Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You're Not the Boss of Me...

My 40th birthday is (all too quickly) drawing near.  Although I am not one to be too bothered with age or getting older, it's human nature to look back and reflect as you approach a milestone.  As I ponder my life, my choices and challenges, my friends and my fate; everything is touched in some way by one thing: arthritis.

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid and Osteo-arthritis at the age of 17, so I've spent my entire adult existence dealing with this uninvited companion. But, although it's been life-altering, I have done everything in my power over the past 23 years to put myself in the driver's seat when it comes to my health. And a huge factor in controlling this disease is EXERCISE.

WAIT!! Before you groan and quickly move onto cute cat photos or snarky memes, let me quickly reassure you that I am NOT one of those lunatic, exercise-obsessed, perfect body people (although, I do know and love many of them, and honestly admire their dedication and awesome figures).  I am YOU.  If you are an RA/OA sufferer, I totally get it. I have been in your shoes and I have felt your pain. Working out is not in my blood, it's not something that comes easily, and it doesn't feel natural to me all the time.  But, it is something I strive every day to do, not to look good (although that is something I consider...I do own up to a bit of vanity!), I have to do it. I MUST do it.  I won't be able to run errands, chase my boys or even walk if I don't force myself to haul these creaky joints to the gym as much as I can.

The effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for rheumatoid disease is well-documented.  It works for a variety of reasons, like strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints so the joints themselves aren't doing all the work. Range of motion, which in my case, severely suffered in the early years of my diagnosis is increased by regular exercise.  And although I have always found this to be counterintuitive in theory, I've experienced its truth in practice: exercise really does fight off the fatigue that is always accompanied by RA. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation has even spearheaded a nationwide movement called 'Let's Move Together!' to motivate our community to utilize exercise to combat rheumatoid disease.

Obviously, this is all very easy for me to say; after all, I've been eating, sleeping, loving and living with this disease for over 20 years. My RA/OA and I know each other very well and I am used to it.  It's different for anyone who has been recently diagnosed, or even those who've been hanging with arthritis for a while now and haven't found the right path for managing it.  I can hear you all right now -- 'I am in pain and this crazy lady expects me to get on the treadmill?? Not on your life!'  I don't blame you! Not at all. Like I said, I AM you, and I was in the very same spot.  There was a time when I couldn't even walk from the car to my doctor's office without help.  There have been times when I've needed a wheelchair.  There have been times a'plenty that I couldn't do something I wanted.  But that's not how I wanted to live. That's not who I wanted to be.

So I started small.  In the beginning, short walks were all I could do.  I was the only 20-year old in an aqua-aerobics class with 20 silver-haired retirees. But it was a start. And we all have to start somewhere.  And today, I spend at least three days a week at Planet Fitness, and two on my elliptical trainer at home. I am in the best shape of my life.  Because if I wasn't, I know I'd be in the worst.

For certain, I still have my bad days.  There are days when I get up and the last thing in the world I want to do is exercise.  My knees hurt and I am so tired, both from this stupid disease and life in general. But, instead of wallowing, I get up, and I get going.  And you can, too.  I know it's scary and hard and painful.  But it is what it is; but we are what we are.  And that is people who can take arthritis by the throat, and let it know just who's in charge of our lives - WE ARE!

 What I am trying to say is that it WILL get better. You CAN do it.  Join a gym.  Join Let's Move Together and take advantage of the support system it offers. Sign up for yoga class.  Message me anytime if you need to vent.  Take control. Be the boss of you. In taking charge, I promise you will find your determination, positivity, and dignity. We can do this...you and me, one step at a time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Desperately Seeking...Something?

When I first created this blog, I was happily entrenched in my life as a stay-at-home mother. I had my hands full taking care of the boys, the house, my family in general.  But even then, I could see something out in the distance. A little glimmer of something, just out of reach and not quite discernible, but I knew it was there.  As the years have come and gone, that flicker of purpose got closer and closer.  And although the time has passed and I am still not quite sure what 'it' is -- here I am today, ready to reach out and grab it.

My sons have gone from small preschoolers who need their mommy for almost everything to big, independent boys who attend school. All day. Every day.  Without me. This fall, when the school year started and they were both finally there all day, that something out on the horizon started to poke at me.  I started thinking about the woman I used to be.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Choosing to stay home and raise my boys was the most valuable and important decision I ever made, and I would never change it, even if I could.  But, being a wife and mother was not something I'd always aspired to.  I had different goals and dreams as I grew up, and although they have been on the backburner for a while, they have never gone away.  Changed, evolved and metamorphosed, maybe; but never forgotten.

And now is the time to revive them.  Now, I am ready.

But here's the kicker -- all that change, evolution and metamorphosis?  Instead of wanting to start right back where I left off in the political arena, I am completely lost as to what I want to do NOW.  I don't mean to say that my past-life occupation wasn't important, or that I didn't believe in what I was doing, because I definitely did.  I believed in the issues I worked on and the people I worked for, almost to a fault (sometimes my passion did get the better of me!).  It's just now, my priorities have changed. It's hard to have two children, spend a significant time out of the workforce and reach the age of 40 without that happening.  My mission now is to take my changed priorities, meld them with my professional experience and find the perfect recipe for purpose.

So, what am I looking for then?  What are the ingredients that must be included to result in my desperately sought-after purpose? Well, though I may adjust for taste as the months go by and our family needs change, these are the core components:
  • Balance.  My boys have never been to daycare.  They have never had anyone besides my husband or me have to pinch hit if they're sick. As I have said, their well-being and happiness are paramount to me.  I would love to find an employer who understands this, and embraces it. I truly believe that employees are happier, more productive and more satisfied in their work if they aren't constantly plagued by thoughts of what-ifs. What if my child gets sick? What if the boss penalizes me for asking for a flexible schedule on soccer game days?  Just knowing my employer 'gets it' would make all the difference for me in choosing to go back to work.
  • Service.  Obviously, a factor in my returning to professional life is contributing to my family's economic well-being. But this is one thing that has not changed during my professional hiatus: I need for my work to be in service to others in some way.  In order for it to be meaningful for me, my industry has to help someone, somewhere who needs it.  I am drawn to non-profits and their mission to do good. As much as I adore the finer things in life, I have never worked just to make a buck.
  • Patience.  I have been out of the workforce for a longtime.  And while I have tried to impose some of my former skills on to my current reality, it isn't quite the same. I have no doubt that once I am employed again, it will take me hardly any time to get right back into the groove and learn the ropes.  Hardly any time...but SOME time.  It's a different working world than the one I left behind, and I do realize it will require some adaptations and a learning curve.  Although I am quite confident I can not only do it, but excel at it, my ideal employer would acknowledge this adjustment and work with me.
  • The 'Click.'   Not to belabor the point, but it has been a few years since I had a boss over the age of eight. At this stage in my game, it matters more to me what a potential employer's purpose is than specifically what I'd be doing within the organization. I want to connect, to click with it; I want to feel passion for its mission. I realize my resume gap will necessitate a certain degree of starting at the bottom. Again. But I don't mind. I am perfectly willing to pay my dues all over again -- answering phones or some administrative duties in the beginning. If the potential for advancement is there, and I'm contributing to the overall success of the organization, I can do what I'm needed to do. Ideally, I will find a position that will utilize my talents from past positions to become a real asset to my employer.  
Not much to ask, huh? :)

So, I continue on my path toward gainful, meaningful, and balanced employment. I am learning more about myself and my aspirations every day, and with every cover letter I write.  And although the process is taking longer than I would have predicted, I persevere.  I know it'll be worth the wait.