Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, I always envisioned myself as the plate twirler at the circus. We all know the guy -- the one with a dozen plates all spinning at once, giving just the right attention to each one to keep them continuously moving.
For the majority of my adult life, I had organized my life in such a way that everything flowed: work, relationships, health and hobbies all moved in orchestrated harmony. I thought that I had it all figured out. Then I had a baby, and all of those perfectly spinning plates came crashing down.
That's not to say that my son isn't the best thing that's happened to me. It was just that with a squishy newborn, I quickly forgot life's lessons on balance. Life is different with him. This tiny human relies on me in every way. I discovered that as his needs grew, I allowed them to eclipse my own. I took how I felt and chalked it up to being a new mom, but the reality was that my life was out of balance and I silently took my needs out of the equation.
I started skipping therapy, missing meals and opting out of treatments if they posed any risk to my milk supply.
Looking back now, I can see the downward spiral that I was creating for myself. It's funny though -- sometimes you just don't see yourself at rock bottom until you're safely on the other side.
Reality hit hard at one of my appointments after my son turned one. By that point, the first year of my son's life had become the hardest and most challenging of my own. My PFTs were unrecognizable. 52?! How was that even possible? Generally speaking, I usually hovered in the 90s. My head was swimming. I used to be the girl who was running half marathons two short years ago and now I was winded from climbing the stairs. I had let life bury that girl who fought for herself with unwavering tenacity, and it was time to pull her from the rubble.
Finding balance at this new stage of life took time and practice. It took swallowing my “Wonder Woman” pride and asking for help. I had to work hard to find myself within my own life and to carve out the time for myself that my health so desperately needed. Nearly a year later, I still find that I am a work in progress. Thankfully, I have discovered some ways to re-establish balance and keep my health a priority.
The smallest change, which has made the biggest impact, has been setting up my environment for success. On top of being a person with CF, I'm also a wife, a mom and a full-time elementary school teacher. Essentially, I have four full-time jobs, so multitasking is a must. To ensure that I never skip therapy, my vest is now tucked neatly under my desk. I can complete a session while working or, more often, while sitting on the floor playing with my son. I'm learning to embrace this time together, and he's learning not to be fearful of mommy's big, shaky machine -- he's even become quite the master at pushing the start button.
Another thing that I have learned on this journey is to become someone who plans. Everything needs to be planned out. Everything. On Sunday mornings, I take an hour to look at the week ahead. I schedule my treatments and therapies as though they are appointments with the CEO of my life. (You don't cancel on a CEO.)
I schedule calls for refills and prescription pickups, personal time and fitness sessions. I plan dinners for the entire week, and pack snacks and medications into “grab and go” baggies. Mornings in our house are hectic enough, so with a variety of snacks at the ready, I'm far more likely to have a successful day. It all falls back to that personal goal of “setting myself up for success.”
Lastly, and probably most importantly, I've learned that balancing this life sometimes means asking for help and it sometimes means just saying “no” to certain things. I think this is challenging for a lot of us living with CF. We like to think that we're stronger than CF, and we are, but we're only at our strongest when we rely upon those who rally around us. It's been an adjustment, but I've come to find that my loved ones will happily and wholeheartedly keep life's plates spinning for me when I need to stop and rest.