Prioritizing: Learning How for Mental and Physical Health

Prioritizing: Learning How for Mental and Physical HealthPrioritizing is often what people are talking about when they talk about simplifying or minimalism, especially when they expand it to include talking about your schedule, your time, what activities you do, etc. Many of them say that to be successful in cleaning or decluttering your home you have to prioritize it. You have to make time and energy to do it, and that often we have that time and energy but we’re spending it somewhere else. And that when we figure out our priorities, like wanting a clean home or a less hectic schedule, we get rid of mental, digital, physical or schedule clutter, like going on social media or watching TV, we have that time and energy. Although I disagree with this last statement, they all have a point that we have to prioritize because we can’t do everything. This is especially true of people with chronic illnesses and pain. We can’t do everything even other people can do. We have to not only get rid of the nonessentials (the clutter) but also prioritize the activities we want and need to do. I’ve been getting frustrated with my job and PhD program (which are closely related), because it’s been requiring me to go further and further past my limits in energy to accomplish everything others running the program think needs to be done in the time they think it needs to be done. Instead of feeling satisfaction that I’m doing what I need, I get called out for going beyond that, that I’m not attending non-mandatory events, publishing on research that is still only preliminary, or basically surpassing everyone else’s CVs. It’s exhausting and stressful to feel that you’re working as hard as you can and still not doing enough.

On top of that, I realized that I wasn’t setting my priorities myself. Other people were. Last spring, I had to cut everything that wasn’t school/work out of my life—including cooking, working out, etc. because although they help me feel better in the long run, in the very short run they use up a lot of my daily energy and I didn’t have it. I went past my limits, for which I’m still paying, and couldn’t hit everything on my list. I realized that I have to prioritize for myself and priorities instead of let others, supervisors, friends, colleagues, whoever do it for me. It’s way more important to me to do the physical care in order to make sure that I can continue to work year after year, not just this year. I can’t go past my limits daily or chronically without paying for it in other ways, often in terms of increased pain and fatigue.

And sometimes, as much as I would like to spend the time I do binge watching a show or reading for fun doing something “productive,” I can’t. It doesn’t matter what I can do with that time if I have no energy. And often, I need this downtime to recover. I can’t give up restful activities in order to work a second job or exercise more. If I exercise more, often it means something else has to go. This is a myth for chronically ill people (and maybe for everyone!) that you can just stop doing some down time activities and then be able to do all the things you want to do everyday. Sometimes, it’s impossible to even read something challenging or type. I would rather do something creative or healthy like write in this blog or exercise than rewatch episodes of my favorite TV show, but I don’t have that energy all the time. So I have to prioritize. And of course, convince my brain that it is okay to make these decisions. Necessary actually. 

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