How am I supposed to do everything? … Do I even want to do everything? 

A full plate does not equal success

Two years ago I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Disorder. Is that when you’re just like really tired all the time? … erm, well, the best way I’ve found to describe it is how a healthy person would feel if they hadn’t slept for three whole days is how I feel every day. At only twenty-two, you can imagine how this drastically affects my life and how I feel about my future. For a long time I was incredibly depressed about the quality of life I was capable of having with this diagnosis; this year I discovered its shockingly low mortality rate due to suicide and this almost completely shattered my remaining hope for a normal life. I just thought all these people who had what I had just couldn’t face living this way. 

Previously I lived a life full of late nights, nights out, holidays, always being with my friends, always the last man standing at the party, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, full-time student and part-time job, running 5ks every day as well as weekly yoga. Then one random chest infection wiped my entire life away. Between the lifestyle magazines that have been around for decades and the new age of social media where everybody and (literally) their dog seem to be micro-influencers who appear to have more hours in the day than me, I can’t help but feel completely inadequate. 

You have to work – 40 hours a week if you want to really live (and pay off your student debt); and you have to exercise for an hour at least three times a week – lift weights, an easy 5k and pilates, to stay fit and healthy; and you have to journal and meditate and practise mindfulness and read self help books and go to therapy to maintain good mental health; and you also have to put effort into your friendships, have time to date around so you can find somebody to have a relationship with, and then prioritise this relationship; and visit your family regularly, and you must have hobbies, you must maintain your individuality and have a life of your own outside of all your social obligations, and if you’re quite good at any of these hobbies you should set up an Etsy and make some money – yep you must also build a side business and regularly market it online yourself for free, alongside your other regularly updated social media showing off everything you do, but you must make it look effortless and casual, God forbid you look like you try hard. You must also use these platforms to educate yourself on every world crisis and social issue, and if you do not do something to help you must feel ashamed of yourself, you awful awful human being, and finally you have to practise self care, look nice, smell nice, be nice, eat three balanced and nutritious meals a day, take vitamins and supplements, clean your house, daily, weekly, monthly, get a good eight hours sleep every night, have an affective, multi-step skin care routine, and rest, actually rest, whilst trying to ignore the gnawing feeling of guilt, and a little inking, you just cannot shake, telling you there’s something you’ve forgotten. 

So you’ve got seven 24 hours a week to squash everything in.

How is that even possible? Whose expectations are those? And why are you trying to meet them?

I often make myself sick obsessing over how to emulate lives I see on social media, completely forgetting that I am seeing their perfectly edited snippets and that these people spend my monthly wage on a trip to IKEA. After my diagnosis, and after my phase of denial that I had to change anything about how I lived, I was forced to lay out everything in my life and pick which things I’d like to keep. Out went nights out, eating in the five minutes I could find a break, and having plans every weekend. I threw out pulling all-nighters and even working a part-time job (a luxury I have as a student with a maintenance loan and minimum outgoings). My life is exceptionally slow and quiet, but my quality of life is brilliant, and I feel more stable and content than I ever have.

What this forced slowdown gave me, was an opportunity not many other people create for themselves: an excuse to live selfishly. Because the consequence of using my energy is so severe I spend it exceptionally wisely, if energy were money I would be the cheapest person around, but I would be rolling in cash.

There’s tons of information across all social media platforms claiming to have the secret to perfectly structuring your days, weeks, months or years; what you should do with your time and whom you should give your energy to. And these rules will apparently enhance your life. Please, do not be fooled by the Pinterest infographics; there is no secret formula for ‘the perfect 24 hours’, ‘the perfect week’, or ‘the perfect life’. There is only you, and what you actually want to do with your time. That life that you keep dreaming about: imagine it, what does it look like? Who are you spending Friday night with, and what are you doing? What do you need to add to get to your dream life? And, the question I would really like to focus on: what do you need to take away to get to your dream life? What boundaries do you need to set, how much rest do you need, what fun things would you like to do and who do you actually want to do them with? Who needs to be cut out of your life? Is your job draining the life out of you? Do you perhaps need to drop down to part-time? I have spent the last decade wanting to be a writer, but there wasn’t a thing I’d sacrifice in order to have time to sit alone and write. So when I had to consider how I wanted to spend the limited energy I had, and think I could be bedridden tomorrow if I go out today, I had to work out what my true priorities actually were, and who I was willing to spend my precious energy on. I make no room for outings, people, or activities that fit into these categories: for the sake of it, because somebody else wants to go, for the plot, I’ve got nothing else to do, come on it’s Friday night, I’m young and I only live once, I feel bad cancelling, I don’t really want to but I should. If you find yourself saying these things when asked why you’re doing something, you need to stop and look at how you are living.

The easiest way I have found to work out your true priorities is to write or draw about the life you want.

Make a list of the things you love to do in your spare time. Naturally what you most enjoy will spring to mind and it may surprise you. You could be an absolute party animal but number one on your list might be sitting reading with a cup of coffee. Ask yourself how you feel after you have spent time with the various people in your life, positive or negative? Fulfilled or drained? Do you feel there is an obligation instead of a desire anywhere in your life? That is a sign you are living by somebody else’s standards. Do you tend to react to other people’s milestones by trying to create one of your own – again you are trying to live by someone else’s timeline. It is even as simple as moving your bedtime, cancelling a membership or deleting Hinge. Or it could be as drastic as finding a new job, ending a friendship, and setting boundaries with family members. And please note: if you lose anybody due to any changes you may make, know they are not meant to be in your life if they cannot handle you bettering it. There are no rules, although they would make us feel better and more successful. 

I live like this to remain in good health, but you do not have to wait for a life-changing diagnosis to live how you truly want to live. Be as selfish as you want, stop listening to silly little cliches, and stop living by the made up expectations of what your life should look like. 




By Jess Lydia

Jess Lydia is a young, queer writer driven by her desire to communicate honestly about the universal human experience. She aims to create understanding, empathetic and validating spaces within everything she writes.

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