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Alternating and overflowing spoon stacked on top of each other.

Consolidating Spoons

“I quit.”

I did not say it like that.  But the meaning was there.  For five years I have served on the school board of a local charter school.  Last evening, I resigned effective July 1, 2019.  I believe in the mission of the school; it is a place where kids in public schools find a safe environment to pursue their high school diploma.   Oftentimes these students have been bullied, they do not fit in, or they have disciplinary issues that cannot be solved by a local middle or high school.  In short, we take the kids who do not fit in, and we help them obtain a Middle School education or High School diploma.  In the past, I have served as Board President, Vice President, and Secretary.  I am incredibly proud of the contribution I have been able to make there. I hope the remainder of the Board is as well.

Pick one activity

Including this Board right now I have three time consuming monthly meetings. The school Board requires about 2-4 hours per month, the Arthritis Foundation Patient Engagement Committee requires one telephone hour per month, and the FDA Patient Engagement Committee also requires 1-2 telephone hours per month.  While that seems like a small commitment, I also must add several hours of reading to be an effective participant of each of these bodies.   The combination of the three simply needs more spoons than I can afford.  So, I needed to resign from one of these positions.  I chose the school board because during the five years I have served, the organization has grown much stronger and is in a wonderful place both financially and regarding personnel to be able to explore its services and sustain its growth for years to come.  I am proud of that, and it helps me feel good about my service.

The factors – I didn’t have enough spoons.

I knew I had to give up at least one of these obligations because of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  The fact is that no matter how hard I try I cannot do it all.  I am 61 years old and as we all know three autoimmune diseases is a lot.  Two of these diseases are rearing their ugly head recently.  In February I will have foot surgery to correct damage done by Charcot Foot1 2 (an outgrowth of diabetes and to some degree RA3), my back hurts nearly 24 x 7 and while RA seems stable the question is how long will that last?

In short, my spoons for external volunteer efforts are used up, and I need some back (some back – get it).  Resigning from the school board gets me a few of those spoons back, and those spoons will be applied to staying healthy and spending time with Sheryl.

I need to keep spoons in reserve.

Perhaps I needed to get stretched too thin in order to be able to realize how important it is to keep some spoons in reserve?  I can honestly say that before I had to retire, I would have kept going no matter what.  I am deeply passionate about alternative education opportunities for kids.  As a former school administrator, I know we lose too many kids because traditional high schools, as good as they are in our area, just cannot be everything to everyone.  I was nearly one of those kids, and while I made it through, a place like this Charter School might have helped me.

As people with RA, we must prioritize and carefully select where we place our efforts.  This was a difficult choice for me to make.  That limit turned out to be sacrificing my involvement with this Board.  As I resigned (effective July 1), I told the board members that I hope I had served well enough that someday (when I get a few of my spoons back), perhaps they will invite me to join once again.

Never burn a bridge, after all, I needed to serve on this board when I started five years ago because I needed to find meaning for my life. I imagine that need may reappear.  If it does, I hope I can serve once again.  I can see what has been accomplished over this last five years and I am excited about the next five years for the organization. I will be thrilled to watch it grow into a powerhouse school for kids who do not always fit into a regular school environment.

My question is what are you passionate about that has caused you to volunteer to serve an organization and how did the experience shape you?  Let me know.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Charcot Foot. 2018. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15836-charcot-foot.
  2. Marmolejo V, Arnold J, Ponticello M, Anderson C. Charcot Foot: Clinical Clues, Diagnostic Strategies, and Treatment Principles. 2018. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0501/p594.html.
  3. Charcot arthropathy of the foot and ankle associated with rheumatoid arthritis. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23900228.

Comments

  • spljoy
    3 months ago

    I served on the board of a local NPO for six years.I was to continue serving on the executive committee as a past officer, but much as I loved the organization I had too much on my plate last fall to continue (I am still working two PT jobs which add up to more than FT).

    I have also been volunteering with my church but have drawn clear lines. For example, there was a meeting the other evening that was to last two hours and it was over dinner time. Eating too early does not work well for me nor does eating too late. I told the organizer, and I stuck to it, that I would be there for one hour. Turns out there were more than enough people at the meeting and they came to a conclusion about next steps after I left and I would have agreed with them.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    Sometimes things work out for the very best. Even when we are not there to influence the outcome.

  • kat-elton
    3 months ago

    Hi Rick, Thanks for this article, it speaks to me for sure! Leaving my job as an O.T. was so hard the first time I went back to work only to realize two years later that this decision had caused me more joint damage and physical suffering; I left that job completely devoid of spoons. I’m a bit stubborn so sometimes I need to be hit over the head with self-realizations but when I finally understood what I needed to do I stopped working as an O.T. Now, like you, I’m spreading out my spoons carefully and trying to be mindful about how my body feels as I take on something new. It’s been a learning curve but I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel as if my life is full but not too full. My passions are all related to helping people to help themselves and spending time in nature so that’s been my focus when I’m not doing my part-time job of helping my body live with JRA as well as possible….. Thanks again for a great article!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    Kate, I often tell people that thsoe of us with chronic illness each have a full time job, we do not want and cannot quit. I love that at least in one area we get to choose how we spend our spoons.

  • EmmaCB
    3 months ago

    It sounds like you contributed a great deal to the school, but you’re right to step back now and concentrate on your health.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    Emma, I think the school probably gave me more than I gave them. I joined the board when I needed to feel professionally challenged. I hope I gave them half of what they gave me.

  • StephenS
    3 months ago

    Rick, I’m right there with you. I know I need to dial back my commitments a bit, and I’m in the process of that. Just knowing I’m scaling down feels better already.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    I wish you much good fortune as you have to make these changes. I believe you will be successful.

  • Carla Kienast
    3 months ago

    I am right there with you having made the difficult decision a few years ago to quit working full time and, more recently, to cut back on some of my advocacy activities. What I’ve realized is that the ability to do that is a privilege. So many people can’t quit work, can’t not take care of their kids, can’t outsource chores. RA and other chronic diseases take making hard decisions. Thanks for an insightful article.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    I know when I gave up work I was so lost, I did the crazy thing of going back to school. Not for additional training, rather to remain stimulated. Thankfully I have found better ways of dealing with boredom. LOL

  • jdaph
    3 months ago

    I was finally diagnosed with R.A. two years ago but have probably had it for decades,, as well as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Chronic fatigue, and am now pre diabetic all that to say,, 10 years ago I started and run my own preschool/primary age soccer program and ran it through the local community education,, it was, (is) my passion, I wrote the curriculum, and was there every single day coaching, and training in student coaches to help me. I finally realized from complete and total exhaustion while trying to do the soccer program in the summer of 2017 that I was facing a HUGE decision, and about a year later finally had to give it up completely.. it broke my heart, I cried for months.. but there is no way I can continue to do it.. So that is the biggest thing I have had to give up so far. This year, I work as a substitute , I have had to drastically reduce the hours I work. My body just wont handle it anymore.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    I dislike giving up things, but I am certain no matter how hard I try it will always be very difficult.

  • joanndg1
    3 months ago

    Thank you SO much for your shirt but sweet, honest and to the point article. I am still working as a teacher with RA (and thyroid disease) but the analogy and choosing spoons and keeping some on reserve has been my biggest and most difficult challenges! That is, aside from managing pain and fatigue!
    I hope things worked out well for your foot surgery and thank you again for writing AND sharing ❣️

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips author
    3 months ago

    I am so glad you appreciated my article. I admire that you found teaching as your profession. While I was employed by two school districts, I am not a teacher. As an administrator I was committed to alternative education and this board position was ideal for my interests. I bet I find my way back to this or a similar board in the future.

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