What Makes You Full?

Eat, pray, love

Image by Cathdew via Flickr

When the movie like “Eat Pray Love” started causing a bit of a stir, I got to thinking about the phrase “living life to the fullest”. What does this mean? More importantly, what does this mean to me (and by extension, you) personally? Does living fully really entail running off to exotic locations? Is it the adrenaline thrill of jumping out of an airplane or some other kind of wild activity? Is making yourself wealthy and materially secure? Is it falling in love and being in a relationship?

It’s an easy trap to think that a person living with a chronic illness is automatically barred from living a full, rich life. Even though I “knew” better, I carried this unspoken assumption with me for years after I was diagnosed with Lupus. In college, not long after I had first gotten the news from my doctor, I had the opportunity to study abroad in London. I gave it up, scared by the idea of being an ocean away from my support network and doctors, especially when I knew so little about lupus at that point. Though my reasons were valid, I regret not going- it’s not often that something like that is handed to you. And though I did a few crazy things in college, I usually leaned more on the side of quiet caution than risk-taking. Did it keep me from getting sick? Most of the time, yes. Do I wish I had cut loose and had a little more fun? Yep. But balance takes time to grow.

After my last big flare in 2007, I was left unemployed, on disability and utterly clueless about what to do with my life. For about two years I was on cytoxan treatments and could barely get out of bed most days. I felt like my whole life was never going to amount to more than being a bedridden drain on my family. Not fun times.

Now? Well, I have traveled alone- to Niagara Falls instead of Bali or India. I was inspired to start this blog. I’m looking into going back to school to hone some new skills in the hope that I can create a work situation that will support my health, instead of damage it…all good things, but am I living my life to the fullest? Are you?

What is Fullness to you?

Besides a good meal, thinking about what makes you feel “full” is an essential place to start. What makes you feel good, great, amazing? What activities give you that “click” where you just fall into the moment? When do you feel excited or at peace? Your answers might surprise you. Take a few minutes and write a list. Make a collage. Write your list on post-it notes and scatter them all over your home – remind yourself about the things you love.

Go for Quality – your quality. It’s sounds like a cliche, but it’s a mistake we all make; driving ourselves crazy with “shoulds” and feeling like we have to measure up to other people’s expectations. In college, people would question me about my not going out to parties, wondering if I was shy or religious or just uptight. Fact was, I just don’t like crowds and most of the bars never played music I enjoyed. So my “parties” were in my dorm room with my closest friends. These are still my favorite “parties” today (plus I save a ton on buying watered-down $8 drinks at the bar). Me and my friends will get together, we’ll have a few drinks and talk until the wee hours of the morning – nobody worries about driving home and we always have a great time. Do I miss standing on long lines and paying cover to be smashed into a crowd of strangers? No way! Don’t shy away from new experiences, but if something doesn’t appeal to you and you don’t have a good time, don’t waste your time on it.

Don’t discount the little things. One of my favorite moments of the day is just waking up, when I’m in that half-asleep state. I enjoy that floaty peaceful moment that comes before my brain chatter kicks in with all the things that need to get done. Another is enjoying a cup of tea or a good book. Sounds dull? Not to me; those peaceful moments are like taking a deep breath and letting any stress blow away. I also really enjoy reinventing things – one of my past projects was revamping my wardrobe with my sewing machine. It’s a challenge to come up with ways to change the shape of my clothing and make the finished result something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear outside. No activity is too small or insignificant if you really love it. Enjoy baking? That’s your fullness. Chess? Do you feel your best when volunteering or even babysitting? Feeding birds in the park? Don’t dismiss something as “silly” or “trivial”- who are you trying to impress?

Be Flexible. While your circumstances might prevent you from going on a year-long world tour to find yourself and rekindle your zest for life, that doesn’t mean you have no options whatsoever. If you’re feeling like you need an escape, try to figure out why- do you need a quiet day to clear your head or maybe a few days in nature to feel recharged? Do you feel like you can’t focus past all the craziness of whatever’s going on for you right now? Try to get to the essence of you’re missing and seek out the essence of a solution. You don’t have to dive into a whole new culture on the other side of the world to learn about family, community or history – you can connect with those values right where you are. Feeling disconnected? Try mentoring or tutoring others. Maybe a quiet spot in a park for 15 minutes a day is exactly what you need to refresh yourself. Maybe volunteering in a completely new field once a week can help you break out of that rut. Experiment, try the unexpected and let yourself be surprised at the result.

Most importantly, remember that life is about progress, not perfection. There is no race, there is no finish line to cross, so don’t feel pressured to dive off the deep end when you’d rather splash around in shallower waters. If, after a little thought, you feel that your life could stand a little fattening up there’s no need to rush into it. Start off simply, take one step at a time and really savor all the fun new experiences you’re going to give to yourself.

Do you know what your fullness is? Comment below and let everyone know! Not sure? How about committing 2012 to finding out?

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