I didn't even notice it until I was in tears. It finally took hold of me. I was overwhelmed.
Normally, I'm blessed to walk around with a pretty large container. In other words, I have the capacity to take on a lot. Whether it's a full house of projects with multiple deadlines, or being there for family or friends in need, or receiving and assimilating input from several sources as I walk my path. And, so often I feel fed, nourished, loved.
So, it's not often my container overflows. This week it did.
I started noticing that every time I watched or read the news or got into a discussion about some outrageousness that was happening, I got a huge knot in my gut, a heaviness that moved up to my chest. A load that I could previously shake off. A feeling that didn't stay with me.
This week it did.
And, as someone who's always been independent, as an introverted extrovert, I've been a-okay with being a solo container much of the time. I don't get lonely. In fact, I have a tendency to isolate by choice, spending a lot of time alone. Some of that is built in as a writer. And, I usually don't have issues with not being a part of an event, of not being included in something.
This week I did.
It came rushing, unexpected, like a slow-motion tidal wave of wet fog.
It tugged at me when I heard of and saw pictures of my family all enjoying each other, loving each other, while I'm half a country away. Now, I've been a long distance sibling, daughter, aunt, sister-in-law for over 20 years. And, it's not tugged at me before, not as a usual thing. I love seeing them love each other.
This week it did.
It pulled at me when I saw pictures on social media of a bunch of friends at an event that wasn't on my radar so I wasn't there. And, then What's App inadvertently tossed me off the app so that when I re-registered I couldn't get back into a group text with some of my favorite women. I could peek into the group but I couldn't get back in. Previously, I would chalk these up to timing and other plans and technology glitches that can be fixed. They wouldn't pull at me like the anchor of an avalanche.
This week they did.
It haunted me when I got stuck on some writing projects and rather than honing in and focusing on the project at hand I procrastinated with a game app. Normally I could relax in the game and then get back to it, refreshed.
This week I couldn't.
What was going on? It was easy to recognize that I was feeling overwhelmed. But, there was something deeper. Different. Unfamiliar yet so familiar. Surprising, yet not. Then, it hit me, which is what caused the tears to flow. The gnawing feeling that spread like waves on a very personal shore? This was separation.
I felt separate. Separate from people I love. Separate from my writing, from the deep work I love. Separate from belonging. Disconnected from the sparks of life all around me. It was exhausting.
So, I went to the place where I usually go first for solace. I sat with pen to paper. "What's going on?" I wrote. And, nothing came.
Nothing. For several moments. Then, this whisper floated from my fingertips:
"Where am I separate from myself?"
Ah. There it was. In what ways have I split away from being? And, what has caused it?
The response was gentle but direct. "The reason you're separate from yourself is that there's no room in your container for you. You have too many spigots coming in that are turned on full blast."
Whew, what a visual. I saw myself gasping for air, being pummeled by numerous faucets that became aggressive water hoses. It made total sense. But, it didn't make the anxiety lessen.
As a common trait, I don't often reach out for help. I usually dig deep into my own container for solace and inner knowing. This time I did reach out. Probably because I couldn't find myself amongst the chaos. After a text to my sister, "I feel separate," she immediately called and talked me through my teary moment. And, the first thing she said, "you gotta get off the grid," reiterated the earlier message from my inner wisdom.
I knew it went deeper than just going off the grid, but it felt like a good start.
Turning off the spigots so there's space in my container for me, space for my own well to spring.
So, I committed to get off the grid for the weekend. Then, I started listening to "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport, on Audible, which I'd forgotten I'd purchased until after my chat with my sister. He talks about the science behind the idea that those very things you do that you think are connecting you to the world: social media, apps, news notifications, texting, are the very things that can make you feel separate, disconnected from your own humanness. He suggests a 30-day digital declutter.
This really resonated with me. I've been doing the KonMari Method (Marie Kondo) and have loved the openness it's created in my home. In fact, I bought Newport's book because it made sense to continue with the decluttering in the digital space once I was done with the home. But, with the container crisis upon me, now was the time.
I made a list of all of the digital areas that were to be removed for 30-days:
- Social media (unless for work. I'll hear about something if it's important)
- All news (I'll hear about something if it's important)
- Phone & game apps (these are my go-to for numbing out when overwhelmed. In fact, I'm addicted)
- Email (unless work or friend/family related)
- Google (unless work related)
- Other websites (unless work related)
- No binge watching
- No NPR
Then I wrote, "Can I do this? I must do this." After 30 days, according to Newport, we are to reassess and add things back in that are beneficial. Choose what spigots are turned on and when.
But, turning off the spigots is only the first step to reconnecting with self. It's been just a few days and I already feel lifted by the bits of space that are showing up. It's not been easy. In fact, I'm having withdrawals and find myself sometimes fiddling with what to do with myself if I'm not on my phone.
And, in the space, here's what's coming:
Connecting - making more of an effort to reach and connect with friends, in person. I'm already benefitting from this and look forward to doing more. Community makes you feel a part of something, less separate. So you feel more connected to yourself.
Human Touch - whatever that means to you. This weekend, it meant getting a massage. Human touch is vital for connecting with your own body.
Gratitude - spending time in deep gratitude. For being so loved and also for loving family and friends. For an abundance universe filled with opportunity and generosity. And, for every experience and situation that brings lessons that drive and lift life. Gratitude is like a glue that puts you back together again. A life adhesive.
Prayer & Meditation - asking for guidance about will serve my highest good, and for the people and world I care about. Meditation is THE best way I've found to reconnect with myself.
Breath - I realized throughout this episode how much I was holding my breath. Just breathing deep and allowing the healing of our own breath to surge through our bodies can be so effective and helpful. Just pausing for ten deep inhales/exhales resets everything.
Focus on Purpose - when in overwhelm, there isn't time, space or energy to see through the trees. Turning off the spigots has allowed the mist and fog to clear so that I can center in on purposeful activities, like writing and storytelling.
What's Expansive - Newport talks about looking for active, new things to try. Healthy things that expand your life. For me, I'm going to take up piano lessons again and get back to French class and hiking. I'd forgotten how much music inspires, calms and fills me up. I've rediscovered music on the radio after bidding adieu to NPR for the next month. Joy and pleasure connects the fibers of our being.
The pit in my tummy still comes in waves, but I'm finding my own inner wellspring, which is calmer and the air already feels lighter and sweeter. More space. With the spigots off, the wonder finds room again.
That's something, to be sure.