Getting Life Back Into Balance
About ten years ago I realized that I needed to put more balance into my life. Like many people, I was spending a lot of time in one area of my life and neglecting others, and this was starting to be reflected in my physical and emotional health. My JRA was flaring badly and I regularly went through episodes of sleepless nights. When I say sleepless nights, I mean this literally. I had become so out of sync with myself it took me a long while to recognize this as a problem. Once I did I was a bit appalled, so I decided to figure out what to do. I came across a balance wheel, basically a pie chart of life areas that my friend Taralee had created for her book, A Balanced Life with Addiction: A Step-by-Step Recovery Program for Those Struggling with Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. Taralee is a recreational therapist and a good friend, and we have had many conversations about balance, so my solution to my problem had been right in front of my face for a while.
Taralee’s Balance wheel has six areas, Rest/Relaxation, Physical/Mental Health, Career/Finances, Positive Social Network, Leisure/Recreation, and Meditation/Spirituality. I had been putting all my energy into my career, physical exercise, and social time, forgetting to take care of my mental health, putting very little time into spirituality and only the bare minimum on rest. When I faced facts, it was obvious to me why my body had stopped sleeping and my pain/inflammation levels were skyrocketing into the stratosphere.
I’m not a fan of self-blame, but I am a fan of self-accountability and it was time to have a stern talk with myself. I started to put “speed bumps,” back into my day by resting during the afternoon. I came back to meditation, started a supplement regime that built my body strength up, and started going to an acupuncture doctor who helped to calm down my nervous system. I kept up my work schedule, but toned down my exercise regime, and while at work I tried to pace my day better by actually giving myself a lunch break instead of working through. It took months, but I finally started to see results. The extra rest I was giving myself during the day helped me not only my pain levels, but also my ability to sleep.
Since then, whenever I start to feel off-balance, I go back to thinking about Taralee and her balance wheel. These days it’s a regular occurrence because my JRA has become much more active so I have to make adjustments to my life on a regular basis. There is so much about living with a disease like rheumatoid arthritis that is out of anyone’s control, so whenever I can find a touchstone like this one that puts me back in the driver’s seat in my life I hold onto it. Almost inevitably, when I look at the wheel, it will spur me to be more honest with myself about how I’m feeling and what I’m doing. I may be feeling more stress than I want to admit, or taking on too many obligations, and so often when my JRA is taking over the only thing I want to do is put my head down and get through the day instead of looking at the hard facts and shifting things.
One thing I’ve learned about myself and people in general is that we can accommodate to almost any situation, and living with RA is an extreme example of this. One day we may have to accommodate to two hours sleep in extreme pain and the next, a knee and elbow that won’t bend because they are too swollen. Consistency with anything can become an impossible task, which is exactly why I think paying conscious attention to how balanced my life is can be a great way to keep some sense of normalcy to a very abnormal situation. When my life feels like I’m riding a bucking bronco, it helps to relax into it by making small adjustments every step of the way. Just like the cowboy changing the way he balances on the horse millisecond by millisecond in order to win the competition, by checking in and making slight, (or big) changes to the way I move through the day, I don’t have to get completely thrown off and start over in order to keep my life moving forward in a positive direction.
Balancing all areas of life
If you want to create your own balance wheel, you can use the six areas I talked about:
- Physical/Mental Health
- Positive Social Network
Or adapt it to fit your life. I like to have spirituality infuse all aspects which puts in the middle of the circle and separate mental and physical health:
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Positive Social Network
Right now, what RA tips would most be helpful for you?