The Sick Leave I Didn't Know I Needed

Sometimes the last thing you'd expect is exactly what you need.

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If you're wondering where I've been for the last...however long it's been, I've been on sick leave from my job. Surprise!

While I wanted to share this with you before it happened, I honestly couldn't find the right words. Now that my sick leave has ended, I feel more prepared to talk about everything. So here we go.

When Someone You Love Is Sick

I haven't shared this anywhere online, but back in July, my brother got sick and it pretty much instantly broke me. Not to bore you with the (very complex) medical details but my brother ended up being diagnosed with an incredibly rare disease, like actually one in a million rare. My brother went from being the healthiest person I know to spending three weeks in a hospital literally overnight.

To say it shook me to my core would be an understatement. The good news is that he is responding well to treatment (there is no cure), and is finally getting back to his 'normal' routine after three months of constant tests, treatments and chaos.

My brother's condition propelled me into a depression, the likes of which I have never before experienced. I have dealt with Seasonal Affective Disorder the last two winters, so I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the onset of my symptoms. I just hadn't felt anything so intensely to the point where I knew I needed to make a change or things would have quickly deteriorated.

I Needed a Break

The intensity of my emotional state and how it was affecting my day-to-day life led me to seek out therapy for the first time. From there, I saw a psychiatrist who recommended a one-month sick leave from my job, to help give me some space to heal.

I didn't know how much I needed this time off until the first day of my leave.

This depression manifested with the following symptoms: problems sleeping, weight gain, fluctuating/non-existent appetite, feelings of hopelessness, lack of energy, and concentration and cognitive problems.

As you can imagine, all of these things made my day job much more difficult. My brother's condition, coupled with an increased and unrelenting workload because of the pandemic pushed me to my breaking point. I knew I couldn't continue the way I had been. But, I couldn't change my brother's situation. The only factor I had any control over was my job.

I work in a unionized environment, where we have access to job-protected sick leave. Despite all of the challenges at work, I could not have been more grateful that I had access to something like this. It is a privilege to be able to take time off work, still be paid, and know you have a job to return to. I absolutely do not take that for granted.

So, here I was, four weeks ago, about to take the longest break from work or school I had taken in my adult life, since I started university.

Did I feel pressure to accomplish a lot during this time? Yep.

How much did I actually accomplish? Like 10% of the stuff on my list.

Week 1: Cautiously Ambitious

When I started my sick leave, I was still in a pretty volatile place emotionally. I spent much of that first week resting, trying to get my brain back so I could continue my part-time online HR program I started a year ago.

It is incredible how much my focus and cognitive capacity has increased from the beginning of my sick leave to the end. At the beginning, I was having problems even reading anything. My brain just couldn't process the information.

Week 2: Create, Create, Create

Into week 2 of my sick leave, my therapist gave me what felt like a pretty incredible task, trying to do one thing a day that brings me joy. I was so genuinely lost that I asked you on Instagram what brings you joy. I honestly could not picture what that was for me, or what joy even felt like anymore.

It was frustrating at first, but I finally managed to put some joy activities into my to-do list. To give you the highlights, I:

  • tried making scrunchies for the first time

  • finally got around to making my own kombucha

  • did my hair and makeup for fun

  • took an afternoon off to nap

  • get really into The Vampire Diaries

With the exception of TVD (which is objectively magnificent), all of my joy activities involved me creating things. I had forgotten how much I like to try things, even if I don't ace them (my scrunchie attempt was less than perfect, but it was still fun).

week 3: I Guess We're Moving?

Week 3 was a doozy. We had just learned that my partner was successful in getting a new job. In a new city. 1400km (870m) away.

I went into overdrive to get our first-ever home ready to sell. I decluttered, organized, painted and staged. It was not particularly relaxing (except for the painting part). But it needed to be done. And it sold! More on that in a future post.

Week 4: Realizing It's Over

I'm finishing up this post on my last real day of sick leave. This week has been a bit of a mixed bag. Since we sold the house, I've had more time on my hands for that pesky 'relaxation', but I've spent most of the week continuing to do a deep declutter to get us ready to start packing for the big move. I've also watched a lot of Vampire Diaries (don't get me started on Season 7. It's too much).

I wish I could say that my one-month sick leave has 'cured' me and gotten me back to a place where I can return to work full-time, but I can't. On the recommendation of my therapist, I will be completing my last weeks at my job before we move doing half days. I was starting to get nervous at the prospect of having to return, knowing that nothing had fundamentally changed about my workload. So it was a weight lifted off my shoulders to know that I would be doing half days. I knew I wouldn't be able to do full 8 hours days without putting myself back in the bad state I was in when I started my leave.

Moving Away and Moving Forward

So, no, my sick leave did not magically cure my depression. But it did remove enough pressure to help me see more clearly about how bad I was feeling and how much I needed a change.

I have had a lot more good days than bad in the last month. But I know mental health is not a linear process. It's more like a rollercoaster with ups and downs punctuated by flat bits.

My brother's condition turned my world upside-down overnight. I know it's cliche, but pretty much everything (my job, my house, my program, this blog), stopped being important the moment I learned he was sick. Nothing else mattered, except figuring out how to move closer to my family.

As luck would have it, I'm getting my wish. My partner accepted a job offer back home and I cannot express how happy I am that I'll get to be closer to my brother.

I hope wherever you are in the world, you're staying safe.

Coming to Terms With Your "Stuff"

Don't let minimalist guilt get the better of you.

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I sometimes catch myself thinking “how do I have so much stuff?”. And that’s after five years of (more or less) active decluttering, selling and intentional purchasing. Not to mention, a one-year shopping ban

So why do I still have this impulse to purge everything my eyes can see? Shouldn’t that go away when I reach the ‘right’ amount of stuff? 

Part of the problem is the idea that there is ever really an end to the decluttering or conscious consumption phase of becoming a minimalist. I’m not convinced it ever really ends. That’s partly because the stuff we have in our lives isn’t designed to last forever. So, even when you buy some ‘thing’ and you think, ‘well this must surely be the last time I’ll need to do that’, you’re pretty much always wrong. Whether it’s pants that you grow out of (thank you quarantine 15), or a kitchen tool that breaks while trying to recreate something from the latest Babish video (cashew cream anyone?), the process of buying, using and replacing stuff is a pretty near constant part of our lives. 

The other part of the problem is minimalist guilt (I might be coining this term, but if I’m not and you’ve read it somewhere before, you let me know). Ever since I declared my minimalist ness to the internet four years ago, I’ve been constantly filled with this feeling that I’m not enough of a minimalist. I own more than four shirts, I have a kitchen teeming with tools (and I’ve added more than a few to our cupboards since March), not to mention a shed and basement full of tools. I’ve done my best over the years to extoll the fact that it doesn’t matter how many pairs of shoes you have crammed into your closet, you can still be a minimalist (if that term is something that you identify with). But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to sell everything in my closet and move to an off-the-grid shack in the woods when I’m feeling particularly restless.

Partly as a reminder for myself, but also in the hope that it will help you on your minimalist journey, let’s have a chat about how to come to terms with your stuff.

You Can’t Change Your Past

Gosh, if that’s not a statement we can apply to pretty much every area of our life that makes us feel shameful about our past behaviour, I don’t know what is. But it still applies here when we’re talking about stuff. It’s also the one I need to remember the most, so I don’t berate myself for my past consumption behaviour. 

Like literally everything in life, you can’t change what you’ve bought in the past. You can’t change what stuff you’ve decided to bring into your life. Sure, we all have purchases we wish we could undo. Maybe it’s a trendy piece of clothing that you know you only bought to try to be on trend, or it’s something you wish you could have bought secondhand but didn’t have the time or money to invest in the hunt. Whatever it is, the stuff you currently have in your life has already been paid for both in the monetary and time sense. There’s a sunk cost to most things that we own. That means that we’ve spent money and time on it, but that process has already happened. 

In the case of minimalism, and in my opinion in particular, there is little point in berating yourself for specific past purchases. Because they’ve already happened. 

But, I do this alot. I go down the guilt rabbit hole of “why did I buy this?’, “what what I thinking?”, etc. etc. 

The answer is actually quite simple: whatever you bought in the past, was serving a specific need, at that time. Maybe you needed something for a specific work function, maybe you wanted to spruce up your living space a little bit, maybe it was an impulse buy because you had a terrible day. 

All of these (and really any reason for buying something), are valid reasons for doing so. Even the impulse buy (*gasp*, I know). The next time you feel guilty for past purchases, try to remember that they served a purpose when you bought them. Even if that purpose was just to brighten your day a little bit. 

But You Can Make Changes in the Present

This is something I feel so strongly about, I should probably get it tattooed on my forehead. I used to buy a lot of fast fashion. My weekend activity for fun used to be going to the mall (no shame if this is something you enjoy, it’s just not my jam anymore). I used to make a lot of purchases without really thinking about them. If I wanted something, I bought it. I’ve come a long way since then towards being a more intentional and conscious consumer. 

This is a good habit to get into when you’re coming to terms with the stuff in your life. You can’t change what you’ve purchased in the past, but you can change how you use those things and how you purchase new stuff in the present. 

If you know you have a consumption habit from the past that is making you feel guilty in the present, focus on making small changes every time you make a similar purchase. 

For me, I tend to feel the most guilty about clothing purchases. Especially when I’ve bought a lot of clothing to suit a certain period in my life. For example, I bought a lot of professional work clothes this fall, as a means to display how committed I was to my work (which is just so lol now, five months into COVID_19 working from home). I find myself now just wanting to sell all of it and be done with it. 

Now, I do recognize that some of that is because of my impulsive (and frankly stubborn) nature. The other part is that I feel guilty for spending so much and accumulating so much (relatively speaking) for one particular and frankly, narrow, aspect of my life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying clothes to suit your work life. But I will do my best moving forward to only buy work clothes (if and when I need them again), that actually fit my own style and not what I think is expected of me. 

Above All Else, Be Kind To Yourself

In case you need reminding, the world is in a really weird place right now. Maybe you’re finding yourself buying more instant gratification type purchases because the world is so upside down and frankly everyone can use something to make them smile. Maybe you’re spending more money stocking your kitchen with fun new tools because you’re spending more time eating at home (I swear, I have never bought more one-use tools than I have in these last five months). 

Whatever your personal situation may be, I can pretty much guarantee that you need to be a little nicer to yourself. Nothing makes sense right now. I’m buying stuff I’ve never bought before. Heck, I went from being very against scrunchies to being the proud of owner of FOUR in the course of about a month (I also really want to try my hand at making my own but that’s a post for another time). 

Whatever emotion your stuff is making you feel lately (guilty, ashamed, joyful, grateful), it’s ok. Coming to terms with the stuff you have in your life is really all about recognizing how it serves you in your life now. If something you own still serves a purpose in your life (material, emotional, whatever), than great. Keep on, keeping on. If it’s time has passed, try not dwell on it or punish yourself for not getting more use out of it. We’ve got enough going on in our lives right now. Let’s all cut ourselves a little slack, ok?

Anyone else feeling antsy about your ‘stuff’ these days? Please tell me it’s not just me.

Stay Informed Without Getting Overwhelmed: The New Paper Review

Actual, honest-to-goodness news, curated by humans, focused on facts, delivered in a convenient way.

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A while back I wrote about ways to maintain some sense of normalcy during a global crisis. While it seems foolish now that any part of 'normal' is achievable during a global pandemic, one part of what I wrote still holds true. It's crucial to find a balance between staying informed and not endlessly consuming information (especially through social media).

I find it incredibly easy to spend *hours* scrolling through Twitter, but not actually read anything truly worthwhile from a news perspective. I want news I can find in one place, takes less than five minutes to read and only presents actual facts and events, not opinions.

This is why, when The New Paper reached out to see if I'd be interested in trying out their daily texts news blast, I couldn't say yes fast enough.

What is The New Paper?

The New Paper is a daily news text that aims to overcome sensationalism by making straightforward, factual news that is easy to consume.

For $5 a month, The New Paper will text you once a day, five days a week, with daily news in as few words as possible.

Actual, honest-to-goodness news, curated by humans, focused on facts, in a convenient way (now you can see why I was so excited to try it).

Think of The New Paper like theSkimm, Briefing of Need2Know, but via text, with a sentence of two about the day's top stories, plus a link to read more if you're interested. I've been trying The New Paper for the last three weeks and I really love it.

How does it work?

Every weekday, I get sent 6-8 stories in the morning right in My Messages.

That might be my favourite thing about The New Paper.

I have an aversion to reading emails on my phone or anywhere really. It's hard to keep track of them and I get so many a day that it's easy to miss the most important ones.

Since The New Paper is delivered via text, I always know where to look if I want to revisit something. Plus, the text layout is easier to consume quickly than a fully formatted email.

Each story ends with a link to the original news piece from a major outlet, including: APNews, BBC News, Reuters, CNBC, VentureBeat, NPR and more.

I love this feature. It's great to have a headline of news delivered right to your phone. But, when I want to click through and read more, I can do that too.

Why does it matter?

With COVID-19 still dominating social media (and rightly so), it's easy to believe there's not much else going on in the world. But, that's not the case.

Being the minimalist millennial that I am, I don't have cable, so I don't have access to news shows. I also don't want to spend a ton of time scoping out news, I'm too lazy for that.

Thanks to The New Paper, I've learned a lot about what's going on in the big, wide world of ours, such as:

  • flooding in southern Japan has killed at least 50 people with 3 million being told to evacuate

  • China opened a security office in Hong Kong, placing mainland authorities there for the first time

  • Trump commuted the 40-month prison sentence of Roger Stone

  • the UK banned Huawei 5G telecom equipment citing national security concerns

  • the UAE launched it's first ever mission to Mars

  • and so much more!

The Bottom Line

The New Paper is exactly how I want to consume my news right now and I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to try it out and share it with you.

If you're looking for daily headlines, delivered in a succinct way, I'd definitely recommend giving The New Paper a try. You can try it here free for 7 days, and then it costs $5/month after that.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with information and 'news' right now? How are you consciously cutting back?

Disclaimer: This email contains affiliate links which means I'll make a small commission on every subscription (at no additional cost to you). All money generated by these links helps to support Tiny Ambitions.

Make Sure Your Minimalism Means Something

Otherwise, what's the point?

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It feels like another lifetime ago that I actually wrote a blog post. Minimalism is a pretty out-of-touch movement at the best of times, so my normal writing repertoire just hasn’t felt right since the incredible explosion of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

No matter how uncomfortable it is to admit, I am a very privileged white woman. Like a lot of people out there, I am now coming to terms with the fact that my “not racist” ness is not enough. I need to do more to be actively anti-racist. And I have to believe that my minimalist lifestyle has a role to play in that process. 

Minimalism is often sold as a movement about less. Less stuff, less consumption, less busy, less stress. With the lives of Black, Indigenous and people of colour being threatened at seemingly every turn, I wanted to take some time to explore what minimalism could look like if we focused on what it has and not what it doesn’t. 

Minimalism as a movement, by and large, is underpinned by privilege. Being in a position to opt-out or otherwise say no to the ‘traditional’ trappings of life means you have the ability and opportunity to have and make choices in life. 

If you consider yourself a minimalist, you’ve probably spent some time changing your relationship to material things and how you consume them. Maybe you buy less and repurpose more. Maybe you’ve decluttered your possessions by donating them or selling them. 

Maybe, like me, you try to spend less time online, watching TV, or otherwise consuming information (an ongoing challenge tbh). 

We can opt-out of a lot of things as minimalists. But we should never opt-out of doing what is right. 

I don’t know about you but I find it difficult to believe that being a minimalist should only benefit myself as an individual. It’s not enough for me to personally benefit from minimalism and my choice to consume less. And I hope it’s not enough for you either. 

If minimalism is a movement that frees up your time and money to focus on what is important to you (which I think it is), we should be able to redirect some of that time, money and attention we’re not using on ‘stuff’ to movements and causes that are about fighting for justice for people who have been oppressed by the same system that many of us derive benefit from (myself included). 

This might (will) be uncomfortable, but ask yourself:

  1. What am I doing with my free time to help/support/amplify BIPOC?

  2. How am I spending my money to support BIPOC organizations and businesses? 

If you consider yourself an ally (and not just a performative one on Instagram), now is the time to opt-in and stay-in. 

 If you want to be a better ally, but you genuinely do not know where to start, here are some ideas (crowdsourced from the Internet). 

  • Attend a protest in your area if you’re able to. 

    • If you can't attend, consider donating supplies like masks, water, medical supplies, snacks, etc. (Shoutout to Tanja Hester from Our Next Life for sharing this as an idea on her Instagram).

  • Set up recurring donations to BIPOC organizations if you’re financially able to. (I personally have set up recurring donations to the Black Health Alliance, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund and the Legacy of Hope Foundation)

  • Sign a petition and educate yourself on racial injustice in your country. 

    • Yes, even if you live in Canada, where "racism doesn't exist".

  • Support BIPOC-owned businesses with your dollars (including buying books written by BIPOC authors). 

  • Offer resources (actual, tangible things or skills you can offer to local organizations who can use them). 

  • Challenge those around you in their beliefs if they are racist (even if it means you might lose some relationships). 

I am by no means saying that I am perfect in my allyship. Because I’m not. But there is no other choice than to keep at it and keep getting better. The lives of our friends, families and communities depend on it.

If your minimalism doesn’t go beyond curating the perfect aesthetic to actively trying to be anti-racist and challenge privilege in all aspects of your life, what is the point?  

How are you making sure that your minimalism means something? 

Now Is the Time to Use What You Have

In this new six-minute episode of the Tiny Ambitions podcast, I'm sharing an unexpected side effect of spending much more time at home these past few months - doing my best to use what I already have. From personal care products to repurposing clothes, I'm getting thrifty and crafty because of the global pandemic.

You can play the episode here, listen to it wherever you listen to podcast using the links below, or you can read the episode transcript on the blog - your choice!

Subscribe to the Tiny Ambitions podcast:

How are you using up what you’ve already got at home? Let me know!

Thanks for listening and until next time, keep living that tiny life. 

-Britt

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