I opened my eyes, panicked, trying to focus on the big blue blur of the alarm clock. As I fumbled for my glasses I realized it was 6:22 a.m. and my daily me time had *poof*, vanished in slumber. I can’t remember the last time I slept through an alarm. I must have needed the rest badly, although I didn’t want to admit it. My days are perfectly calculated and missing a beat can feel like failure when you don’t have any wiggle room built in. As a disabled full-time working mom I move very slowly and I have a lot to accomplish every single day. This morning I slept through the time I reserve for myself, the sacred time before the house comes alive and I have to share all of me. My mornings begin at 5:30. Every day. The structured, diligent side of me is screaming. The calm, care-free side is whispering breathe. Today I have to be gentle on myself and hold steady, even if this morning started off-centered.
Managing the unpredictable course of multiple sclerosis and managing daily life are often paths that rarely, if ever, run in parallel. The paths often diverge completely, criss-cross or loop around each other. Achieving a work-life balance is like MS itself, totally unbalanced and dizzying. It is easy to want to do more than you can and push anyway leaving only utter exhaustion and zero room on your emotional rope. I fit it all in because I do not like to disappoint. I compensate for my disability by constantly stepping up to prove I can overcome my limitations. This is not balance. This is insanity.
Balance can seem like you need to devote an equal percentage of your time and energy to specific self-drawn boxes that are really full of expectations than happiness. Chronic illness forces you to take a hard look at your daily life and dissect responsibility from expectation. It is hard to admit when you need to pare down or ask for more help. I am super independent, a self-proclaimed perfectionist and joyful overachiever. I liked doing it all. Then MS decided to co-occupy my body. I quickly discovered we don’t share very well. And while I have had to concede in many ways, it has been more of a blessing than a curse. What I mean by this is being forced to slow down has helped me really thoughtfully evaluate priorities in my life. Balance to me is more about finding the time to care for myself first, care for my family and manage the responsibilities of working and life’s chores.
So what can you do to find balance?
- Give up the concept of balance. Life is free flowing and your boxes will never be perfectly organized. It’s like an Amazon warehouse, people and forklifts constantly shuffling inventory around. Give yourself space to make adjustments. More importantly allow yourself space to confidently be flexible without feeling disappointed.
- Write down your priorities, in no particular order to start. Then evaluate your list and rank them from most to least important. End your list with 3 or 4 blank lines. This is your space to make adjustments. To add and delete and reorder. Today you may feel healthy, tomorrow may bring on a flare. This simple, yet significant unknown is all that is needed for your balance to spiral out of control. Feeling in control of your priorities with space makes the unknown more manageable.
- Start your day with YOU. You are part of living in balance. You can’t give all of yourself without actually giving to yourself. This step for most requires big change. It took a long time for me to let go of feeling like this was selfish. Self-care and self-love are not selfish. They are not narcissism nor a me mentality when the ultimate intention is to be of service to others. Grab your oxygen mask first to give yourself the best possible outcome for everyone. I began waking up earlier in increments as I figured out what exactly I wanted to achieve each morning. I asked myself how best could I start my day feeling refreshed and accomplished. All of my self-care is done before the house wakes up. Daily meditation, exercise, journaling and reading. These four activities are my anchors. I am strongest and most clear in the morning without MS fatigue creeping in or any excuses that cause us to blow like the wind as days progress. I feel in control and surprisingly calm when anything unexpected comes up.
- Start self-care now. Before you read on, write down one thing you want to do for yourself today. It can be as simple as making the commitment to go outside and take mindful breaths of fresh air, observe something in nature or sit quietly for a few minutes. Make it a daily practice. Build on it.
- Do not give up. Whatever you do, do not give up. As you close your eyes at night focus on what you are grateful for. Acknowledge what took longer than expected, what exhausted you more than expected, what emotions you expressed that you wished you could dial back. You can adjust, you can say no. They do not have MS, you have MS. And when you end your day totally wiped out or maybe with a little steam left, just remember that you are empowered to be your best self. You may not feel balanced. I certainly do not. When I close my eyes I know I gave it my best and tomorrow is a blessing to try again.