It’s Ok to Sit This One Out. Choosing Your Battles..

For Type A’s, and those with chronic illness or mental health struggles: It’s ok to sit this one out. It’s ok to just walk away sometimes.

We don’t have to be all out, all the time. We don’t have to fight every battle we are invited to. We don’t have to prove ourselves to everyone who demands it, especially our own shadow. Sometimes we just need to be with our pain for a bit, or let it go. Do what we need to take care of our self.  

One of the most repeated lessons that comes up for me, is knowing when to fight and when to put down the sword.  Sometimes, we have no choice- for some people, especially those more oppressed and marginalised, battle is necessary for survival on a daily basis. And that can be exhausting. For some people, maybe the more Type B personality, or relatively healthy people who struggle with procrastination and lethargy-  good kick in the pants is the right thing.

But, often for those with chronic illness or mental health struggles- self-care is a matter of conserving much needed energy- and sometimes choosing not to fight is the best option.

It may not even be a fight or a battle- just something that requires a lot of our energy- and we need to check whether it is worth it or not. In the last few years, probably thanks to my chronic pain, and innate perfectionist, Type A nature, I am much more keenly aware of how I am spending my energy and whether it is worth it. My body usually tells me the answer through pain, fatigue, or just feeling ‘not myself’. For someone like me- who likes to be active, participate, experience life in as many ways possible, having chronic pain is a real bummer. And so is being an introvert, and a Highly Sensitive Person. Different parts of me are often at cross-purposes, and I need to make a lot of quick micro decisions to keep myself healthy and well. I am sure some of you can relate.

Asian woman with samurai sword on the nature

I find as I get older and wiser about myself, I note the things that use up a lot of energy, and the things that aren’t worth it. Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘Spoon Theory‘…

The ‘Spoon Theory’ is an analogy those with chronic illness and mental health struggles use to describe to others the limited energy they have, and how going through the motions of simple daily tasks may exhaust and deplete them compared to an average person. It’s pretty simple- ‘spoons’ are a measurement of energy. Some people have more spoons than others. Each task throughout the day requires a certain number of spoons. Some of us run out earlier than others. Some tasks require more spoons for us than others. For one person, taking a shower and going grocery shopping takes up half the day’s spoons. For someone else, it barely makes a dent in the number of spoons for the day. They have plenty more spoons to spare.

Another example, someone may find 6 hours of sleep a night enough to replenish all their spoons. Often those of us with chronic illness/mental health struggles need at least 8 and often more.

Even if we don’t have a chronic illness, I think it is wise to be aware of where our energy goes on a regular basis and honor our own limitations. For instance, lately I have been paying more attention to the nature of my thoughts- I notice my mind has been very busy running around in all directions and how draining that is on my energy. I notice that when I dwell on negative thoughts- past, present or future oriented- it takes up a lot of spoons. So, I am experimenting with catching those negative/fearful thoughts early on- and if they are unproductive for me, I try to move that energy into a productive course of expression. I might do a breathing exercise or do calming visualisations if I am in public.  if I am home, beat my drum, write it out on paper. I also like to use aromatherapy or physical exercise to calm and ground myself. Often, I find my spoons get saved by doing these things.

What about political/social/spiritual/interpersonal conflicts? What about those battles we fight- for ourselves, for loved ones, for those people and causes we care about? Sometimes, it can be extremely draining to try to explain or educate someone on your point of view when you don’t have many spoons left. Especially if that person is highly unlikely to see things from a point of view other than their own and/or simply wants to fight with you for some personal reason. It can also be very depleting if something someone says triggers us, and we go into a deeply wounded place inside of us or have trauma flashbacks.

This can happen anytime, with anyone. It an happen in person with family or friends, or with friends or strangers online. Online is where things can get dicey- because we don’t have the nuances of face to face contact. For me, online conversations take way more spoons than face to face conversations. Because, trying to convey a thing in writing, in a way that is clear, takes more energy for me- and I value the physical and emotional impressions and connection that we glean in person or even through a phone conversation.

With family and loved ones, there are deeper, older strands of emotional baggage to move through, and that can take a whole day of spoons if we don’t know where our line is.

So, I try to check in and see if this activity or battle is worth engaging in. We can ask ourselves:

How many spoons do I have left right now?

Is this battle/activity worth it?

Is it a productive use of my energy?

Will saving some spoons now leave me more for a future time when I can deal with this more effectively?

Is now the best time to handle this?

Is there another option here I haven’t considered?

What would happen if this time I just walked away?

What would happen if I said that while I care deeply about this issue, or this person, right now I just don’t have the energy and that’s ok?

Give yourself permission to be strong yet passive. To care, but rest. To take care of it all by doing nothing.

To hide so you can replenish and emerge anew.

We don’t have to be all out, all the time. We don’t have to fight every battle we are invited to. We don’t have to prove ourselves to everyone who demands it, especially our own shadow. Sometimes we just need to be with our pain for a bit, or let it go. Do what we need to take care of our self.  

My mantra is to be kind to myself. Its simple but it saves me spoons.

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