less stuff. I’m a recovering impulse buyer, I don’t need the temptation. But self care is about what works for you. You rock. Whether you’re working, studying, healing, you are doing a fantastic job and need to reward yourself. If we let our well-being fall by the wayside, then other parts of our lives begin to suffer. I neglected to take care of myself and listen to my body. I tried to work as if I were a healthy human being and my work suffered and caused a whole host of issues and stress. It was a hard lesson to learn.

Now, on to my self care. Fantastic news, friends. I have been pain-free for three whole days. Now, that might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the midst of a severe fibro flare. This is three days of zero pain after five weeks of constant often debilitating pain. I feel fantastic! My legs still feel weak and I still need my cane when I leave the house, but this is the closest I’ve felt to normal in so long.

What do I attribute to this euphoria? Magnesium. Not the oral supplement. I have been taking that for months with zero improvement. No, what I did was have a bath in magnesium flakes. It’s made with magnesium oil and absorbs better into the body than supplements – at least for me. It’s meant to be five times more effective than Epsom salts.

I’m a girl who loves to soak, so when I stumbled across the magnesium bath flakes I needed no further encouragement. I was ready to hop in the tub. I also added a few drops of some essential oils for a full spa experience (the first time it was with Eco Aroma’s ‘Sinus Blend’ because I was battling a cold. The next baths were with lavender and rosemary).

The suggestion is for a 30 minute bath, it gives the magnesium time to absorb. I grabbed my kindle and settled in for a nice long soak. It was really relaxing and when I – reluctantly – climbed out, I felt really good. No pain. The next day? No pain. Once I hit about 4pm at work I could feel an ache in my wrists, but it was nothing compared to what I had been experiencing. It was much more manageable. I also found that if I had the bath closer to bedtime, I slept better. One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is difficulty sleeping or non-restorative sleep. I found I woke up less during the night. I’ve been using it daily for three days now and if the benefits keep up, I will not be turning back.

If baths are not your thing, magnesium oil is available in sprays and gels for topical, daytime use (I’ve just ordered the gel myself for when I’m out and about). The brand I used is Amazing Oils because it had the best reviews, but feel free to try out other brands. It’ll be available on Amazon and in health food stores. It comes with a bit of a price tag, definitely more expensive than buying Epsom salts from your local supermarket. I think it’s worth the cost if it relieves my pain and makes me a functional human being again. A handful per bath is all you need and if you don’t have chronic pain, then it will go far. Girls, this stuff will work miracles for cramps as well.

I’m happy to make this a permanent part of my self-care ritual and I hope that if any of you guys try it, that you reap the benefits, too. Take care of yourself, friends!

 

Making My Minimalist Wardrobe

“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.”

Rebecca Bloomwood – Confessions of A Shopaholic

When I started this minimalist journey, my first stop was the wardrobe. And the drawers. And the other set of drawers. And the under-bed storage. And, to be completely honest, the floor. There were clothes everywhere. Things I hadn’t worn in years. Things I hadn’t worn at all. There were clothes that looked better on the hanger, deals that were too good to pass up and things that I was sure I was going to wear eventually. But eventually never came and they sat forlorn in my wardrobe while I wend out, swiped my card and got newer, trendier clothes that I definitely did not need. Then I would stare at my bank account balance and wonder why I was broke. Again.

It was a bad enough habit without taking my disease into account. Do you have any idea how much laundry I had to do? I still have nightmares about it *shudder*. I can’t do that much laundry. It wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t manageable, but it was certainly stressful. My fibromyalgia is in a pretty bad place right now and the other week I was attempting to do a load of laundry and took a tiny step sideways.

Boom.

Pain exploded in my hip and down my leg. It was all I could do not to scream. Needless to say the laundry fell by the wayside. I was bedridden for the rest of the day and lost the remainder of my Sunday. All because I had so much I had to do.

Enter minimalism.

Now, the primary reason for my interest in minimalism is the widespread reports of less stress. Stress is a huge trigger for fibro and so anything I can do to drastically reduce stress could reduce the severity of my symptoms and prevent flare ups. An added benefit is: less stuff, less cleaning. Cue the hallelujah chorus because I have less laundry! Cleaning is hard. And boring. And nobody wants to do it. But when overdoing it can leave me bedridden in excruciating pain? Extra awful.

Now, back to the clothes. Before The Purge I looked around and done my research on minimalist wardrobes. Between that and my own experience there are a few key takeaways I found:

 

1. Empty it ALL out on the bed

My bed looked like a plush mountain after I dragged everything out. It was insane and it really drove home how ridiculous my clothes habit was. It reaffirmed that I was making a sound decision. Plus the mess made sure that I stuck with the task until it was finished.

2. Donate, Decide, Dump

I set up three cardboard boxes (which quickly turned into five as they filled up) for clothes to donate (or sell if you have some good quality items and are looking for extra cash), clothes I was torn over and clothes that weren’t in good enough condition to donate and had to be thrown away. After I had gone through everything, I went through the Decide box/es and narrowed things down further. In the end, most of them ended up in the Donate boxes anyway.

2.Keep items that you love and regularly wear

There’s no point keeping that cardigan I bought a few months ago that makes me itch. Forget price tags (seriously, it saves some anguish) and forget sentimentality. If it isn’t comfortable, if it doesn’t make me feel good, I am not going to want to wear it. Who wears things that make them feel like crap? Nobody.

3. Pick a neutral colour scheme

I’m not saying wear black, black and more black (unless that’s your thing, then go for it! Ryan over at The Minimalists wears a black t-shirt and jeans and that is it). But a few neutral colours set a good base for your wardrobe. They can go with one another and, more importantly, they will go with the statement pieces (more on that in a second. My scheme is black, navy, grey, white and variations on tan (beige, blush etc. You get the idea). If everything is cohesive, it saves one from struggling to get ready in the morning. It also prevents this:

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Sorry Cher, but I do not have time for that. I have better things to do. Like sleep.

4. Have a few statement pieces

This is what keeps me from looking like I’ve stepped out of a sepia photograph. Bright clothes and accessories pair well with the muted tones and keep things interesting. Keep it minimal (har har) so that you keep it cohesive.

5. There is no ‘Number’

I gave myself no limit. I didn’t want rules that inhibited what I thought would be a really difficult process. As long as your wardrobe is deliberate and full of things that make you feel good that you’ll wear, then your purge is a success. In the end, I ended up with about 60 – 70 items including shoes and accessories. It all fits nicely and cleanly in one section of the wardrobe (my partner was pleasantly surprised). I have what I consider to be a good number, but I didn’t give myself a number.

 

Honestly, the whole thing was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I began talking to my clothes, as crazy as that sounds. I managed to decide on what I would and wouldn’t wear pretty quickly. Afterwards I did the same for shoes and accessories and then for my makeup. For someone who had hundreds of clothes, I had it all done in under two hours. Afterwards I felt great. I felt lighter. And I was excited for the next time I needed to get ready, because it was going to be a breeze.

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.