Disconnect to Connect!

Connection is something we all need and crave.  It’s one of our basic human needs in the 6 Basic Human Needs Hierarchy.  Significance, Variety, Certainty, Love/Connection, Growth & Contribution.  Today, we’re UBER-connected.  We’ve got a steady stream of status updates, shared articles and social engagement, often with people we have never met.

The beauty of the internet and social media is that it brings us together with many like minded people who have similar interests, similar passions – it connects the GLOBE in a way history has never seen before. It’s quite literally, amazing. BUT, at what cost are you connecting with people all around the Globe?  At what cost is this addiction to “connection” costing us happiness in our personal lives?

See, almost 2 years ago I suppose I could have defined myself as “having it all”; 2 businesses, staff, a beautiful home, 2 happy dogs, a husband, and damn, I looked great!  I spent most of my time “managing” one fire after another… connected to people on social media, building my “empire”, working non stop.  “If you’re going to make it this day and age, you’ve got to be on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, flickr, slideshare, linked in…” The list was endless.  If I was going to carve out a niche for myself in business then I HAD TO do all of these things.  Before I knew it, my passion for helping people get fit, healthy, gain self confidence became a daily race against the clock to “get it all done”.  I was one person, balancing my entire life on my pinky finger.  It was a precarious position to be in, one wrong move and it would all come tumbling down.

Roadblock after roadblock, I pushed through, I pushed forward, refusing to fail.  I will do this, I will find a way.  And I always did, find a way, that is. I managed to stay just above water, looking like it was all going well.  But slowly on the inside I was dying, again.  I was starting to feel like I had when I left my corporate job… the loss of purpose.  I was “doing” a lot but I was losing myself in the process.  Looking back on that time in my life, I often wonder how I survived it.

But truthfully, I didn’t.  Thank God.

I eventually “cracked” under the pressure.  Not some visible complete and total breakdown.  But there was a crack in the personality that was Tonya.  And like Humpty Dumpty, All the King’s Horse’s and all the King’s Men, couldn’t put Tonya back to together, again.  By this point in my life, I was together with a combination of all of my failure’s, all of my “pushing”, all of my trying to get it right.  And the final crack was too much to bear… I became angry, overwhelmed and exhausted, ALL. THE. Fucking Time.  I didn’t care about people’s fitness anymore.  I didn’t care about my own fitness anymore.  I just wanted to be left alone.  My phone never stopped.  One time, while I was hiking with my dogs in the morning and I stepped into a cell phone range and the incessant bings and dings were too much.  I took my blackberry out of my pocket and slammed it against a rock.  I sat on that rock and replied to my text messages, emails.  Then I cried.  I didn’t see any way out.  I was needed 24/7 and even when I tried to take some time to myself, even an hour or two, I came back to so many messages I couldn’t see the point in taking time off.  2 years went by where I had a total of 12 days where I didn’t “work”.  No weekends, no saturday’s, no sunday’s, no evenings out with friends/family.  How did I get here?

My husband booked us in a cabin for 5 days once and you know what I did?  Slept.  Constantly.  I had no cell service and after a few days of “panic”, something profoundly shifted in me.  The ultimate crack, the one that finalized that I couldn’t “go back”.  And more importantly, I didn’t want to.  See, while I was busy building a business and driving myself into the ground, I had a life that was being lived without me.  Neices and nephews that were growing up that I was missing.  Siblings that were going through major life changes that I wasn’t a part of.  Friends who were getting married, divorced, having babies, buying and selling homes, getting new careers, making lots of money, losing lots of money, parents who were getting older and where was I?  Working… because I had something to “prove”… that leaving the corporate world wasn’t a mistake because everyone told me it was; that I could be happy and earn “enough” doing what I loved.

But the ugly truth underneath it all was that I became addicted to it.  I became addicted to being needed, to being important, to being able to help people achieve their goals and their dreams.  The more people needed me, the more I gave.  The panic stricken text messages while I was on date night with my husband?  Responded to.  The panic phone calls at 11PM from a client who is in a meltdown, I took it.  I had no off button… But why?

This was where I had to start looking inside… The 6 Basic Human Needs – I was getting all of my needs met from work.  I was connected to people I didn’t know; that I would train for 3-6 months and never see again; I was making their needs more important than my own… and I blamed them.  I complained about it and I blamed them for it… “they need me” – yes, because I’m so fucking important that people can’t make a decision about what salad to order in a restaurant without checking in with me.  I created that. It wasn’t them.  It was me.

I had become disconnected from my life, my friends, my family, what’s important, my own goals, my own dreams, and these people needing me, satisfied ALL of my human needs… Significance – seriously, can you get any more significant than helping people drop hundreds of pounds, giving them their self confidence back?  I mean, they just couldn’t do it without me… they NEED me.  Variety?  Check… everyone is a different case, different personality and no day is ever the same!  Certainty? Got that too!  I know I’m good at what I do.  I know if I work this many clients I make this much money.  Love/Connection?  I was uber connected!  I had texts and emails coming in at 6AM with people wanting to know what to eat for breakfast, to share their personal best from their run, and of course, the meltdowns over having eaten a bag of chips at 10PM… their marriage problems, their fertility problems, their career issues, their money problems… they told me everything.  They needed me, clearly.  Growth & Contribution?  Um… yes!  I was giving myself, my energy and life to educate people about health and to help them reach their goals!  Check check on those two!

According to research, when one thing meets 3 or more of your basic needs at a high level, it can become an addiction.  Nooooowwww… I’m getting somewhere. Ahhh, good old addiction.  We only see it as a problem when someone is on a sidewalk with a needle in their arm, lost their house because of gambling or spends all their money on cocaine.  So funny how we can judge them because their addiction is clearly, unhealthy.  But my addiction?  Work.  That was ok.  I mean, I was doing good in the world AND it was my income… who could argue with that?

But I did it at a cost of my friends, family and my own goals.  That was where the problem was.  My clients did, and still do, mean the world to me.  I am grateful everyday for the chance to interact with them, to help them understand the mind, body, soul connection to their health and help with the ABC’s of weight loss and nutrition and mindset.  There’s nothing WRONG with that.  Where the problem was that I created a community of people who “needed” me endlessly to satisfy my basic human needs at a high level at a cost of my personal life and happiness.

When I stood up that day in the woods with my cracked cell phone in hand, my anger and sadness mixed together, my dogs at my side I asked “what am I doing to myself?’  As I walked home, I realized I was unhealthy because I was putting everything and everyone else first, except myself.  I couldn’t help others when I was like this.  The experience with me was no longer a happy one, especially for my family.  I was battling disordered eating, body image issues, overwhelm, anxiety, anger.  When was the last time I was happy?  I was happiest when I was doing this because I loved it.  Not because I needed to prove to my family and friends that I was successful by being needed or having financial success.

I was happy when I had time to work on my own goals, time to spend with friends and family, time for me and what’s important for me while still being able to help people by leading with example.  And so started the art of disconnecting.  I won’t lie, like any addiction, I had to get into the guts of it and lay it all out on the table so that I could move things around – how can I get variety that satisfies me in a healthy way?  How can I get connection that satisfies in me a healthy way?  How can I get significance, contribution, growth, certainty in a way that satisfies me?  And piece by piece I began to let go of things that no longer served me.  To read the article on Think Different Feel Different that I wrote about the Art of Letting Go – click here.  It’s an account of the things I learned in the journey of letting go and connecting to my life.

We all walk around this life, connected to a million social media networks, news updates coming in constantly, dings and bings proving that we are friends, are connected, are loved, where “likes” tell us how important or how loveable we are.  Our cell phones are connected to us, we panic when we don’t have them with us constantly.  We’re conversing with people across the country, but not the person sitting next to us on the couch.  We’re posting pics of our food at restaurants instead of talking to the person/people with us.  And we wonder why we feel so disconnected and lonely despite being uber connected?

These days, I leave my phone in the “silent” position.  My apps have all been turned off so that notifications only come in when I ask for them, I only work with clients 3 days a week now, I set up social media “secret” groups so that everyone can help each other not just satisfy my need to for significance by being so important that I’m the only one who can answer questions and provide motivation.  I host family and family when possible.  I make time to reach out to friends/family every single day and ask how they are doing, what’s new with them.  I log out of social media when I’m working on projects.  I now meet my Basic Human Needs in a lot of different ways – by meeting my own goals, by making my husband the most important person in the world, by spending time with friends and family, by connecting like minded people who share the same goals – getting fit and healthy, by making time to read, volunteering and contributing to the health of Newfoundland and the world and by constantly and continuously being open to new idea’s and experiences, but not constantly “available”.

The first step in that was seeing myself as part of the problem.  Only then could I could be a part of the solution.  The biggest thing I’ve learned over this whole process in learning to disconnect in order to connect with myself and those who are important –  I got the fuck over being “busy”.  Instead of offloading everything that is going on with me, I now ask people “what’s new with you” and I listen because I care.  Because everything isn’t about me (go figure!).

I love my career.  I love everything about fitness, wellness, helping people change their lives… but it’s not all I am.  I am also a wife, a dog mom, a passionate animal lover, a sister, daughter, daughter in law, an aunt, a friend… all of those things are also important to me and I couldn’t be happy without satisfying all of them.  Disconnecting to connect gave me back my life.  I think I’ve lived more in the last 2 years than I had in the previous 10.  I honour what I want to do, I don’t take on too much, I make time for downtime.  Am I perfect?  Fuck no.  I still catch myself from time to time, but then I remind myself of what’s important, don’t beat myself up over it and move on.  I’m still an entrepreneur – there is still pretty much only me to keep things going, BUT I no longer do it at a cost of my personal happiness.

Disconnection has given me more love/connection than I ever could have thought possible.

8 thoughts on “Disconnect to Connect!

  1. Lori says:

    Wow, so great! Wonderful Read and so much learning! So proud of you! And we see the difference, making all kinds of fun memories 🙂 Love you xoxo


  2. Lesley says:

    This is so refreshing to read Tonya, as with all of your posts. I am teetering on the edge myself and I need to take the leap to take my own life back. I am struggling and it feels lonely but your words touched me deeply. Might be just the push that I need. xox


  3. Tonya Whittle says:

    Thank you Lesley! I appreciate the feedback 🙂 You’re definitely not alone. I think the feeling of “loneliness” is subsided when we “connect” on social media but the truth is, most of us, are only held back by our own fears – of not being accepted, of not being good enough, etc, then we get so away from human face to face connection we don’t know how. That was what happened to me. I felt like a child again, afraid to call someone and ask to go for a coffee… WTF? We lack real connection in our personal lives and so it becomes harder but most of us do have people we can reach out to… sometimes we have to be the first to do it though, because it’s not just us feeling this way, it’s most of us. Reaching out to spouses, friends and family and going out for a coffee with no phone, no internet, creating “phone free zones” etc can make the differences…its not about missing out on the fun of the internet or social media but ensuring you’re using it in a way that contributes to you and others and isn’t taking from something else, like personal connections 🙂


    1. Tonya Whittle says:

      Thank you for the feedback Sheila! I always hope that what I write and let out can help inspire even just one person to look within. We all spend so much time looking outside of ourselves, when everything we need is already within us 🙂


  4. Jacqueline Small says:

    Thanks for sharing this part of your journey, Tonya. You can be sure that many are thinking (and some are doing) the same! 🙂


    1. Tonya Whittle says:

      Thank you for the feedback Jacqueline! I know I am definitely not alone in this “struggle”; it’s so easy to get caught up in all that doesn’t really matter and we’re so “busy” we don’t see the life right in front of us… we miss the moments in nature, with family, exercising, taking care of our health, moments of connection because we’re constantly plugged in! Unplugging is necessary sometimes 🙂


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