When I initially sat down to write this first article following maternity leave, my infant decided to wake up wailing after no less than five minutes. Eventually, I was able to get through writing the first half. The second day I expected to carve out some time to write was the same day as my youngest’s 6-month check up, which turned into a sick visit because my toddler’s classroom had a Covid exposure. The day got turned upside down from there, masking to grab groceries in the event of a quarantine, picking up test-to-stay kits from my child’s school, and so on. Such is the nature of the season that I’m in as a parent with limited childcare for the summer. This state seems to mirror the pandemic-era world of canceled events, last minute changes in plans, and constant iterations for how we live. All of it leaves me (and I assume many of us) feeling limited.
No one likes feeling limited, least of all Americans. We are so completely entrenched in our own ideas and plans going exactly as expected that the fast moving trains we set in motion are bound to run off track. But when they do, we fuss and complain. We dig our heels in harder and claim that grit and perseverance are our best assets. The ones that will win us the race, earn us the promotion, get our waistline back, buy us the house, and fill us with full satisfaction. Limitlessness is the dream and beyond the sky is the destination, but we remain forever bound by skin, neediness, hunger, sleep, and a desire for connection.
I’ve worked with not hundreds but thousands of individuals, some in depth and some more surface level. I’ve witnessed nearly every one of them (and myself) pine for achievement, a sense of completion, and – most noteworthy – the ability to do more. The opposite of living limited. The bedrock of Western culture in a word is MORE. Consumerism is defined by more, as is the fitness industry in which I have spent many years of my professional career. More reps. More sets. More weights. More distance. More speed. More strength.
Even places of worship are tempted into the deliciousness of “more” by trying to gain additional members and achieve greater things in the name of their God. As a woman of faith, I see a great danger emerging as certain Christian denominations and groups threaten America’s collective wellness with their desire for more power and control. The entire crisis of the war in Ukraine has been driven by one individual’s bloodthirsty desire for more – more land, control, power, dominance, and fear. The poison of more even impacts gun violence. Automatic weapons are especially deadly because of the greater potential number of victims in each assault on human life. And so it would seem, this thirst and hunger for more is quite universal but perhaps, when we sit with its reality, we can see how dangerous it is. Not just for dictators and fringe extremists but for all of us.
For the past half year I’ve been tending to the needs of my third child in the first months of her life. I’m constantly feeling the pressure of “more.” I wish I could divide myself into five parts at once – one of me to tend to my oldest child, one for my middle child, another for the breastfeeding babe, one for my work, and another to collapse in a heap of exhaustion and *finally* get that nap that I so desperately need. But I too am bound by my own skin. My own limitations. God, help me to accept them.
The problem isn’t that we are limited creatures in this existence. The problem is that we resist limitations even when they are a part of our very makeup. Denying them and trying to play the more, more, more game breaks us. Yes, we hear stories about executives who start at the bottom and work 20 hour days to make it big and athletes who train eight hours a day year round to win the Olympics (I just watched the “Untold: Caitlyn Jenner” documentary on Netflix), but let’s face it – none of us can outrun the exhaustion forever. There is always a price to pay either mentally or physically. Sometimes we can recalibrate and reverse the damage and other times, it leaves its mark.
Pushing myself past the limit always follows the same pattern:
Life gets busy yet I pressure myself to do even more during already maxed-out daily schedules. The overwhelm of this traps me in a state of anxiety which only serves to drive me forward harder and faster, more determined to get everything done quickly – and done well. My body enters into sympathetic nervous system overdrive, feeling on edge, hyper and anxious most hours of the day. Eventually, an acute stressor enters the equation such as something traumatic happening in the nation or world or my toddler bringing home a nasty virus. This added mental or physical stress is enough to tip my system past its breaking point and I burn out and crash (usually with a head cold).
Do you have a vicious cycle too? One where you know you’re past your limits but keep pushing anyway?
Time and maturity have helped me identify this harmful pattern of pretending and trying to do more than I can. I’m not perfect at avoiding or fixing it though. It’s a gradual process and I constantly have to remind myself that the rat race and nose-to-the-grindstone mentality are no way to live in true wellness. Both tear down the individual and the collective in very tangible and harmful ways. I find myself in a much healthier place when I openly and lovingly acknowledge my limitations.
Here are a few things that limit me:
Breastfeeding all three of my children has limited me for the better part of the past decade. It’s time consuming, forces me to slow down, and means that I opt for less help with childcare for the first year of their lives due to the frequency of nursing and sub-optimal pumping output in substitute of direct breastfeeding.
My back limits me. I used to be a marathoner but I was hit by a car while riding my bike in DC and ever since have dealt with ongoing spinal instability. Long mileage doesn’t work with my body anymore and I have to heavily favor foam rolling and strength training despite wishing I could run days upon days in a row without issue.
My scar limits me. It’s from an emergency C-section from a pregnancy loss and then the planned C-section for my third child. The underlying tissue is still healing and I’m actively working to keep the fascia from forming tight adhesions that could some day cause me problems. This whole process sets off the instability in my back. The visual scar challenges me mentally and emotionally in many ways too, although less than it used to.
The list is longer but you get the idea. We all have things that challenge us to slow down or do things differently than we would ideally choose to. Again, that’s okay. This is human. Normal. The thing that’s NOT okay is allowing our limitations to steal our joy or question our worth, and yet so many people fall prey to these fear-based mentalities, as though not being able to do more means our inherent value is less. But that’s a lie.
I cope best with my limitations when I remind myself that I’m enough as I am – and that I’m not all things. Sometimes, it can help to run through a list in your head or write down all the traits you possess and are proud of while also making note of a few things you’re not the best at but beat yourself up about. If you do this, I would ask you to thoughtfully sit with the things you feel guilt, frustration, anxiety, or sadness about and consider if you might be able and willing to accept them with love or let them go in such a way that they can’t allow you to feel shame anymore.
Living limited can lead to a beautiful and flourishing wellness. When I embrace living this way I’m able to breathe deeply and rest peacefully. My priorities become clearer and I let go of the voices in my head threatening to measure my worth based on productivity and accomplishment. In the next few months I will share with you all what one of those crystal clear priorities is and how it’s taking shape but for now, let’s part ways after repeating these affirmations a few times silently:
My limitations are where I can find my strength.
My worth is not based on appearances or output.
I am enough.
I am not all things. And that’s okay.
I can find peace in the moment.
Yours in health and wellness,