In my life before MS the term ‘work-life balance’ was all about being successful – succeeding in my professional career and having a busy social life to boot. It still is to some extent, but nowadays it’s much more of a tightrope balancing act, and not necessarily in a bad way.
Three years after my diagnosis, I am lucky enough to still be able to work a full-time job. I am very grateful for this, as I would be devastated at the prospect of having to give up my work. I come from a family of strong women who took an active role in contributing to their households. Giving my career up would be very difficult for me. Plus, I love the customers I look after and my colleagues who I’ve developed close friendships with over the years.
Striking the balance at work
I’m lucky that I sit at a desk, my office is air conditioned and that my commute is (mostly) a straight-forward 20-minute drive. And what’s more, my boss is okay with me using a big pair of headphones when the noise level becomes too much, or a beanbag for when I need to elevate my feet. Of course, this level of consideration from my boss (and colleagues) may only come when you can be open with them about your MS.
Striking the balance in my personal life
I am also learning to make small adjustments to my personal life and it’s making all the difference. If you also live with MS and are looking to do the same, here are things you should consider:
Choose low intensity exercise
I’ve decided to swap out my activities on the days when I have the energy to exercise. Instead of running on roads, I would hit the cross trainer in an air-conditioned gym. Instead of intense aerobics classes I’d opt for yoga. Keeping up regular, moderate exercise has also been claimed to help with many MS symptoms, as well as improving general quality of life – so keep it up if you can.
Improve your morning routine
By getting up earlier and building meditation into my morning routing, I have managed to make the process of getting ready for school and work a less rushed and more relaxed experience. Which by the way, works a treat for staving off fatigue!
Schedule in rest days
In the holidays I alternate active and rest days. A day on the beach with a good book following a busy trip to the zoo the day before, is just what’s needed to recoup and avoid crashing in a heap of exhaustion. A guilt-free afternoon nap on the sofa while my 8-year-old watches a movie is also perfect for recharging. It means I have the energy to enjoy the rest of the evening, either cooking a family meal or catching up with a friend – you know, just generally not being a zombie when my husband comes home from work.
Now I also plan days out differently. A trip to a theme park for example doesn’t need to happen on the hottest day of the week. If lots of walking will be involved, I plan regular breaks to give me a chance of getting a good rest for at least 30-minutes (or more if possible). If I need to drive a long way after a day out, I may plan to have an early supper at a local restaurant before setting off home. Again, this gives me a chance to recuperate from a busy day, fuel my body, and hopefully avoid rush hour traffic before hitting the road.
Even learning to say this two letter word is something I’m getting better at. I don’t need to swim 40 lengths after a long day at work. I don’t need to join my neighbour for that evening BBQ if I can barely see after a busy day with my son. The vacuum can stay firmly in the cupboard and my house doesn’t need to sparkle every day.
No longer do I feel guilty about saying that I can’t manage something, and my friends understand that. More importantly, I understand not to put too much pressure on myself and trust in my body to make the right decision for me. I can say “no”.
Life can still be full if you are just clever about it. No longer does my definition of work-life balance mean I have to do the most and be the best. With a little planning and a few adjustments that are barely even noticeable, I can still have lots of adventures. Even when I live with a chronic condition like MS. In fact, I’m grateful that my body forces me to take a step back and focus on truly looking after myself. That’s what’s important.
UK/MED/19/0242 September 2019