Keeping self worth levels buoyant when unable to work due to poor health can be a daily battle. Here are four 'don'ts' and one 'do' that sometimes help me. Please share anything that has helped you to stem the tide of hopelessness if you are unable to work. Remember, encouragement is like a peanut butter sandwich, the more you spread it around - the better things stick together.
DON'T explain yourself. I live in perpetual fear of the following question: "So what do you do for work?" My face flushes, I stutter and stammer and before I can stop myself blurt out explanations and half sentences. It's excruciating (for them as well as me), and the more I explain the less I feel understood. Be prepared for the question. Keep it simple. Smile and try something akin to "I'm not actually working at the moment but in my spare time I'm enjoying learning French/playing the bassoon/cooking soufflés..." This shifts the conversation into a different direction, switches it back to positive and to you as person. (We are all, after-all, more than a job title.)
DON'T lose contact with friends. This can be a tricky one. We may feel our contemporaries have moved on and couldn't possibly understand how we feel. And yet, isolation can produce sickness in itself. Invite someone for a cup of tea, make a phone call (a tough one for me!), write a card 'just to say' or fling someone a text.
This may mean putting a limit on how much we talk about our health complaints and disappointments. Just as a job title doesn't define a person, neither does our illness. The best vitamin for making friends? B1.
DON'T lose your sense of humour. This will make it pleasant for folk to be around you but conversely it will do you good too. As Susan Milstrey Wells says, an author who is chronically ill herself, "laughter, unlike some other remedies we try, is completely safe, nontoxic and fun. All we have to lose is a bad mood."
DON'T rule out voluntary work. There are some weeks when it is simply not possible but on the weeks it is, it gives me human contact, self-esteem, forces me out of the house, keeps my thoughts in perspective and, arguably most importantly, gives me the scientifically proven "helper's high".
DO pamper yourself. This is the hardest for me. Because my illness demands so much sleep and rest, I feel that every wakeful hour ought to be spent doing, accomplishing, giving or making. It's undoubtedly Guilt at the wheel here and Guilt does not allow for "me time". This, of course, is erroneous thinking and can worsen symptoms or lead to a depression. So give yourself some respite, indulge in the things you enjoy; a long bath, reading a book, watching a good film or, if creatively inclined, allow time for this. If you are able, go for a walk, take a date with yourself, sit in your favourite cafe, visit an art exhibition.
This is all very much ongoing work in progress for me. In fact, I think this past year I've struggled more than ever to accept my limitations. I still ache to earn my own daily bread, even if just little crumbs. Joseph Campbell said that "the privilege of lifetime is being who you are." So, despite being unable to work, we each have our own unique gifts, qualities and attributes to offer those around us, enabling us to add our own personal stamp of beauty on the world.
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