New Year, Same Health and Same Work: Finding the Always-Changing Balance of a Work Life and Illness Life

February 8, 2017

As everyone seems to be trying to stay true to their New Year Resolutions, some were daring and used a pen, others are like me and preferred to make sure their new hopes and goals could change with the ease of an eraser. Recently, I’ve been hearing from a lot of you wanting to know about the tips and tricks I’ve learned over my spoonie years to get off on the right foot in 2017 and balance my two competing lives: my work life and my illness life. And especially since my latest flare-up of a RSD episode after my injury a few months ago, I’ve had to delve back into this balancing act a lot more. I’m like every one of our youth, working hard to find the ways I can still work while not hurting myself. As I tell each medical group I speak to: “Find the ways to compromise the treatment plans without compromising your patient’s health.”

For youth, especially teens and young adults, their lives have a lot of constant turnover, so there needs to be flexibility, to adapt on a whims notice. There needs to be adaptability in their day-to-day routine, to not compensate by solely focusing on one part of life. How successful can one person be if they put all their energy into their work life, and completely ignore their health? What kind of life will you have if you only focus on your medical world and have no strength to live outside of it?  I’ve spent so many years trying to find all the tips and tricks of balancing work and health, and now it’s my time to share some of them with all of you!

Always Remember You Have to Build Time Limits

So often, I wanted to get through my entire list of work, whether I was in university and had coursework, or I’m working on a new InvisiYouth Charity PR campaign.  It’s a goal to get everything finished and oftentimes I would disregard what my body could handle.  And while I could complete my work, my health suffered and I would have to deal with the repercussions for days to follow. Very quickly, I realized that I needed to build a time schedule, to find what were my physical-health time limits. The “warning signs” that meant my RSD was about to go into overdrive meant I would pause my work and cater to my health. After some rest, I would return to my work slowly, building up little by little. While at times it would frustrate me that I had to put my work life on hold, I discovered these time limits allowed me to continue working longer and without compromising my health.

The “One Hit Wonder” Break

One of my least favorite parts of needing to balance my work and health lives is feeling like I am neglecting one of them over the other. That sensation of having to pause my work to take care of my body, or my health taking a nosedive when I focused on a deadline always bothered me. It was that boredom-filled waiting game, the sitting by my computer while I did some emergency PT or attempted to loosen my muscles spasms, that I hated the most. Being unproductive never worked, so I learned a trick to distract my mind while also giving me a time limit called the “One Hit Wonder” Break.

Depending on my pain level, I would take a 3 to 15-minute break for my work or health activity. I go on my computer or phone and put on a video, either a favorite song, a TV after-show, or a YouTuber vlog.  It’s the constant distraction from the fact I’m pausing my life that makes all the difference. Sometimes, I set actual time limits, giving me that personal timer so I’m still in control.  Just a simple 10 minutes to watch a video gives me some much-needed balance between my two worlds so I can maintain both. Little Tip: Make a playlist or “YouTube Break” channel list with your go-to videos and songs, all ranging in length and content. That way, you’ll be ready when your body needs that pause!

Let Your Health Bring New Abilities

Constantly, I would look at my juggling act between my health and work with such annoyance, struggle and agitation because I felt incapable of doing it all.

But much like the notion of looking at life with a half glass full mentality, I wanted to build something new from my challenges.

Stop thinking about all you cannot do and shift your focus on something new you can learn.

I knew that with RSD in my left dominant hand, my work life would consistently be dictated by what my health could handle in most moments.  I wanted to find a way to keep working when I was hurting, so I learned how to become ambidextrous and taught myself to use my right hand.

After lots of attempts, and hours upon hours of practice with oversized kid pencils, I am now fully capable of switching between my hands to type and write. For me to truly look at life every day and all its struggles with positivity, I pushed my focus on finding new skills I was capable of accomplishing and that made all the difference in the balance of my life.

Pick and Choose Your Lifestyle Battles

One major tip I’ve received during my years post-injury was that I could not always separate the different parts of my life. My work life, my personal life, my health life, they will forever intermingle, battle and usurp one another. It is my job to be the unbiased mediator, and choose what I’ll be able to handle each day.

What took forever was learning not to judge myself, to not judge my decision to hold my work schedule and take care of my health, or push further knowing the consequences. When you stop judging yourself, the balancing act feels more like a breath of fresh air, and not a burden.  Just like a piece of advice parents gives a new couple, you need to pick and choose your battles. It is my responsibility as the “spoonie” to make the choice about what is truly worth my time. And it changes everyday, honestly. It is a decision about how much fight and strength I have in that moment, and what I can physically handle.

In the End…Get Creative so Balancing is Fun

No longing, or regret in this guide to balancing life with illness! I only want to make my life fun, even in the face of my medical turmoil. That has been and always will be my remaining tip for all young people with illness. I never wanted to feel I was missing out, or the “what ifs” about all the “could haves” and “should haves” to achieve in my life. To focus on what you cannot achieve or do not have will forever darken your view of life.  So it’s important to find energy to make a conscious effort to be creative on how you balance your activities.  If I could make my day fun, and more beautiful in any way, even by the smallest of margins, than it was an improvement to me.

I suggest to take on simple acts and get creative to cater to your health. That is why I always write out my checklists not just in pencil, but as one to-do list, medical and work alike. Then, if I don’t get to accomplish every task on my list, I take different color highlighters and mark off which are my different necessities to do the following day.

It never feels like my work or health are taking a backseat when I can color-coordinate my life—at least that’s the mental joke I always tell myself! To get mini-joy from simple acts like making my to-do lists colorful and functional can add up and eventually, an internal balance comes to light.

Truth is, life will always be a tug of war especially when your health is compromised. But when you take it day by day and you get creative, get humble, get realistic, and get focused, the balancing act in all parts of life is less of a struggling wobble and more like a powerful stance led by your inner strength.

~Dominique Viel