Why I Don't Want It All
It must have been the ‘80s, just when I was coming of age. The values of the time were those of extremes. More drugs, more sex, more money than ever before. The beginnings of globalization, the expansion of technology, and a huge growth in population. More was more. I think that’s where the do whatever it takes in order to have it all attitude started. It led to a culture of busy, tired, and stressed out people jacked up on coffee and other stimulants or numbed by drugs and other distractions in order to suppress our feelings of guilt and shame about not having it all, only to lead us to push harder to do whatever it takes. The vicious circle is obvious. Except when you’re it in.
I used to be one of those people. I saw a full spectrum of opportunities and possibilities and I was determined to have them all. Today, it’s even easier to be seduced by the have it all philosophy, with so much accessible and simplified streaming of listicles. (Yes, this is now a word.) Articles with easy-to-understand lists of how to succeed at life. Top 10 reasons, 7 habits, 5 secrets, 3 keys, and a partridge in a pear tree. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for a good list. Lists are tidy, orderly, finite. They’re great for grocery shopping, packing for trips, and things you want to discuss with your doctor. Things you don’t want to forget and don’t want to have to think about. And this is the proverbial elephant in the room. The thing I didn’t want to admit, much less deal with. I didn’t want to think for myself.
For the first few years of my illness (i.e. burn-out), I went to a variety of practitioners looking for answers to no avail. One day I burst into tears and confessed. I said to my husband, “I just want someone to tell me what to do!” Being the wise man he is, he gently replied, “I know. But you’re going to have to find the answers yourself.” I started doing my own research and piecing together the puzzle. I began to heal myself. I have had to ignore popular opinion and “expert” advice. I have had to be open and willing to fail. I have had to be patient and understand that real solutions have an entirely different flavour than a quick fix. There is no list that deals with all my symptoms in their entirety - just as there is no list that deals with all of life’s challenges.
I used to be one of those people who wanted it all. Because I didn’t want to miss out on anything, I have had to give up almost everything. At first, I felt like life was passing me by. I felt left out, then ignored, then forgotten. And that felt like dying. Illness has a separateness that even the closest relationships cannot penetrate. Without writing, I would have continued to suffer. But it allowed me to clear my head and let everything out. All the anger and upset and regret and sadness. And when I was done, I had only blank pages. A small but clean canvas from which to create. To do my own thinking. I no longer had all the colours from which to choose, but this brought an unexpected benefit. I learned discernment.
Today, I play with only my favourite colours. I choose my commitments consciously. I value my time and myself far more than I ever did, because I recognize that I have precious resources and must be prudent with them. If I never gain back all my strength and energy, that’s okay. Because though I have far less quantity in my life, I have far more quality. There is an old German proverb that approximately translates thusly: A man who has too many choices will know torment. And in the words of Steven Wright, “It’s a small world. But I wouldn’t want to paint it.”