Thursday, July 30, 2020

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum

I'm out of touch. I have no idea what's going on in politics, world news, or local news. I don't know which of my friends or family have changed their relationship status, are having a baby, have moved, or even if they've had a birthday recently. And I certainly don't know the latest celebrity gossip.

I also don't know about the latest gadgets for sale, the newest decorating trends, or the hottest clothing, make-up, or hairstyles. I don't know which recipes everyone's making, the latest fitness craze or the newest diet people are trying.

And this is the happiest I've been in a long time.

How to live your life in a vacuum

Tell everyone that you're taking a break. Or don't--it's up to you. You're not required to inform the public about your decisions for your life.

Stop logging on to social media. Delete it from all your devices and turn off email notifications. Better yet, delete your accounts.

If you're subscribed to any news outlets, shut down those subscriptions.

Don't watch the news on TV or read it online. If an app, like Google, is trying to give you "helpful" suggestions about articles you might be interested in, turn off those notifications.

While you're at it, unsubscribe to any emails that encourage you to buy things. Stop visiting their websites. If the stores are open, don't visit them, either. Make a grocery list, stick to it, and make that your only trip to buy anything.

You may or may not have noticed that this blog doesn't allow for comments. That's on purpose--nobody can leave spam, and nobody can put anything negative either. If someone has something positive to say, or they have a question, they're still more than welcome to email me directly. I just don't see the point in cluttering the blog with a comment section. This is a minimalist blog, after all. Not only that, but I don't write articles so I can display accolades and appreciation for them. I do it to share knowledge and try to help people, and I don't require praise in return.

If anyone you speak to starts to say "Did you hear..." politely but firmly cut them off. Tell them that for your own sanity, you don't want to know. And to please not bring up anything in the future, either.

My mom, who is retired, loves to spend time on Facebook, catching up on what the family is doing. We have a huge family so there's always something going on. Sometimes it's positive, but a lot of it is just drama. She used to try to tell me everything she'd found out, and I finally stopped her because it would put me in a bad mood to hear about it. I said, "Unless someone is born or dying, I don't want to know." I suggest you have the same conversation with all your contacts, particularly the ones who love to gossip.

Maybe that seems harsh. But I'll explain in a little bit why it's a good thing.

Overall, you're going to set some very strict boundaries for yourself and others.

Negative consequences of living in a vacuum

At first, you may go through withdrawal. You may wonder what's going on "out there," and maybe you even relapse and sneak a peek. Or you may find yourself getting caught up in a conversation that you didn't intend to have.

You're going to miss out on things. If you know people who only send invites to events via social media, you won't see them. People might even think that you're ignoring them. 

You'll also miss out on those convenient birthday notifications that Facebook and other apps give. I recently went on Facebook for the first time in over four months and discovered that my friend who died had left me a birthday message on there. His birthday is a few weeks after mine, and I, of course, missed both his message as well as the chance to wish him a happy birthday for the very last birthday he was alive.

A lot of guilt came up with this situation. But I did something very simple to help myself get past it instead of spiraling into more grief. I imagined myself having a conversation with Sundance and telling him how sorry I was that I didn't get his message or wish him a happy birthday. I pictured his response, which would probably be something like, "Awww, it's OK," followed by one of his big bear hugs (he was 6'5") and probably some clever but derogatory name for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg that he'd made up. Then we'd both laugh and everything would be fine.

Because that one moment--the missed birthday wishes--is just a pinpoint in time during our 25-year friendship. I knew him well enough to know what his response to me would be. And there is no way that either of us would let a little blip like that ruin our relationship.

I'm not going to lie and say that it doesn't still hurt to think I missed that chance to interact with him. But that's just a part of the grieving process, and something I'm willing to accept. The pain reinforces my commitment to honoring his memory by standing up against racism whenever I can.

Maybe, after a trial period, you will decide that you can't cut yourself off completely, but also don't want to go back to the same level of interaction you had before. But I encourage you to give this a real shot before you return to the status quo. Here's why.

Positive effects of living outside of society's influence

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a lot happier living this way. There are a lot of reasons for this.

For one thing, I used to tense up each time my mom approached me, knowing that she probably was going to repeat back the latest tidbits about our drama-filled relatives. She still forgets sometimes, but overall I'm less worried about what she'll say when she starts talking. This means I'm not going to dread her wanting to talk to me.

Statistically speaking, people love drama. That's why reality TV is so popular. There's a reason that tabloids have survived for so long and people can get thousands of dollars by selling a candid photo of a celebrity. It's why our favorite stories have what motivational speaker Lisa Nichols calls "the dip;" the low part of the story that builds up suspense right before the high point or "happy ending." 

But drama and negativity are stressful. It's exhausting to our mental health, immune system, and endocrine systems. Emotional stress can lead to physical illness, or exacerbate conditions that are already present. Reduce that stress, and your whole body (including your mind) will feel better.

My second reason for cutting myself off is that I no longer feel attacked, judged, or shamed about not conforming to other people's ideas of who I should be and how I should live my life. I don't spend my time comparing myself to others, who are blessed with a combination of good genes, luck, and enough free time to curate their feeds until they look like the perfect person. It's not real, but that doesn't stop our brains from thinking that it is, and feeling bad because of it.

The age of the internet and social media has led a lot of people to publicize their lives the way celebrities do--every little thing is documented for the world to see. But if you look at celebrities, they generally are not happy with being in the public eye 100% of the time. They try to disguise themselves or hire bodyguards to protect them from paparazzi and fans. When a new relationship or a breakup happens, they usually have to ask for people to respect their privacy. They don't broadcast their phone number or address. 

Sure, not everyone gets the same level of attention as an A-list actor, musician, or athlete. But anyone with a social media account who has enough people paying attention is at risk for the same level of scrutiny as a celebrity. Removing the temptation to share (or over-share) your life on the internet instantly solves the problem of people on the internet judging your life. I'm going to discuss this trend in detail in a future post.

It may not mean that judgy friends or family won't get to you, but at least this way they have less access. You can also choose to ignore their calls or emails for a while.

The last benefit of living in a vacuum is being more present in your life. Any smart dog knows how important it is to focus on the here and now because it's all we have promised to us. Humans have a lot of catching up to dogs in that aspect of life. The future is ever-changing and never guaranteed, and the past is done. I've done a lot of work on living in the moment in the past six months or so, and I know I feel much better for it. Dwelling on what could've been or what might be different have no place in my mind if I want to truly enjoy what's right in front of me.

Living in a vacuum isn't a perfect solution--you still have to deal with the enemy inside your head

I pride myself in being someone who generally does not care about the opinions of others, and who often goes against the norm. But that doesn't mean I don't feel any pain when I get criticized repeatedly for my decisions, or when people are trying to give me "helpful suggestions" about what I should do. Those words can stay with me long after they've been said. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can hear them playing back like a recording in my head when I'm not in a good place.

Everyone has a different threshold for how their life is molded by outside influences. There's nothing shameful in admitting that you value what others think, or take ideas you see and make them your own. The problem occurs when you feel like your life revolves around what others have decided for you, and you've lost yourself. If you can no longer tell whether you painted your wall "Robin's Egg Blue" because you like the color or because it's trending on Pinterest, there's a problem you need to address.

I like to think I'm impervious to what others think of me. But I'm still aware that it's only when I think of someone who doesn't live with me seeing my home, that I wonder if I've decorated it well enough. I usually only bother to change out of my pajamas and brush my hair when I have an appointment with a doctor or I'm going with Ryan to the store, which means I'm doing it for the benefit of the outside world, not myself.

But on the other hand, we still spent almost no money to completely furnish and decorate our space (more about that in an upcoming post), and I'm still perfectly happy wearing my 10-year-old clothing and thrift store finds when I go out. I also don't care if people think I'm antisocial because I sit quietly while my husband does all the talking. And maybe I'll get dressed for a video appointment with a doctor, but if I'm not feeling well enough to sit up, then they'll see me laying down on my bed when they come online.

Nobody fully understands the complexities of another person's life, so most of the conclusions that people come to are judgment calls biased by their personal experiences. There's nothing we can do about that; we just have to learn to accept that what others think is out of our control. However, we aren't required to live our lives based on their opinions.

You can be aware of insecurities or influences, but that doesn't mean they have to control you. By cutting yourself off from them, you can practice living life a life that's solely your own. Give it a try. See how much more free time you have, and how much lighter you feel when the shackles of the outside world fall away.

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum