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I have shared many times about the levels of stress and busyness in my life, and my random attempts to grasp at adjusting them, including things like self-induced art therapy and going on antidepressants.
At the same time as going on the antidepressants, I started seeing my counsellor to try to find ways to deal with my life-overload.
She spoke a lot about setting boundaries and cutting things out of my life, as if that is just a normal thing that people can do. I am pretty sure I fully cringed every single time she said it - the concept of "making cuts" in life seemed impossible. As she began to notice that the concept of removing things from my life was causing me some kind of physical pain, so she switched her tactic. She started to talk about prioritizing.
This was obviously a trick. Picking priorities is essentially the same as cutting things, because I was still going to have to choose some things over others. Elimination would happen. It was a trick, but it was a USEFUL trick. It was one that I could at least begin to work with.
So let's start by making a list of the things I consider to be top priorities in life:
-Work, which is necessary, and generally fulfilling.
-Social justice/inclusion work which takes time and is so important, and also involves a lot of learning, which takes time.
-My relationship with my partner.
-I need to be home sometimes because I love my cat and she gets lonely and I also miss her cuddles.
-I also need to be home sometimes because apparently rest is important.
-I would like to see my family more often.
-Spiritual growth and spiritual things like church and meditation.
-I don't want my body to shrivel up, so exercise and fitness must factor in.
-Eating decently and not spending all my money means I need to take time to grocery shop and cook meals.
-I'd like a home that is relatively clean and liveable so it feels good and relaxing when I come home to my cat cuddles.
-I don't spend enough time reading anymore and would really like to do that more.
-Being involved in the theatre community (which is my industry) is important for my professional development and is also fun. Gotta see shows, go to conferences, and generally participate.
-Friends! Friends are THE MOST IMPORTANT and take time investment so that you aren't just "catching up" every time you see each other.
-Then there's the birthdays, babies, and weddings that friendships bring! And the parties you plan for these things for your friends.
-Time in nature! It's so good for the soul!
-I really want to be informed about what's going on in the world AND keep up with psychology research and news, because that's my other love besides theatre and I like keeping on top of it.
-I always have ideas bouncing around in my head for various creative projects and if I don't act on them once in a while I will go insane.
Ummmmmmm.... So those are my TOP priorities. That's manageable, right? I can have 18 top priorities, can't I? Especially given that, in my crippling fear of ever being alone, I have gathered a HUGE security blanket of people in the "friends" category, so investing in all these people could basically fill a full time work schedule, and I am unwilling to let any of them go because they are all incredible humans? It will just take TIME MANAGEMENT. Wait, that's what got me into this whole mess in the first place: thinking I could do everything and be friends with everyone, so long as I managed my time better. CRAP!
With a lot of uncomfortable wriggling where it felt like my insides were trying to squish themselves against the back of my body to get as far as possible from what the front of my body was doing, I actually started picking a more limited number of priorities. I thought about the friends who might actually be around for the rest of my life and who I wanted to be nursing home neighbours with. I thought about actual long-term goals and the activities that will support them. I thought about family and my partner. I sighed and made a weird guttural sound of discomfort SO MANY TIMES and eventually, I had a new, shorter list of top priorities.
I looked at my new list and felt... a little tiny bit of peace. Relief. Like, hey, maybe these are the things that are actually most important to me. Maybe I don't need EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to make me feel safe in life.
Here's something I realized: this process definitely felt like a gross and horrible thing to do, but it's actually something everyone does. EVERYONE picks their priorities, it's just that most people do it instinctively, as things arise. Most people aren't so afraid of winding up alone that they blow out every door and wall in their life, letting every single thing in. They make these choices on a subconscious level.
So now I have this list, what the heck do I do with it?
Here is the thing I really wanted to share. What do you do once you've figured out that you need to set priorities, you have an idea of what you want those priorities to be, and you are really bad at putting up boundaries?
Here's what I'm trying: monthly priorities checks.
Every month, I'll take a look at my list and look at my calendar and compare them. I'll start scheduling in the priorities, including scheduling a home night where I can chill out and read, friendship times, or nature time.
Sometimes, or maybe a lot of the time, this means my month will fill up in advance. That doesn't feel great, but it was already filling up in advance. At least this time it'll be full of the most valuable things instead of whatever happened to come up first, right?
Let's see how this goes.
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