A note on living a full life in difficult circumstances.
Shortly after my last post, I had what turned out to be the worst episode of my chronic illness experience so far. It started with an episode of uncontrollable tremors and escalated to the point where I had difficulty walking and talking for most of the month of July. I had quite a few 18 hours of sleep days and doctors appointment and emergency room visits during this flare up. It’s not fun, but that’s not really what my point is today.
When I worked a corporate job, the early symptoms of my neurological disorder didn’t care that there was work to be done. I was tired or dizzy or naseous almost all of the time, but I rarely showed it and was terrified of taking days off of work. I thought if I gave myself the inch of having a health day, I would probably never go back. A year later, when the anxiety of pretending to be healthy compounded with all those other symptoms, I proved myself right. I stopped working nine to five, and have never gone back to that schedule.
For me, health is just the impotus to creating a life that functions on my own schedule and answers only to myself. I think from the beginning I was built for the kind of work I do, but I didn’t acknowledge that until I was forced to. I had a very rigid idea of what success looked like, and I pushed my mind and my body into that box until I broke. I didn’t understand that you cannot change the reality of who you are.
That reality in my case is someone who suffers with a relapse/remission/flare-up illness that comes out of nowhere and makes “ordinary jobs” an impossibility. For other people that reality doesn’t have to be a health issue. It can also be your reality that you are a free spirit that will never be happy having to many constraints on your process. It can be your reality that you like the regularity of an office job and crave the structure it brings to your life. It can be your reality that remote work is too lonely for you and you need a communal space.
In all of these cases, the reality of who we are dictates the kind of work that will fufill us. I work in the entertainment industry because I need to know that when I’m sick I’m not letting anyone down by not showing up.
There is a difference between being lazy or hard to work with and not being built for something. I see people on set often that need way more structure than there can be when you’re working with so many variables. They’re irritable and often drag down the attitude of the whole crew. A free-lance life requires a certain tolerance for uncertainty and the ability to network. In the same way, the people who were the most fun when I worked in the corporate world were the ones who found joy in what they did. They liked getting dressed for work every day, having the stability of a company mission, and they created a family in their job because they genuinely wanted to be there.
I write this after digging my way out of hundreds of emails that had to go unanswered last month. To my complete unsurprise, none of the matters that wasted away in my inbox were life threatening or urgent. Thanks to my planning and the hard, painstaking work of building a career over the past two years, I have a career that is still there when I get back from taking care of myself.
I’m not saying it will be easy for you. It has been HARD work for me. There are and were huge periods of self-doubt and feeling like I was asking too much. But the relief of not having to pretend to be something I’m not anymore has completely transformed the way I look at making a living. Maybe it’s time for you to think about what your first steps will look like on the path toward a life that acknowledges your reality.