No one is immune from FOMO. But if you are chronically ill, the “Fear of Missing Out” is a familiar condition. But FOMO be damned. Let’s talk about JOMO instead! I want to share just a few of the reasons why there is joy in missing out.
There they are. The blissfully happy people on social media! Relishing an Instagram-worthy dinner and cocktails with a group of friends. Sunning themselves on a pristine beach. Sharing photos from a trip to an obscure, unspoiled postcard-perfect destination.
And what about you?
If this is what you see in your social media feed – and if it makes you feel a little sad, depressed or excluded, you’ve contracted a case of FOMO.
What is FOMO?
FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out. It’s that feeling that other peoples’ lives are better – more interesting, more fun, more glamorous – and therefore, more fulfilling.
When we’re chronically ill we feel like we’re missing out because in many ways, we are!
We may have mobility issues that prevent us from getting around as easily as our able-bodied brethren. Or maybe we suffer from ongoing pain or fatigue and have less energy or capacity for physical activity.
Sometimes, going out can come at too high a price. For me, a day of heavier physical activity can set me back a couple of days. Is it worth it? Usually, it’s not!
I’ve had a great deal of “alone” time over the past couple of years, and it’s given me time to dig deep into the expanse of emotions that accompany life with a chronic illness.
And one day I had an epiphany of sorts:
Those images that social media was feeding to me didn’t really represent the life I had before I became ill. So why did I feel like I was missing out? And could I change my perspective and find the joy of missing out?
Admittedly, there have been things I’d love to have done but couldn’t because of my illness.
But the truth is that most of them would have been blips on the reel of my life – not the mainstay of how I live.
Discovering the joy of missing out
If you have a chronic illness, you have probably discovered that how you live now doesn’t look exactly like how you lived before. But you may have also discovered that you are more resilient that you would have imagined. I know that I am.
I learned to acknowledge that instead of focusing on missing out, what I really needed to do was start leaning in.
Leaning into opportunities to explore other – and deeper – ways of finding a sense of well-being, connection, and fulfillment.
In other words, leaning into finding joy.
Here’s what I learned about the joy of missing out:
1. You feel less compelled to obligate yourself to do something that you really don’t want to do.
I’m pretty sure you’ve done it – said yes to something that you desperately wanted to say no to. Maybe it was an invitation to a get-together. Or maybe you’ve been asked for the umpteenth year in a row to volunteer for some event that frankly, you’re tired of. Perhaps it was just something that you felt like you should do because people might be upset if you didn’t.
It doesn’t matter. We’ve all been there.
When one of my girls was in elementary school, she told me that one of her friends had invited her for a sleep over. I told her that it sounded like fun, and gave her approval to go. She seemed down. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I was hoping you’d say no. I don’t really want to go.”
Realize that even when you were able – and even if you are able now – there are things you’d like to feel comfortable declining. It’s perfectly okay to do that.
2. When you accept your situation, you will find opportunities for growth and self-discovery that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Most of us have mastered the art of distraction. We distract ourselves through endless social media scrolling, too much news (guilty!), online shopping, junk food, naps we don’t necessarily need and incessant comparisons to other people.
And then we wonder why we feel so inadequate.
There is nothing wrong with small doses of distraction. Until it becomes a bad habit. But I allowed them to steal my time. Once you recognize that and reach that saturation point, you know that turning your attention elsewhere is the best option.
Set a goal. Maybe you’d like to try your hand at journaling or create a vision board. Last year my sisters and I did a self-guided read of The Artist’s Way, a self-help-oriented book that guides you through a process of discovering yourself and your creativity. There is joy in discovering who you are – there are lots of simple and effective ways to boost your mental wellness.
3. You will be more likely to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Remember that familiar phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”? It rings true. When we are chronically ill, we typically find that we have had to restructure some elements of our lives. But it’s human nature to seek fulfillment, and we learn that this includes getting a little bit uncomfortable.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. While I write as part of my job, writing proposals and reports isn’t the only type of writing I enjoy. 2020 provided the perfect opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone. The world was in lockdown, and I was chronically ill and had limited physical energy.
My brain, however, was restless. That’s when I decided to start my blog. I let go of the fear of failure.
Why? Because I had nothing to lose – except the regret of never having tried.
4. “Missing out” on more traditional activities doesn’t mean you have to be alone.
I’ll bet that everybody felt like they were missing out in 2020. Thanks to creativity and technology, we all still had ways to connect: Zoom calls, virtual Happy Hours, and Facebook Groups.
But sometimes nothing can replace a voice-to-voice conversation with one person. Even if you can’t physically be together, it’s hard to feel alone when you’re engaged in a good conversation with someone you care about and someone who cares about you.
5. There is joy in living more quietly and more simply.
When we step away – by choice or by necessity – from all the things that compete for our attention, we strip away the noise.
We often discover that we want less.
That we don’t need as much as we thought we did.
That we can embrace the quiet and the solitude and use that time to ground ourselves in the things that are truly more important – our own well-being, our family and dearest friends, our ability to give of ourselves and receive, with grace and gratitude, what the world offers us.
Remember – you are not bound by the limitations of what you can’t do. Instead, you have been freed to explore more fully what you can do.