“The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. So here I am saying “I HAVE A PROBLEM”.
His name? FOMO.
This summer I have been socially overcommitted. Beach days, concerts, barbecues, pool parties, birthday parties and Facebook events galore were ruling my life. I know…pity me, right? You must be thinking “how awful to have a life”. But please understand, I am an introvert and all this social commitment did not feel extremely normal.
Might I add that I also started a new job, began hosting a prayer group at my apartment, hosted family in town for a week and a half, volunteered Sundays at church and spent every other free night at the gym or grabbing drinks with friends. I could not spend a night at home by myself – or rather I wouldn’t allow myself the luxury.
It was becoming a beast of a problem.
I honestly forgot what it’s like to do nothing in the evenings. There were things in my life that felt like they were spiraling out of control but the warning signs seemed minor and it was easier to avoid them. So I did. What better way to avoid a screaming problem than to drown it out with an even louder noise?
But miracle of all miracles I discovered something absolutely life changing – a diamond shimmering in the pile of FB event notifications and iCal reminders.
You want in on it? Of course you do.
Okay here it is.
I began to schedule in time for myself. *gasp* I would actually set calendar events labeled “Do absolutely nothing” on my phone.
Like, woah. Right? Who does that? If you have something in your calendar, that means you are DOING something – going out. Right?
I started feeling physically weak and actually ended up in the hospital at one point – I like to think it was unrelated to the exhaustion in my life at the time but who knows – and it was then that I realized I’ve got to slow down.
The first step is dealing with the ever friendly, outgoing, lovable but oh-so-hateable FOMO.
You gotta stare that Fomo down and tell it off. You gotta tell it to sit down, shut up and listen. And then you gotta say loud and proud, “Look, Mr. Fomo. You’re sly. You’ve got some winning arguments. Ya, I might regret not going to that party later this week.I will see all the posts and snaps from the party and probably wish I had gone. But the fact of the matter is I’m tired and I need a break. I’ve done a lot this year to please you and to please others and frankly I just wanna lie in bed and watch Netflix. Thank you very much.”
He’ll whine for a while and try and get you to go. But at least you’ve made up your mind. You’re gonna stay home.
Now here’s the really difficult part: you gotta have a similar talk with Silence.
Silence is a little more intimidating. He’ll just stare at you, not making any argument at all. There’s nothing shiny or inviting about him. He doesn’t make pretty music or tell you a funny story. Honestly, he’s kind of bland and is just waiting for you to start the conversation.
The thing about silence is he’s really cool…actually the coolest. But his stoic demeanor can be scary, but you’ve gotta initiate the conversation.
“Okay, Silence. I’m choosing you. Are you going to disappoint me? Are you gonna make me regret this? You know I’m giving up that party for you.”
He’ll just sit there smiling peaceful while I try to reason with him, telling him all the reasons why I can’t spend a night at home alone and why I should go out.
But after you’ve been talking to him for a bit, something shifts. The room becomes comfortable and you realize he’s actually the only one in the world who fully understands you.
“Alyson.” He says gently.
“You don’t have to convince me of anything. I know you are tired. And that’s okay. You HAVE done a lot this year and it’s normal to feel exhausted. There will be many many more parties. You will see those people again. And if they are honestly your friends, they will be there for you when you’re ready.”
It makes sense…I see the same people every weekend. I will indeed see them again. They will have fun and they don’t need me there to have a good time. What’s more important, I don’t need the loud noise and distractions to feel whole. I can sit here with silence and process everything I’ve done this year. The new friendships I’ve made. The progress I’ve made with my health. The steps I’ve made in certain relationships. I can ponder the next steps in my career.
It hits me like a ton of bricks – all of the little things in my life. All of the big decisions I’ve been putting off. I’ve been drowning out their cries of concern with events and other people’s problems. I realize how long it’s been since I simply sat in silence alone in my apartment.
Then the unexpected happens. I am able to take a deep breath, relax and go to bed early. The realization of all of this, all the things I’ve been putting off is exhausting.
I look at Silence and say to him “You know what? I AM tired. I didn’t know how tired I am. I think I could just fall asleep…” and I do.
The next day friends ask me if I have plans that night, inviting me to a show if I want to join. I say I have plans. And I do have plans, even if it’s just to spend the evening in again. The second night in, things aren’t so overwhelming. I might have a little more energy. I can do a little cooking, cleaning, something. I might choose silence again and fall asleep early. And that’s okay.
This happens a few days in a row and life is beginning to seem clearer to me now. I am in a better mood and I am feeling as if I have more energy to invest in those around me.
I’ve been scheduling those “Do absolutely nothing” nights as many times as I need until I started to feel normal again. And even then…I realized I probably needed to take another night to yourself. I’m telling you – it’s addictive.
The sooner we learn that we don’t owe our time to others, the better. The sooner we learn to simply sit with ourselves and be at peace with who God made us to be, the sooner FOMO will lose it’s daunting credibility among millennials.
This is just a small step in that direction, but it’s a start. Giving a solid “no” to things you have no real desire to do and choosing instead to initiate a conversation with silence – that’s where it begins.