*Note from A Chronic Voice: Kristin has a herniated disc, and the pain has made life more challenging for her while raising three kids at the same time. Despite these challenges, travelling is still a big part of her and her family’s life. In fact, it was from one of her trips that she realised how much a minimalistic lifestyle could help with managing her chronic pain, and bring her joy. Read more about it here:
How My Life Changed Forever
It was a day just like any other day when I bent down to pick up a piece of paper off the floor, to keep it away from my crawling baby when my life changed forever. “POP!” (Not a sound you ever want to hear coming from inside your body.) The pop sound came from my lower back, and I knew something was really wrong. I couldn’t stand up straight and had to call my in-laws for help. (Not an ideal situation when one has a five month old who has just learnt to crawl.)
The pop, as we would find out after multiple doctor and physiotherapy appointments, X-rays and MRIs, was a herniated disc – L5S1. Being only 23 years old, an operation was totally out of the question for me. My only chance for recovery and to start building a strong back was to start strength training—something not so easy to commit to when you have a 5 month old baby.
Fast forward to 12 years later and I still have a back problem. It comes and goes depending on whether I am pregnant or not, if I train or not, and if I do yoga or not. And until recently it has been a major consideration in my life. I allowed it to define me.
“Mama can’t do that because it will hurt her back.”
“Mama needs to lie down because her back hurts.”
It was one of my biggest enablers which allowed me to live a more sedentary life.
How Traveling Changed My Perspective
The changing point in my life didn’t come like a big lightning strike when I least expected it. It was more subtle than that. And like other life lessons I have learned, it came when I was not at home, but when I was out exploring the world. You see, when I am out exploring the world I have more time to reflect, I have less “noise”, and more time to listen to myself.
I’ve had lots of little mini “aha’s” over the past four years, and the one that sticks out most in my mind came as a combination between two trips. One when I went with my husband and kids to Disneyworld, and the other when I traveled to Sri Lanka with my extended family. The contrast of these two holidays over a two month period couldn’t have been more drastic. Disneyworld, the home of consumerism and magic vs. Sri Lanka, a developing country with a stark contrast between the rich and poor. In Disneyworld there was an endless stream of magic, lights, screaming children wearing Mickey ears, and sensory overload. Driving through the slums and villages of Sri Lanka I witnessed people without shoes, and children with no toys in sight, who were peaceful, content, and joyful. It was such an unexpected experience.
How Sri Lanka Affected My Lifestyle
It was after the Sri Lanka trip that I investigated minimalism and slowly started to integrate the philosophy into our life. My husband and I decided to have a third child, and expand our family and our happiness because we realised none too soon that things didn’t bring us happiness, but family connections and bonds did.
After the birth of our third child, things were going really well. I quickly jumped back into life and surprised even myself about how well everything seemed to be going. But it was short lived.
After a petrifying gall bladder attack I discovered that I needed a surgery to remove my gall bladder. That changed everything and the stark reality was that I couldn’t go on ignoring my body’s need to be looked after. And after the operation, my back – which had held up pretty well over the third pregnancy – took a massive turn for the worst and I ended up back in hospital, frustrated beyond belief. How could I have let this happen again?
The Biggest Surprise of All
But what surprised me the most – in spite of all the physical setbacks, was my strong determination to take charge of my back problem once and for all. How did this connect to my new, more minimal lifestyle? I really believe that I was so determined to remove things that were just distractions to living my best life that I finally viewed my health issues for what they truly were. My health issues did not define me. They were a distraction – something to be dealt with. I finally realized that I was Kristin. I lived with back pain, but I was a million wonderful things – I just happened to have a temperamental back. Once I was able to put back pain in its proper place, I began to grow even more.
The Beginnings of a Minimalistic Lifestyle
Have you heard of Courtney Carver? She is one of the original online minimalists who shares her story on her website, Be More with Less. When she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she made a decision to change her life through minimalism. She started to minimize her commitments and belongings, which in turn helped her to minimize her stress, which helped her to manage her illness. She has a wardrobe which consists of only 33 things per season, which helps decrease her decision fatigue.
When I discovered her, I was in awe of her ability to self direct her life, despite having the difficult diagnosis of MS. If she was able to change her life and symptoms so dramatically, why couldn’t that work for me? It was certainly worth a try.
In the meantime, my back issues continued to cause me quite a bit of stress. It was a snowball effect: the back pain contributed to sleepless nights, which in turn caused new problems. Even my upper back began to cause me pain. This stress rolled over into my day. I had little energy to tend to the mess in the kitchen. The clutter in our lounge room made me anxious. I am certain I was becoming more and more difficult to live with and truthfully, there were times I didn’t even recognize myself. I got to a point where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. The stress was building and I knew I had to do something otherwise I was worried I was on the brink of a breakdown.
Less Things. More Life.
Little by little, in keeping with the minimalistic approach, I decided to get rid of things so that I could take some of the hassle out of life. Minimalism gave me something to focus on, other than my pain. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning knowing that even some movement, any movement, would be of help to myself.
This year is the first time I have made the time to make myself a priority. Notice I didn’t say I found the time. I made the time. Because really, we all have the same 24 hours, and we’re all busy. If you want to make a change, the time will not suddenly appear on your calendar as if by magic.
I rearranged my day according to my real priorities. I previously had no time to write. Now I write in the morning at the start of my day, and I spent the first 100 days of the year practising yoga every day. These two changes alone not only helped to reduce my pain during the day, but the creative outlet that writing provided helped to reduce the jaw clenching that led to all kinds of stress and pain. And you know what? I have finally started to get strong, like really strong! I can see and feel a difference in my arms and legs. My stomach and back will take more time, but seeing the little differences along the way in other parts of my body have motivated me to keep on going with my strength exercises.
A Work in Progress
It is still a work in progress and although I am not pain free, I am starting to see myself as someone other than Kristin, the one with a bad back. I am Kristin the writer, Kristin the photographer, Kristin the yogi, Kristin the minimalist. Kristin who will now experiment with new ideas to see if they will work for me – and if they don’t they get pushed to the side and I’m again ready to try something new. But what I can say works for sure is less. Less stress, less stuff, and less worry. Less stuff gives me more. More time for me, more time for my family and more from life.
Minimalism isn’t a magic solution that will solve all your problems. But if you’re ready to see more clearly by prioritizing what is truly important to you, clearing away the junk and the noise can really help. It can help you reset your priorities and give you back energy to focus on what really matters.
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only, and shouldn’t be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your doctor first before changing protocols. Thank you once again to Kristin for taking the time to share her life story and lessons with us!
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For More Insight:
- 8 Ways to Combat Decision Fatigue (article on Huffington Post): https://goo.gl/A33QaQ
- 4 signs you may be suffering from decision fatigue—and how to combat it (article on CNBC): https://goo.gl/Q3NfB4
- How to be Happier and More Productive by Avoiding ‘Decision Fatigue’ (article on Buffer): https://goo.gl/a8aLvy
- What is Minimalism (The Minimalists’ website): https://goo.gl/RNvPt
- Minimalism: An Elevator Pitch (article on The Minamalists): https://goo.gl/UUNfdN