Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

I Think There’s One Too Many Digits

I just got an automated voicemail from the pharmacy that said “Your prescription is ready for pickup. It will cost $947.76.” Clearly I need my hearing checked because I thought you just said that my prescription would cost more than NINE HUNDRED dollars.

I just came down with bronchitis, and my doctor prescribed an inhaler, which I’ve never had before, so I thought, well, that must be the culprit. Well, that, and I had changed insurance with my new job in April so I thought they must not have my updated insurance information on file. That part was true. But the $900 prescription was not the inhaler, nor the antibiotics, but the stuff I routinely take for hypothyroidism. Once they input my insurance info, the total for four prescriptions came down to $54.

You might be asking “What in the WORLD is her hypothyroidism medication made of? Magical fairy dust?! Gold??” Nope. It’s all natural, actually. But it does make me even more grateful for health insurance. Unless I’m working for an employer that offers medical coverage, the only way I can get health insurance is through My Better Half. Because of pre-existing conditions, I don’t qualify for any private health insurance. Trust me. I’ve tried. Eleven times. And I’m not talking about cancer or something serious. I have pretty standard, chronic medical issues that millions of other folks have, and which are easily managed through medication. I’m lucky to have conditions that are so easily managed, and to have good overall health. And I’m fortunate to have a job that offers health insurance. In my experience, many, if not most, of those toiling in nonprofits in particular don’t get benefits with their jobs, and are left to fend for themselves on the “open market,” only to find they can’t get insured unless they have a spotless record of health. Which is why my blood boils over political debates that question the constitutionality of health care reform. Drives. Me. Crazy. Republicans and Tea Partiers Congress routinely makes it their business to block countless initiatives simply because they are introduced by and sponsored by the other party, and that practice especially drives me nuts with health care reform. Because, yes, let’s put the interests of your own party in front of the needs of millions of people. And, no, don’t offer any of your own alternatives to the reform to which you are so opposed. Just oppose, letting millions of people continue to flail around in a constantly shifting game of choosing which health concerns they can afford to treat.

So I’m Not (just) Crazy?!

For a couple of years now, I’ve thought that something was a little wrong with me. Besides the obvious mental defects, I mean. I’d slowly gone from being an active energetic woman managing a full life of work, school, friends, relationships, hiking, dogs, happy hours, and just all-around awesomeness to feeling tired all the time, not being able to focus and concentrate, and just wanting to pull the covers and sleep the day away. Every time I brought it up with my doctor, she brushed it all off as stress. Am I stressed? Yes. But I’ve always been stressed. I’m an anxious person by nature. So that didn’t sit well with me. I talked to my mom about it and she suggested that I get my thyroid checked. I had my doctor check it. Twice. And both times she insisted it was in the “normal” range. As the doctor assured me I was just stressed, I’d basically checked out of the life I had been living and moved into Lethargic Town. All the while blaming myself for being lazy, tired, unfocused, unmotivated, and inactive.

So fast forward to two years later: it’s only gotten worse, and still just trying to make it from day to day on a diet of caffeine. I’ve gained 35 pounds. I struggle to function through an entire day without a nap. I can’t summon the energy to walk my dogs or go do something fun. And I’m completely, utterly burned out. I need a vacation in the most major way. I need a month off just for starters, just to catch up on sleep.

My Better Half was hanging out with his friend Chris and when Chris’ wife asked where I was, My Better Half said that I spent almost every moment off from work asleep. She called me to strongly urge me to get checked for hypothyroidism. Again. I am lucky that she called. She knows a lot about hypothyroidism because she has it. Was I cold all the time? Yes. Did I have really, really dry skin? Yes. Was I depressed and anxious? Yes and yes. Did I have dark circles under my eyes? Yes. Did I have regular periods? No. Does my face flush with exercise? Yes. Did my family have any hypothyroidism? Yes. And when I pinch the skin on my upper arm, does it pull away from the tissue, or is it puffy and thick? Puffy and thick. All classic conditions caused by hypothyroidism. The problem, she told me, is that a) it’s so multisymptom that many doctors fail to pull together the trees into a forest and see the big picture and b) attribute way too much diagnostic power to lab results alone. Sounded right. My doctor: You’re tired? Get some rest. You’re anxious? Relax. You’ve gained weight? Get some exercise and eat better. And so on.

Last week I saw a new doctor and told her all of my symptoms, and she immediately diagnosed me with something called Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, the most common form of hypothyroidism in the US. Finally I had confirmation that all of this was not in my imagination. That someone who’s 32 should not have the energy level of a 60 year old. I’ve finally found the right doctor and have started taking medicine that will hopefully bring me back to my old self. But I’m also kinda pissed. Really pissed, actually. That for over two years, doctors did not hear me, did not listen to me, didn’t piece together the signs. Because I feel like I’ve lost two years of my life, and it’s a long road ahead back to my normal energetic self. But I also feel like I’m on the right path. I’ve found an accurate diagnosis for what is “wrong” with me, and I’m ever more committed to find new work that enables me to have a healthy work-life balance. That might mean abandoning the nonprofit world, something I hold near and dear. But the reality is that working in the nonprofit world often entails working in places that are poorly managed and under-resourced, exposing yourself to being severely overworked and underpaid. And it’s starting to become apparent to me that maintaining strong boundaries between work and my personal life might be more important to me than the kind of work that I do.