I’m struggling these days. I’ve recently shifted to a 100% workweek, because I quite simply can no longer afford not to get 100% of my salary. My many credit instruments are 100% tapped out. It’s the most flexible, most accommodating, most understanding arrangement my bosses could possibly support, and I am endlessly grateful that we could work something out. To accommodate my daily fatigue and my need to task-switch frequently and my unreliably diminishing vision, I work my 8-hour day over a period of 9-12 hours, depending on what I need on any given day. And I get to use my ears as much as my eyes, listening to relevant audiobooks and talks. And I’m not tied to my desk – I get to leverage technology. It means I’m shifting my outputs to more presentations and fewer papers, more meetings and training and networking, and expanding the topics that I am developing expertise in. It also means that I feel like I am constantly working, always on. It has helped me work with, around, the physical aspects of my disease. It is, or will, slowly (very slowly) help me climb out of my mountain of debt that I’ve accumulated due to paying for my many treatments, and due to working less than full-time thanks to the inability to do what normal people do, and due to the many months of going without any pay at all when I was off work completely.
The currency I am paying in, in order to accomplish all of this, is my mood, my relationships, my sense of inner peace, my health. My quality of life. Work-life balance, you ask? I’m sorry, what? What’s that you say? Wait a sec, there’s such a thing?
No, I’m afraid not. Work-life balance is for the privileged. Not for persons with disabilities. We don’t get to have that luxury.
Maybe, if I’m very lucky, in 6-8 years my son will move out, and I’ll be able to downsize to a 2 bedroom apartment, and sell my house, and then I’ll be able to afford to reduce my hours to 80% again. I doubt it, seeing as he’s on the autism spectrum, and he can’t currently clean his own room or manage his compulsive eating on his own. But maybe. The goal is to raise a self-sufficient adult, and he’s managing to get through school OK so far, so there’s hope for eventual independence. And, the last 2 years of my career, I’ll have the option to go down to 50% hours without impacting my pension, if I can afford it, if I’ve made housing changes by then and moved into a 1 bedroom apartment or condo with both kids moved out. So, I really just need to make it 6 years, 8 years, 12 years, 14 more years. I can do that, right? One day at a time.
The irony is that I should be celebrating. Yes! I can do this! I’m well enough now to be part of the real world, and pass for a normal person! The bank might actually let me remortgage, eventually, and consolidate my debts, now that I will have a regular salary again! (Once I improve my credit rating substantially, that is.) A friend actually did congratulate me recently, thinking that I’d made my choice because I was feeling better. Not knowing that it’s neither a choice, nor that I’m actually better.
I’ll get through this. Relying upon my grit, as I do. Right now, to manage, I’m bunkering down. Focussing on self-care, silence, alone-time. Saying no to friends, family. Getting some exercise in, every day, even if the most I can manage is my walk to work. Making sure that the little bit I can eat is the healthiest food I can find. Greens. Fish. Legumes. Berries. Nuts. Chia seeds. All the good-mood foods. Many days I live off of my trailmix and overnight oats and hummous, but, that’ll do. Every once in a while things taste good, and my tummy doesn’t rebel, and I get to enjoy food fully. Sure does make one appreciate.
I’ve been keeping up with my daily meditation practice, as I fall into my daily nap, and it helps. It helps me remember my mindfulness the rest of the day, remember my body scan, body presence skills, remember my gratitude. It helps me stay out of dissociation. It helps me connect with my dog, sink into music, feel the sunshine. Next step is building a regular yoga routine into my day. That hasn’t consistently happened yet, but there’s a chance it might. To do it, I have to steal time and energy from something else, and since every moment is currently essential for some other essential thing, like sleep, or work, or getting the kids to school, or groceries, or chores, then yoga has been cornered into a class a week or the very rare yoga retreat weekend. But, I have the dream of a daily practice. And all new realities start with dreaming of them. Also, aiming to become a monk, or a yogi, is pretty financially sustainable. Thank goodness for the appeal of minimalism.
I am deeply, ever, grateful that I love my job. That I’m in the perfect position, and that I’m passionate about my work. This could never work otherwise. I could never slowly disappear, ounce by ounce, working for an employer, or a cause, I didn’t believe in. Then it wouldn’t be a slow wearing-down, it would be a total collapse. And I’m also ever grateful that work supports my studies, and that my academic and my professional interests align, the psychology of human behaviour, choices, incentives. So that if I do go off the rails again, and I suffer concurrent burnout and depression again, and I do have to eventually retire early for medical reasons and live off of a reduced pension, that I will have a back-up plan, that I will be able to research and write part-time to supplement my income for as long as I need to. And the back-up to my back-up plan is to become a part-time yoga teacher, so I feel relieved knowing that in the long run, I will manage. I will be OK.
I intellectualize, over-analyze, when I’m feeling numb. It’s my lifelong coping mechanism. Many depressives do – it’s a way to stay out of your feelings, when feeling is completely overwhelming. It’s one of the ways in which depression helpd us get through trauma, helps us overcome difficult circumstances. Depression is adaptive, ultimately. One of nature’s great species-preserving secrets. Helps keep us alive. Ironic, isn’t it, that the most noticeable aspect is how depression makes you not want to live?
For now, the goal is to stay out of complete relapse. I have my depressive cycles, but they are more manageable than they used to be, thanks to good medication and good coping skills and good habits I’ve made myself make non-negotiable in my daily routine. For the past 2 years, I’ve had more normal, healthy months than I’ve had depressive months, with my depressive episodes lasting closer to 3 months than 6, and my healthy periods the inverse. This is huge progress.
So, I do consider myself lucky to only be struggling, to only be in half relapse, to be managing to manage. My dog considers herself lucky to be getting extra cuddles. So, just like on my difficulty-eating days, I’ll just keep eating one bite at a time.