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Recovery-In-Progress

  • Posted on July 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

So, I went to my post-surgery check-up, but the surgeon wasn’t there. I don’t know why I thought he would be. Instead, I met with another assistant. She checked out my incisions, but other than that the check-up was all verbal. I told her what I had experienced, good and bad, with my recovery thus far. She was pleased with my progress.

Her informed assessment, however, was something of an obvious conclusion. I’ve had too much stress. On the one hand, my life is stressful. This is seen as being particularly true whenever I bring up the boys. I brought up the boys to make the point that I’ve spent too much time putting their health (and educational) needs first; and that I’ve been putting my own health on the backburner for far too long. Her point was “Wow, three with autism, that’s got to be stressful all by itself.” Hm. Yes, I suppose it is, but not nearly as much as people might think, especially now that we’ve figured out what works for them.

On the other hand, she also made a point of stating that my body has been under particular stress lately. My crash or flare up, my diagnoses, my sleep issues, and now surgery – there is absolutely no “wondering why” I’m physically fatigued. No matter how much I may want to accelerate this process, and just be better already so I get back to things that matter, the fact is that my body is still healing, still recovering, and that this matters, too.

There’s so much I want to do…but if I focus on that, instead of on what I can actually do right now in this given moment, then I just add to my stress unnecessarily. For some, this might seem self-evident and obvious. For me, it’s kind of revolutionary. My idea has generally been: “Get through this as quickly and thoroughly as possible, so I can get on to the next thing.” It’s not that I am in such a hurry that I forsake quality, because that isn’t effective. It’s that I’m so focused on doing as much as possible that I’m actually reducing what I’m capable of because too much of my energy and focus is spent worrying over or planning for things I can’t do yet.

Here I am trying to recover, trying to build my capacity, and I’m eroding my good intentions with unnecessary stress. [Grumble, grumble.] I swear I’m going to get this balance thing right one of these days.

Closer to Balance

  • Posted on June 9, 2014 at 10:07 AM

I’ve made a decision to seek balance in my life for the sake of my health, and for the sake of my family, and for the sake of our financial well-being.

As the breadwinner of the family, I need to work to win our bread. As a freelancer, I don’t get paid if I don’t actually work for my clients. There’s no paid sick leave, no vacation pay, no paid medical leave of absence for me. If I don’t work, we don’t have enough money to pay our bills and buy our groceries. We do get assistance, but it’s not meant to be enough to live on.

As the mother of three children with disabilities, there are a lot of external expectations (from outside our family) and there are even more internal expectations (from inside our family). There are wants, needs, and urgent matters. All these things demand my attention. Then, of course, there are the normal household tasks, like shopping, dishes, and laundry. There’s also the morning routine and the nighttime routine, both of which are about to change since this is the last day of school. When I can’t take care of my family, there is only so much slack my husband and our support team can pick up. I’m essential to my family’s well-being, not just our financial well-being.

As a person who is experiencing a disability, there are doctor’s appointments to attend, medications to take, and forms to fill out in preparation for appointments. There’s also sleep to get and food to eat and muscles to stretch. These are all necessary parts of trying to get my sleep, concentration, and pain levels under control. The better I manage my health, the more capacity I have, and the more I have to give to my family and my work.

All these things demand my time, my attention, and my commitment. And that doesn’t even include things like personal relationships, exercising my creativity, and watching some stress-reducing, pure-pleasure television shows (I’m currently watching Charmed for the first time).

I need to find balance. Admitting this is helping me to move closer to attaining it. I find that I stop more to question my own compulsiveness and reflect more on what is important, instead of simply responding to what is urgent. I’m a work in progress, but I’m getting closer.

Self-Care: A Philosophy

  • Posted on January 4, 2013 at 9:00 AM

The development of a worldview and a belief system is one of the most important of our lives. This usually occurs from some default process—an accumulation of what we learn at home, at school, among our family and friends, and from the entertainment we consume—and influences our decisions for the rest of our lives. Once our worldviews and belief systems are formed, they tend to be difficult to change. When we live our lives in conflict with our beliefs, we experience internal dissonance that causes stress and we’re not always consciously aware of why this is happening.

My worldview and belief system, rather my priorities as they are formed by my worldview and belief system, look something like this:

Ethics
Family
God
School
Work
Extended Family
Friends
Career
Household Management

Self

I do not put this forth as something that is “correct,” but (with minor fluctuations based on urgency) this is how I prioritize my life. The dot-dot-dot represents minor things that, while not essentially priorities, tend to be considered before I think of myself and my own needs. Self-care is something I rate, as per my worldview and belief system, as a rather low priority.

I’ve resisted the wise and reasonable counsel that has warned me—for years—that this series of priorities doesn’t work. I’ve talked about it with family and friends. I’ve read the testimony of my fellow parents of children with special needs who have posted about their own struggles with self-care. I’ve read about it in countless books, from nonfiction to fiction. In short, I’m far from the only who has been taught to regard self-care as an act of selfishness and to regard selfishness as an undesirable trait. I’m also far from the only one who has figured out that regarding self-care in that way doesn’t really work.

On the one hand, there’s that old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, then ain’t nobody happy.” Despite the deplorable grammar, the saying rings true. As a caregiver, our moods and emotions impact (either positively or negatively) those we take care of. Of course, the same could be said of either parent, regardless of their role (caregiver/financial provider/both), and could be said of those who are being taken care of, too. In a family, the moods and emotions of each individual family member affects the family unit as a whole. Therefore, if the goal is to provide one’s family with a happy, stable, healthy home environment, then it is important to meet the needs of every member of the family.

However, this brings us back to the difficulty of changing someone’s worldview and belief system, even when that someone is yourself. While it’s easier to change one’s own worldview and belief system than it is to force someone else to change theirs, it can still be an immense struggle to change what you believe, even when you have a reason not to believe it any longer.

For me, it has to do with the holistic nature of the way my mind works. Learning something that throws my ideas out of balance—that proves that something I’ve held as true isn’t true after all—creates a need to have a true replacement that fits with everything else before I can have a stable whole once again. Something as fundamental as the essential nature of my priorities is intertwined with just about everything else I know and think. In order to reassess and reassert my priorities, I need a whole philosophy that incorporates the new information.

I’m still working on that. For the next while, that is what my self-care posts will be about

To Organize (Part 1): Finding Balance through Prioritization

  • Posted on July 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Being organized is a constant struggle in my life.  It’s not that I’m particularly unorganized, but there are several obstacles that make it more difficult.  The next few posts will be about obstacles and solutions—or how I manage to stay organized and productive.  (People have been asking that question again:  How do you do it?)

Obstacle 1: I have more to do than I can actually get done.

At first glance, this will seem like I take too much work upon myself.  There are those who would argue that’s exactly what this means.  It isn’t so simple.  Work needs to be done.  A lot of this work is simply mine—for example, nobody else can do my writing or my school work.  That’s mine to do.  A lot of the work needs to be done, and I’m just the one who is sure to get it done.  This includes much of the housework and household administrative tasks.  Again, it sounds like this is me taking on more work than I should, but the work I take on each day is only a fraction of the work I could take on each and every day and still leave plenty for the next day.

Being the “big picture” person that I am is a major complicating factor.  I see work on three different levels.  First, there is the work that requires years of daily or weekly effort to accomplish.  Raising my children, continuing my education, writing my books, writing my novels, running my business—these activities involve years’ worth of work.  And I see all this work laid out before me.  I don’t see all the little details that go into these major tasks, but I do see many of the major steps along the way.  This work never ends—at least, not while I am alive.  So, no matter how much I do today, there’s always more.  These are long-term goals that require a long-term commitment.  At this level, organization is primarily used to keep me from being too overwhelmed.

The second level of work is those mid-term goals.  This work includes teaching my children specific skills, completing my current class, planning my current book, writing my current novel, and managing and completing my current business-related projects, assignments, and tasks.  This level of work includes projects and assignments that will provide me with sufficient daily tasks for months to come.  Some projects or goals are longer in scope than others.  All require a significant amount of organization to keep me on task.

The third level of work involves daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  Household management tasks generally fall into this category—though there certainly are those mid-term and long-term household-related projects that weigh on my mind as well.  Many of these third-tier tasks, whether they are household-related or business-related, are on perpetual repeat.  No matter how many dishes I wash today, there will always be more dishes to wash tomorrow.  No matter how many blogs I visit today, there will always be new posts to read tomorrow.  That sort of thing.  Organization is primarily a prioritization task in this arena.

Solution 1a: Find balance by breaking goals down into tasks.

With three layers of tasks, there is a certain balance required.  I could fill day after day after day with third-tier work.  There are people who live their lives that way, and live them quite contentedly.  I’m not one of those people.  I like progress; I need accomplishments.  I by no means wish to belittled people whose lives are contentedly lived on the third-tier.  There is something admirable about that—and their households certainly run more smoothly than does my own.  But I’m not particularly skilled at the domestic round, nor am I particularly contented with it.  I need to write.  And I need that writing to accumulate into big projects—books, novels, collections of short stories and articles and blog posts.  And, of course, I could fill day after day after day with second-tier or first-tier work, at the exclusion of all else, but then my family life would be chaotic.  I mean, more chaotic than it is.

So, we’re back to balance.  In order to live my life well, I must balance first-tier, second-tier, and third-tier work.  Generally speaking, I regard second-tier work as the highest priority and third-tier work as the most urgent.  First-tier work is accomplished by breaking it down into second- and third-tier work.  In order to write my books, I have to start by writing my first book.  In order to write my first book, today I must work on the outline of my first chapter.  Another example:  In order to help my children achieve independence, I have to build a set of skills.  In order to build that set of skills, I have to work on this with Willy, that with Alex, and the other thing with Ben.  In short, in order to attain balance, I have to break down each tier until I have a lot of third-tier activities.  The difference, of course, is that now many of these third-tier activities will accumulate into the accomplishment of second-tier and first-tier activities. 

By breaking down first-tier and second-tier goals into third-tier activities, I find myself back to having more work to do than I can actually get done.

Solution 1b: Prioritizing tasks to equal accomplishments.

With so much third-tier work to do, I must prioritize the many tasks into categories of importance and urgency.  The hardest thing is not to be so driven by urgency that you neglect important things.  I could easily fill my days with urgent matters.  The problem is that by spending my time solely on urgent matters my tasks would never accumulate to the achievement of my goals.  I could easily fill my days with important matters.  The problem is that eventually the neglected urgent matters would eventual compile into an unimaginable monster that consumes me—or I’d trip over that one toy out of the hundreds on the floor that I couldn’t dodge, fall down the stairs and break my neck.  Either way it’s a “game over” for me.

I don’t want to be consumed by the urgency monster and I don’t want to have to dodge toys all the time.  So, we’re back to balance.  I balance important tasks, urgent tasks, and tasks that just need to be done whenever I have a spare moment (these tasks are often neglected until they become urgent).

To do this, I plan my week and create daily to-do lists.  Daily, color-coded to do lists.  This is where effectively managed OCD becomes a good thing.  Really.  This is also where I become especially grateful for tools like a Franklin Covey planner and Microsoft’s OneNote.

Then, of course, it’s just a matter of getting to work.  Easy, right?  Hm.