Balance. It sounds good. Who doesn’t want balance in their lives? Yet, when it comes to making choices, choosing balance can be hard. For me, learning balance has taken much time, involving self-reflection and thoughtful action.
There was a time when I lived my life without much thought about my choices. The trajectory of my life was predetermined by what had been expected of me since I was a child: school, college and then career. I was always busy, never lazy-filling my time with activity.
Then the day came when the rheumatoid arthritis I’d had since I was two decided to take over my body. Looking back, there had been an insidious progression of my symptoms for over a year but they didn’t seriously distract me from my busy life until the day after my two brothers had surgery.
John gave Ned a kidney. My two brothers, one critically ill and the other saving his life by risking his own. In my wildest nightmares I never could have imagined such a horrible circumstance yet here it was. The day after I stood by and watched my brothers’ bodies get cut open and Ned began coming back to life, my life started to slip away. I woke up wincing in pain and realized that my elbows hurt too much to lift the heavy comforter off my body. This began year of struggle during which my physical discomfort took over and seeped into every area of my life. If I’d ever had any doubt before that stress can exacerbate illness, that quickly disappeared.
What does this have to do with balance? When physical health, by necessity, becomes the focus of your life, balance is hard to hold onto. Yet, the harsh truth I can now accept is that if I’d known how important balance is for resilience and a life that doesn’t tip into illness, I could have prevented the steep decline that began when my stress was so high.
The years getting my body back into health taught me a lot. Over time I began to look at every area of my life and really evaluate what I’d been neglecting. I realized that I pushed myself much harder than I needed to and wasn’t taking enough time to fully relax. During my young adult years I’d moved more than ten times, lived in five states, changed jobs with each move, and never gave a thought to how that affected me. I was extremely physically active and always challenging myself with a new sport, job, or hobby. The enforced rest I had to take when my joints started hurting so much that even taking a bath was impossible because I couldn’t get out of the tub once I got in, made me stop and really look at what I was doing and why.
All the emphasis I had placed on keeping busy caused me to neglect one vitally important area of my life- true connection to myself and others. This is how I managed to miss the many warning signs my body was showing me. This is why I never stopped to rest until I was forced to. I acted the way I did because I had never questioned the conditioning I had received as a child. I’d never given much thought to who I really was.
What I’ve come to realize is that balance first comes to the mind: when I give myself a break and stop being so self demanding in my thoughts. Then, it proceeds to my actions, bringing me more time for rest and recuperation, moving when I need to and stopping when it’s best. Having my life in balance means bringing regular attention to all aspects of my life: positive social support, family, leisure, career, spirituality, mental health, physical health, and rest. Sometimes one area needs more attention, but that doesn’t mean the others are forgotten.
When I start to feel like a hamster on a wheel, running to nowhere, I’ve learned to jump off, look around, and see what needs to be adjusted. Taking time every so often and in a thoughtful manner, reassessing how I’m doing and what I’m neglecting, keeps me aware of how balanced I am. Because I am self aware I can easily create intentions and goals to shift my life back to balance when the need arises.
Balance, like life, is ever changing, and the more resilient I am, the more balanced I can be.