Finding Balance

In April of this year I started an experiment.  After almost ten months (gasp!) of not reporting to an employer, I took a gamble and accepted a position that would get close to full-time for several months. Four months later, I am nearing the end of the ‘busy season’ at the agency I am working for, and I am ready to report some findings.

  • I love working. I love being around other people, even if they are all approximately half my age. I love the joking, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging.  I love having a regular schedule — I get to work at a certain time, I set up my area, I greet my students, I work through the program, I send them on their way.  I like learning from my colleagues and from my students. Yes, I am the oldest employee at our office, but I am continually learning new things — new strategies that work with students, new ways of thinking about instruction, and even the latest slang terms (FYI, according to a student ‘whip’ means ‘to drive’).
  • Working is good for me.  On days that I work, I move more, I laugh more, I think more, and I interact more.  All of these ‘mores’ make me feel better. While I am working, I very rarely notice any symptoms of my illness.  I focus on my students and the task at hand, not on the pain in my hip or the inflammation in my joints.
  • After a certain point, the number of hours I work is inversely related to the number of hours that I can effectively interact with my family.  (Did you see that? I think I did math!) In other words, the more I work, the less mental energy I have left to communicate with, love on, and support my immediate family members.  I haven’t quite found the threshold at which this inverse relationship occurs.  I suspect that if I keep my work hours around 20-25 per week, I will still be able to hold real conversations, answer the phone at 7pm, and occasionally chat over dinner.  I have learned that after 40 hours, 35 hours, or even 32 hours of interaction with students, my ability to be available to my people after 6pm is dramatically limited.
  • In order to keep working, I have to schedule in time for exercise — not just a leisurely walk a couple of days a week after work, but real exercise. At the gym. Weights. Cardio. Pilates. All of it. When I realized how much I would be working this summer, I put a hold on my gym membership from April 15-August 15.  My theory was that the weather would be nice, so I would be walking. I could do Pilates at home.  Yeah, yeah.  Good intentions.  I have certainly gone for many walks this summer.  In fact, on my lunch hour at work, I often eat while walking.  I usually walk for close to 45 minutes during my one-hour break.  That’s good, but it’s not enough.  I need to do Pilates more consistently, not just once or twice a week.  I need to get back in the pool to decrease my inflammation and increase my mobility.  It’s got to be part of the schedule.  Starting August 15, it will be.
  • Family and friends are more important than working.  I am going to have to be disciplined enough to limit my hours so that I don’t sacrifice a chat on the phone with my sister, catching up with my daughters or sons over Skype, or spending the afternoon at a family reunion.  I asked for Wednesday mornings off starting after Labor Day so that I can get my weekly time with my Bible study battalion. I plan to reserve every Friday afternoon for walkabout with the husband.  Skyping and phone chats will be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Working reshapes my time for blogging.  Before I started working, I blogged every morning while enjoying my morning beverages.  This summer I have blogged whenever I have found time to spare.  For the fall?  Well, I am hoping to find a new rhythm that will include work, exercise, Bible study, family and friends, and blogging.  Because all of these things add up to a healthy and happy me.
  • And those other things that have to be done in life — cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc?  I am finding that they aren’t that important and that they happen when they truly need to happen.

So, the experiment has been good.  Yes, I have had some rough days.  Yes, I have cried some tears of exhaustion and frustration.  Yes, I have missed out on some opportunities.  However, I have made some great friends, I have learned so much, and I have been able to recognize some of my limitations and make a plan to adapt my schedule accordingly.  So now, onto the next phase of the experiment.

Psalm 25:4

Show me Your ways, O Lord,

Teach me Your paths;

Guide me in Your truth and teach me.


I feel like I am conducting an experiment.

Just three years ago I was entering the home stretch of the school year, assigning literary analyses, grading stacks of papers, preparing students for finals, and organizing thoughts for the end of year faculty meetings.  I easily worked fifty hours a week between teaching, preparing, grading, and other responsibilities. My husband was pastoring an inner city campus ministry church; he easily worked sixty to seventy hours each week. Two our children were in college; one of them had just enlisted in the Army and was preparing to leave.  The youngest was entering her junior year and all the craziness that that holds.

I burned the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle; I had no reason to expect that that would change.

I closed out the school year, cleaned out my classroom, inventoried department materials, attended meetings, and started my summer projects — reading, gardening, lesson planning for the next year, etc.  My pace was slower, but definitely still purposeful.

I’d been doing Zumba a couple of nights a week and running three to five miles, three to five days each week.  I was in decent shape for a fortysomething and anticipated running 5Ks for the foreseeable future.  I used to joke that I would keep running until I won my age group — even if that meant into my eighties.

Somewhere in the middle of all that summer activity, my elbows started to ache — both of them. I already routinely saw a sports medicine doc because of pain I’d had in my hip since my twenties.  He said I probably had tennis elbow. Tennis elbow?  I don’t play tennis, but ok.  Maybe it’s from all the time I spend playing games on my iPad.  No big deal. I kept stepping.

Later that fall I went to see my general practitioner.  I was tired.  So tired.  Maybe I had mono? Or was anemic? I was just dragging!  She ran blood work and reported that I was just perfect — nothing wrong with me at all.

So, why was I still dragging?  And, you know, it wasn’t just my elbows, my hips were really bothering me. And my back. And, now that you mention it, my eyes.

The doctor said I was tired, maybe depressed. And that, my friends, will cost you $35.

That whole fall I felt pretty crappy, so finally, on a hunch, I called the rheumatologist that had treated my daughter for a bizarre, but related, health issue the year before. I described to him my symptoms and he shared my concern.  To make this story a little bit shorter, let me just say that six weeks later I was in his partner’s office.

I’ve written about this a lot in this blog, I know.  If you’ve been following, you know that I’ve had a variety of diagnoses, none of which I am fully comfortable with.  What I tell most people who ask is that I have ‘autoimmune disease’.  I think my doctors say I have psoriasis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and who knows what else. Whatever. The story is that I get tired — really tired.  I ache most of the time. My eyes and skin periodically ‘flare’ up and make life a little more irritating than usual.

And that, my friends is how I got to this stage in my life of conducting an experiment.  After ten years of working at full throttle, I stopped everything.  I took several months off from everything and have been slowly adding things back in.  My family and I are like a bunch of scientists observing ‘the subject’ — me — and noting changes.  “You seem more tired today; do you think it’s because you took those three extra students last week?”  “I’m having a flare; I think I will need to spend the afternoon in bed.” “You’re walking like you are in pain; have you been exercising?”

This week I am pushing the limits a bit.  I am clocking twenty-four hours at the agency and an additional ten hours of tutoring.  As I add each appointment I brace myself a bit.  Thirty-four hours of direct instruction followed by a whirlwind Friday night trip could put me in bed for all of Sunday, but it might not.  I might be ok. I might actually enjoy it! I’ve gotta take the risk.  I have to know what my new normal is.

For the next two months I will clock over forty hours each week. Each hour will be spent working one-on-one with a student. By the end of those two months I might be exhausted, and I may have a better handle on what kind of pace will work best for me and my family.  I hope so, but for now I gotta get back to my test.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not men.

Colossians 3:23