Only Human: 7 Keys to survival when your work life is rocked by illness
I'm only human despite being a self-proclaimed work life pundit. Fess-up time. My life has been less about the work life merge, and more about life and survival lately. As an entrepreneur and freelance journalist navigating a sudden health care mishap, for a time I felt like the gal looks to your left; cloistered and wrapped in my own stuff, due to sudden partial facial paralysis. Now in the healing process, I'm hoping that this post might help others as work life flexibility was the greatest key to moving forward.
I had entered The Dark Night of the Soul, as the 16th century Mystic, Saint John of the Cross wrote about. No where to go but inside and surrender to the moment. Such a seclusion is simply the norm of human nature whilst enduring such episodes.
But even in this rapture of emotional turmoil I was reminded of the words of American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, the author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times...
If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path. Without giving up hope that there's somewhere better to be, that there is someone better to be - we will never relax with where we are or who we are.
Radical Acceptance in the Moment
This is called radical acceptance; but it's in the moment - and that moment changes as healing emerges. As we hit the depths of the chaotic waters of our being, some aberration occurs that shifts our perspective. For me, it was the realization that despite my appearance, I had a story to share that might help others in similar circumstances whose career was on the line. I could not appear on Tv for a while, could barely see out of one eye, suffered with headaches and exhaustion - and had to completely change my working scenario for nearly two months. But, there was a story.
I'll spare you the gory and painful details. What happened is less important than how I dealt with it, toward maintaining some sort of work life balance. I haven't blogged much because the collision of side effects was daunting. It was hard to get out of bed, let alone see. My work-life social media community checked in - from time-to-time - inquiring about the lapse in posting to my Work Life Nation blog. Soon the questions were building like a house of cards about to tumble.
"Haven't seen you on Twitter, what's going on?"
"Sent you that book a while back, do you still plan to review it?"
"It seems impossible to get a lunch date with you. Why do you keep rescheduling?"
"You have cancelled three major work life conferences. Fess up."
Surrendering to the Human Condition and Fessing Up
No - I wasn't dying. But there were no guarantees the malady would not leave me with scars of paralysis or other issues. So...after some prodding by colleagues, I felt an obligation to share how I navigated the intersection of work life and sudden illness. After all, that's what I signed up to do here at Judy Martin's Work Life Nation, although it's been more like Work Sleep Nation for a while.
I knew upon the occurrence that I was dealing with what could last a few weeks - to a potentially long term, even life-altering disability or deformity. My response involved lots of crying, surrender to the situation and then my survival instincts kicked in. I've been a reporter for 20-plus years and I was going to systematically figure out the fastest track toward healing while mustering up enough energy to work; albeit that workload was cut by 50-75% in the first few weeks of the illness. The first lesson - my work life scenario had to change and I had to adopt an even more flexible working model for the short term.
7 Keys for the Work Life Merge when Navigating Illness
This sudden illness brought me to my knees and forced me to tap a deep inner strength that coddled my sanity along the way. I sat down and gave thought to the most important priorities, everything else was put on the back burner in stages. There was no choice but to merge the work life scenario and become even more flexible that I was before. It meant taking only certain assignments, even if they didn't pay as well. Planning naps every day - twice a day. And somehow fitting in doctors visits twice a week. As an independent contractor, I govern my work in a flexible manner. But suddenly, my workload and income was contingent on how well I was healing - and healing was contingent on how much cash I could spend on extra procedures (such as acupuncture) to heal faster. Catch 22. So I made ground rules.
Key #1: At all costs, health comes first: Even if it means dipping deeper into the bank account for a short period of time or asking for outside help.
Key #2: Keep stress levels to a minimum, and get plenty of sleep. Stress deters the healing process. Plain and simple.
Key #3: Financial Stability: As an independent contractor, cash flow might slow down - but it can't stop.I had to take on less strenuous freelance work for the short term.
Key #4: Maintain business relationships: Check in with major clients to be sure everything is up to snuff. If you can't get it done, delegate. Do you have a cache of colleagues you can call upon to help out short term?
Key #5: Transparency and communication: Close friends need to know what's happening and important clients or your workplace should be informed to a degree.
Key #6: Understand your health options and insurance coverage: Read the fine print in the doctors office, ask questions and get a second opinion. Getting the wrong medication, having an unnecessary procedure, or not knowing the consequences of a health care choice eats into recovery time. I ran into all three conundrums.
Key #7: Inquire about your workplace guidelines regarding illness: Every workplace is different. Read up on the Family Leave Act and ask your Human Resources department about your options. Some companies have their own policies for long-time employees. What are the consequences of taking a leave of absence or time off without pay? If your management is receptive, ask about more flexible working arrangements. Most of all be honest about what you can and can not do.
The 5 Rules for Engaging on the Grid when Navigating Illness
Due to this health issue I had to head off the grid to recover while working in spurts. My blogging stopped, my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn updates were no more than sporadic. But I tried to check in at least once a week and made an effort to read a few articles or other blogs a few times a week. But participating in "the grid" was important to fuel business, my brand and my work life content, so I had to manage my time efficiently during the little time that I was functioning with my eye open. Here were some rules that I instituted:
Rule #1: Determine how many hours a day you can work on the grid. Give yourself a limit.
Rule#2: The hours that you are able to work should be spent on goal-oriented projects not web surfing unless research is part of your responsibilities.
Rule#3: To keep my presence on-line, I scheduled a few blog posts to hit a few times a month. These were evergreen posts that could be run at any time - but I could not keep up and should have adopted the following rule sooner than I did.
Rule #4: Call on your social media community in your niche. You'll find support in that group and they might be willing to do guest posts while you are recovering.
Rule #5: Use an aggregator like Hooter or TubeMogul to post to Twitter, LinkeIn and FaceBook simultaneously.
A Conscious Approach to Recovery and Enduring Work Life Hell
I think the most important key to recovery is to find some serenity in the healing process. Sometimes we're brought to our knees in tragedy, but how we endure that journey can either speed up our recovery or render it more daunting. My greatest gift this lifetime is that I've paid attention to the chaotic episodes I've endured in my work life and health, and have turned them into learning experiences. As such, I cultivate resilience through meditation, contemplation and exercise daily. A regular practice to cultivate serenity gives you a bit of an edge when tragedy hits. But that's an individual choice.
Illness can break one down. It's very important to be kind to ourselves when we get sick. We tend to beat ourselves up. At its core, health care issues force change. Unwanted change takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us vulnerable to our own self critical thinking and the judgment of others. Such challenges may erode our patience and ego, but inevitably, conquering them leads to growth.
When faced with illness how do you manage your work life merge? What do you do when you get so sick that working takes a backseat? Please share your wisdom!
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