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My life is a constant balancing act of trying to nourish my mind, body, and soul, holding down a full time job, and maintaining numerous relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. I realize the balancing act I strive for isn’t just a challenge for people living with chronic illness; it is the hue and cry of every working woman I know.
However, living with chronic illness increases those challenges. Sometimes my body’s needs require so much stamina, my whole ecosystem is thrown off balance. Since my relapse in 1996, illness has forced me to re-evaluate constantly how I conduct my daily life in ways I never had to previously. I’m always trying to get the balance of needs in better sync. This is a lofty goal because, while my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs remain fairly constant, my physical needs often vary greatly from day to day, and even from hour to hour. I’ve learned to live with a tremendous amount of unpredictability. I accept this unpredictability as normal for me, and it no longer causes me despair as it once did.
My patients have also told me that sometimes the adage “one day at a time” can be too much to handle. I advise them to break an overwhelming day into segments. I encourage them to focus on the next meal, for example. Or if they’re really having a tough time, I help them focus on the next hour. When life’s an adventure because of physical or mental illness, we can break up the day into manageable blocks of time. This philosophy helps me survive my bad days, and my patients respond positively to the concept.
You will want to learn, over time, how to create your own balance and to make peace with it on your own terms. It’s achievable, and you can learn to be happy living within its parameters once you’ve adjusted to the demands of your illness.
Spend Some Money!
In addition to advice about guilt, my mother also said, “There’s no problem so big it won’t get at least a little better if you throw some money at it.” I have found this to be true over and over again. I know money is in short supply for many who live with illness. Often people are on fixed incomes that severely limit their financial flexibility. I understand throwing money at a problem is not possible for everyone. But when it’s an option, it’s worth considering.
In the late 1990’s, I had an episode of extreme fatigue combined with severe sinus problems. I was home for two weeks, the end of which was usually the point in time when I became desperate and frantic. Medical science was doing nothing to help me. My father told me he’d heard acupuncture could be an effective treatment for sinus problems and suggested I see an acupuncturist. Unfortunately, I didn’t think I had the extra cash for out-of-pocket care until I remembered the “Zoe goes to college fund.”