Archives for posts with tag: work/life balance

I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, as I do nearly every day. I don’t always take the same route and I don’t always plan it out in advance. But this was a route I’d taken many times. When I am walking, I typically keep my eyes on the trees and the flowers as well as watching out for cars and for uneven pieces of side walk that stick up. (I have tripped many times.)

It was a clear sunny morning. I happened to look up along the horizon. There was the top of Mt. Rainier looming above. I don’t remember ever having seen it on this route. But perhaps, I was not looking at the right time. I have spent 40 of my 49 years living in this part of the world. It is only a 30 minute drive to the house in which I grew up. I have seen Mt. Rainier many many times, thousands of times.

I couldn’t even see the whole mountain. Nonetheless, I gasped and reflexively put my hand to my chest. The mountain itself, though about 100 miles (160 km) away, is incredibly majestic, even in partial view. There is some disagreement, but standing at 14, 409 feet (4392 meters), it is the highest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Even from my neighborhood in Seattle, I could see the sun glistening on the ice of the glaciers. America, the Beautiful, right in front of me.

I have been working pretty hard lately, working more hours than I had planned to at least for the next couple of years. But I have my reasons and some of them, like the fact I am having to work more to cover a marked decrease in my collection rate for my business, are not pretty.

Some of the reasons, however, are pretty. I am working more to help pay to take more vacations. This month, my husband and I will spend a childless five nights on the Oregon coast. Next month, we will drive across the border into Canada to visit parts of Vancouver Island that we have not previously visited as well as reconnecting with the city of Vancouver, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been. I take another couple of days off to go hiking with John’s aunt and uncle, who will be visiting us for the first time in Seattle. In August, I am taking time off to visit with dear friends from out of state. In September, my family travels to North Carolina for a much anticipated wedding and a celebration of our kid’s 17th (!!!!) birthday!

Then the plan is for the work-a-thon to end. No worries, I am already scheduling patients in September and I am taking care to go back to my old ways of not working full time hours. My energy level typically drops in late October, anyway, as the daylight hours grow shorter. Today, we will have 16 hours of sunlight. I’m not coming home from work in the dark. I have been gardening and doing home projects, like getting my home organized again!

But it is true that when I work more hours, I tend to live less in the present, to keep my head down, shoveling. These are also times of greater stress, when it is easy to borrow trouble in life and to expect bad things to happen.

It is good to look up to the surprise of a mountain’s majesty. It is important for me to remember that there are good surprises in life.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

I am grateful for my blessings, really, I am. And I have a multitude of blessings. I work hard to be a happy and balanced person. Most of the time my daily life makes sense to me. Most of the time my responsibilities feel bearable. Sometimes, like today, I feel worn out. I feel like I am living a life that requires 150% of me. People, each of us only has one whole self, which is 100%. 110% only exists on those stupid business motivational posters.

One of the things that I tried to change about my life after my cancer diagnosis is expecting myself to work near 100% capacity every day. I need to rest like every one else. I need balance and rejuvenating experiences.

I have been working myself hard since November. Really really hard. My family life has been hard and my work life has been hard. My health, thank goodness, has been good.

When I was younger, working more than is healthy, held certain seductive powers. I felt accomplished, strong, and self-sacrificing, the last of which giving a moral edge or some kind of “get out of jail free card”.

It’s so easy to work too hard. It’s hard to rest, to have ease. I hate that. I hate that having ease takes so much damn work. Easy shouldn’t be hard but it is.

Last year, I had two periods, each a few days long, when I felt transported into a fun, easy world outside of my work and family responsibilities. Both times, I spent time with friends and mostly without my family. It was fantastic. It was easy. Then I got back to my normal life, which although rich with blessings and meaning, landed on me like a ton of bricks.

The work on moving my psychology office occurred over two major holidays, some tough parenting issues, and financial stress. It took a lot of time and money in amounts far exceeding what I wanted.  Although I am very happy with the outcome, I am worn out. I need a break. Yesterday, I was working on some summer plans. They became complicated quickly. At this time and place in my life, it hit me hard and I was sad. I was disappointed. I was sad and disappointed not with myself or anyone else, but with the lack of ease in my life. I was teary when my husband came home. I explained in a few sentences. He totally understood; after all, we share a life together.

It’s not easy to be easy. I guess I will keeping working hard on that.

I was quite an awkward 11 and 12 year-old, as many girls are during those ages. I was and I still am very close to my mom and I remember talking to her about that stage of not being a young child but not quite being a teenager. Mom had suitable song lyrics for this and sometimes responded by singing, “Too young for boys, too old for toys, I’m just an in-between.”

“In between” is a phrase that has been popping into my mind frequently. I feel like an “in-between” as a cancer patient.

Actually, when I really think about it, I’ve felt like an “in-between” during this whole process and I see my friends going through the same thing. I remember in the early days of breast cancer I was shuttled back and forth between assessment and treatment. And even some of the treatment, that is surgery, was also used for assessment. There are blurry lines. It is a systematic process but there are many data gathering and decision points.

Other than my tamoxifen and Lupron shots, I am not in active cancer treatment. My oncology appointments are more spread out. I don’t even see my surgeon any more, I just see the nurse practitioner in the surgery office who works with “survivors”, the ultimate “in-between” status. Actually, there’s another in-between because if I am to need to have a breast cancer surgeon again, I need to see someone else. Dr. Wonderful not only “broke up” with me for being too healthy, he also retired from clinical practice, just last week. He is remaining at my cancer center doing research and in a leadership position regarding improving patient care. At least I can still send him a Christmas card later this year. He will not have moved back home yet. (He is Canadian, from Toronto, and I’ve always figured that he and his wife will move back to be with their sons and grandchildren.)

My current “in-between” balancing act is juggling my responsibilities. Okay, this is not a new balancing act as I have done it throughout my entire experience with cancer. However, as my energy is increasing, I have been able to work more. During 2013 my income, after deducting my expenses, was 50% of what it was pre-cancer. 2014 will not be a year like 2011 but it will be a much better year. I can see myself getting out of debt. My husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries along with our 50th birthdays in 2015. We would like to take a trip to Turkey along with our daughter, to celebrate. We have a lot of saving to do if we are going to be able to take that trip. I certainly can’t contribute to that kind of expense without getting out of debt.

I am feeling the tug of responsibility to my friends, especially my friends in the breast cancer community. I know that I am not as available for communications as I once was. Some of my friends I know only through online conversations. I don’t like to distinguish them from IRL (in real life) friends because all of my friends are real life friends. Great distances as well as time differences can make communication difficult, though. And further, I confess that I am less likely to ask, “how are you” to friends who are having emotionally and physically difficult times. I don’t like to ask that question unless I am prepared to respond with the kind of time someone needs if the answer is not, “I’m fine, thank you. And you?”  I am frequently pulled away to other responsibilities at home and at work. I don’t want to do a half-assed job of supporting my friends. I’ve had too many times in my life when a friend has asked “How are you?” during a hard spot in my life and my eyes tear up with the anticipation that I will be able to share my burdon with someone only to find out that the friend really does not have the time or mental energy just right then to tend to me.

I am also worried about losing my connection with the breast cancer community. I write frequently, but when I am really busy, I have fewer ideas. I don’t want my ideas to dry up and then the social connections to dry up as well.

Most of all, I am worried about losing my connection to the opportunity (not “gift”, mind you) breast cancer and my emotional recovery have given me to truly cherish life. I want to be connected to and mindful of the full richness of life.

I suspect I will work my way through this. I also suspect that I will not run out of things to communicate, even if not through blogging. And as far as blogging goes, I think I still have much to write here on this page. But I also want to respect and take note of the anxiety and fatigue I’ve been feeling lately. The anxiety is of the “lurking in the shadows” variety and not the spinning top anxiety I get when I go into overdrive.

Maybe the “new normal” that is talked about is actually a radical acceptance that life is always in-between.

When I was a girl, my younger brother, Jim frequently rode our bikes. I remember the pumping my legs furiously so that I could coast along for awhile without having to do anything to propel myself. It was exhilarating going down hills and on the flat, it created joyful stretches of ease, moments of effortlessness.

Being a healthy person, having a healthy marriage, and being a good parent are all “works in progress”. When John and I saw a psychologist for marital therapy years ago prompted by family planning issues, I asked her sincerely, “When is the time when we get to coast in marriage?” She promptly responded, “Never.” I remember my shock at her response at the time. It’s kind of funny looking back at my thoughts at that time. I do know that I was quite overwhelmed by my life and about to enter my second episode of major depression. It was a fantasy I had that after all of the hard work I had done in my life, that I would be able to coast. I would have an easy time as a wife, parenting  would get easy.

I was reminded of my wish to coast recently when I realized that after all of my hard work, I had strayed off of Weightwatchers and begun to gain weight. I didn’t gain a lot of weight and I’ve started losing again. It may not seem to be a big deal to you but I have gained and lost weight many times since I was 14 years old. And as I have mentioned, the last two periods of weight gain had put me into the clinically obese range. My breast cancer was highly responsive to estrogen and progesterone. Our adipose tissue (fat and other stuff) has glandular function and increases female hormone production. I know it is important for me to exercise and eat right. I am very lucky to not have physical issues that would interfere with my ability to exercise and to have a life situation that makes it possible for me to work part time. But even knowing these things, my weight has crept up in the past when I stopped paying attention to my habits, when I tried to coast in my life.

I have lived a good bit of my life working at capacity and feeling fairly stressed out. At these times, I have thoughts like, “It will be SO much easier, when ____________” This blank has been completed in many different ways over the years, “when I finish school”, “after the baby starts sleeping through the night”, “after my career is established”, “after my daughter is grown”, “when my husband’s job situation improves”, “after my cancer treatment is done”, “after my energy returns”, “after I start working full time again.”

But the truth of the matter is that although stress ebbs and flows throughout out lives, we are never done with it. And there are always unknowns and unexpected challenges that loom on the horizon.

In my work, I specialize in what for most children are chronic difficulties. And although many of them have loving and very skilled parents, even the most loving and skilled of the parents gets exhausted with the extra work their child or children require. There is also a period of adjustment after diagnosis that can take anywhere from weeks to more regularly, years, and sometimes, never. It is the adjustment to the idea that there will be no coasting as a parent and that one’s children will likely need more support and over a longer number of years, than other children.

I sometimes use an analogy with parents. I tell them, “Raising a child with these challenges is like running a marathon of unknown length and unpredictable terrain, with uphill, downhill, and stretches of flat. It is important to take the cups of water whenever you can.”

If I really think about it, coasting on a bike only lasted so long before I either had to brake because I was going too fast or start pumping my legs again so I could keep going. I have been working hard to take care of myself but also to nurture my relationships and carry out my responsibilities. I will keep working on the rhythm of knowing when to pump and when I can coast so I can keep moving forward and maintain my balance. And if if that little cup of water looks too small to last a lifetime, I will take them when they are offered.

 

As I have mentioned in the past, I was not always a psychologist in private practice. I worked as an academic and research psychologist for a number of years. And in the course of those years, I gave a lot of presentations at state and national conferences. Sometimes, those presentations were attended in part, in order to earn continuing education credits. And to earn continuing education credits to work toward maintaining a healthcare provider license, requires that the presentation, workshop, or whatever I was offering, be rated by each participant.

I remember being part of a workshop while I was a post-doctoral fellow at Indiana University. We picked up the evaluation forms and I saw a number of evaluations with comments along the line of “not enough time was spend on x, y, or z.” I was at the presentation and I reframed the comments to the graduate students who made the presentation with me, “Look these are not bad comments. It meant that they liked the presentation and wanted more than we could provide within the time allotted.”

My husband has been working a lot of hours in the past year, much more than usual. He and I came to an agreement early in our marriage about what we wanted in terms of a work/home balance. This issue was primarily driven by him, as I recall, because he was ,afraid, given my aspirations to be a university professor, that I would work too many hours. My husband and I truly enjoy each others’ company. He is my best friend and I am his. And sometimes we want more.

This is one of those times. John knew that this project might mean a lot more work for him but he also felt that it would be both interesting and good for his career. We discussed it prior to his committing to it. Little did either of us know that I would soon be diagnosed with breast cancer and that our lives would be turned upside down.

John has been working extra hours for a long time now. In August, there was a party at our house celebrating the end of this project. It is now mid-October and the project is still going on. After a significant time of being told, “We’re almost done. I see the end in sight,” he has recently told me that he really doesn’t know when it will end. On top of this, he has started getting cranky and irritable with his work situation.

I have been very patient with his work, especially compared to years past. Last weekend I felt as though I had hit a wall. And John got kind of cranky with me and I responded, “John, I am hitting the wall with your work situation. You are officially starting to be a pain in the ass.”

The fact that I let those words come out of my mouth was perhaps a cue that I had waiting too long to say something. Because I was being kind of an ass. John, to my surprise, reasonably and lovingly responded, “I know, Honey, that’s why I am so glad that you are going out tonight with Jennie. I hope that you have a great time. You need to have a good time!”

“What?????????????????” My husband’s reply completely disarmed me. We have had times in our marriage of frequent bickering and second guessing of each other. We have been through my cancer together. We have relearned how to be close and stay strong under some pretty scary circumstances. I have very much enjoyed the increased happiness and stability in our marriage. My frustration with his work situation was starting to distress me some.

I talked to him about it again recently. He indicated to me that he had a plan B regarding his work. Just to know that he was thinking about it and planning for it was a huge relief to me.

I remembered why I want to spend more time with my husband and why I want him to be happy. He is a wonderful man who loves his wife and family. I have been distressed because I want more of him. And I want more of him because I love him and he is my best friend. And I know he feels the same. So until we solve this current problem, I will try to spend the time I do have with him enjoying his fine company.

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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