There is only so much time. We have only so much space. We have only so much mental bandwidth and psychic resources. Anything we do, say, think, feel, and keep displaces other options. The truth of this is evident when I bring out the Bucket of Racquetballs and start tossing them to my dog. He can only fit one in his mouth while trying and failing to pick up a second ball. When the third, fourth, fifth, and twelfth balls start bouncing around the room, he gets so overwhelmed that he runs outside. One ball is plenty to entertain him. We can learn a lot from this. I do better when I focus on one thing at a time, whether that’s listening, working on a project, or looking where I’m going. This simple insight could have come to me many years sooner, but my life was so convoluted and hectic that I couldn’t figure it out. A lot had to be subtracted before I could add in focus and mental clarity.
What are things we can subtract in order to add something better?
Subtract debt to add financial security
Subtract clutter to add simplicity
Subtract options to add decisiveness
Subtract grime to add sparkle
Subtract selfishness to add compassion
Subtract resentment to add affection
Subtract excess body fat to add agility
Subtract self-pity to add grit
Subtract a feeling of scarcity to add generosity
Subtract anger to add tenderness
Subtract certainty to add curiosity
Subtract opinions to add freedom
At the time that I started eliminating the chronic pain and fatigue from my life, I had no idea how many beliefs I held that were contributing to my problems. I let them go and changed my mind only very slowly and reluctantly. Looking back from my pain-free perspective, I feel so sad for my past self. My mind was so rigid I couldn’t take in the pieces of information that set me free. I believed my condition was incurable, I believed that most activities would make me feel worse in both the short and long term, I believed I was an expert on my condition, I believed I knew everything there was to know about it, I believed it was my job to educate everyone I met about [fibromyalgia in my case], I believed that I was living out a sad fate, I believed that anyone who challenged my statements or beliefs about my illness was criticizing me rather than trying to help me. I believed I was entitled to sympathy and special consideration. I believed I should not be obligated to carry the same load as other people whom I perceived to be stronger or luckier.
Subtract all that. Now I believe different things. I am getting different results. I believe that I have the power to change every aspect of my body in many ways. I believe that sleep, hydration, micronutrients, body composition, sedentary behaviors, and range of motion are seriously, devastatingly underestimated as factors in healing. I believe that chronic pain and fatigue, like other illnesses, are the complex result of many factors. I believe that the medical establishment does not have all the answers and that I am a pioneer with a lot to teach. I believe that what worked for me is worth attempting if it might free anyone else from pain and exhaustion. I believe that I am obligated to share my story far and wide, on the off chance that a single person might be relieved of a single minute of desperation and futility (much less pain and fatigue). I believe that I have come a long way, and that there is yet more road ahead of me to explore. I believe I am getting physically stronger and healthier every day. I used to believe that I was remarkably ill and frail for someone so young. Nearly 20 years later, I now believe that I am remarkably fit and healthy for someone my age. I can’t wait until I have “the body of a 20-year-old” and the HAIR of a 60-year-old! Won’t that look amazing!
It’s like this. I used to be in so much pain every day that I needed help to get out of bed. Now I’m a marathon runner and backpacker. I used to get four-day migraines. Now I haven’t had a migraine in over two years. I used to get night terrors. Now I’ve had a single episode in over two years, and I know why it happened. I used to feel that I was stuck with “the body I had.” Now I know that I have total power and that I can have as much flexibility and strength as I’m willing to earn. (Speed, maybe not so much – still working on that one). Maybe I’m completely deluded in my beliefs. Maybe cruel and erratic gods have influenced my life by giving and taking with alternate hands. OR, maybe I’m onto something and what I’m doing is working. My attitude of experimentation and continual willingness to empty my cup (subtraction) in favor of further wisdom and knowledge (addition) seems to be paying off. My results may not impress anyone but me, but they don’t have to. I’m the one who has to wake up as myself every day. I’m the one who has to live with myself. I’m the one who reaps the harvest. I need to attend to my results, reinforce what works, and let go of my attachment to anything that is not producing the desired effect.
I used to be very attached to my physical possessions. I had boxes upon boxes of books and papers. As I subtracted them, I added space for my own writing. I subtracted the words of others and made room for the words I had to speak. I had so many clothes that my closet rod snapped. As I subtracted them, I made room for physical change. I subtracted my old, familiar look and added the fit, strong body I could barely recognize as mine. At first. I’ve added body pride and physical comfort beyond what I ever believed was possible. I used to have a packed pantry. I subtracted the sense of scarcity and added space back to my kitchen and money back to my bank account.
I used to be poor and in debt. I subtracted my fixation on the red ink in my account and entered the place of uncertainty. I started to wonder what wealth felt like. I added the sense that I have the power to earn more money, build my skills, become employable at increasingly higher levels, succeed at things even when I began with no experience, and that it is okay for me to have lots of money. I believe that my bank will never run out of zeroes to tack onto the end of my bank balance. I believe that as money comes my way, I will find places to put it! I believe that I can always, always afford to contribute to charitable enterprises, as volunteer and cheerleader at the minimum, and that the more I give toward a better world, the more freedom and abundance I feel in my own life. I believe that my current feeling of financial comfort can ripple backward through time, coloring my attitude toward my own past, changing my memories and perceptions of myself into something stronger, more empowered, and more endearing.
I don’t have much nostalgia for my younger self. When I look back, I see myself as endlessly stubborn, blind, self-absorbed, clueless, clumsy, and inconsiderate. I could have saved myself so much stress, heartache, pain, and confusion if only I had been less attached to my opinions and beliefs. What I wish I could have subtracted was foolish pride. Every day, I want to add more listening, more caring, more receptivity, more kindness, more humble effort, more attention, more affection and consideration. More strength, more health and vitality, more money – those are fine too!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.