Learning to Relax

If you are someone with a disability who is working or engaged in meaningful life tasks (such as art, writing, volunteerism), then you are most likely someone who is used to working hard. Skills and accomplishments are born out of hard work or natural ability, both of which are equally to be realities for people with disabilities as those without. My point is, if you are reading this blog, you’re probably someone who needs a reminder now and then to take time to relax. I know I do.

What does relaxing even look like, though? Relaxing is letting yourself slow time down, both in body and in mind. So much of my mind is racing with plans for the future. A majority of my body is racing to keep up with my mind. The future tense is not a bad place to be. I feel more productive and proud of myself when I focus my thoughts and actions on where I am headed. Nevertheless, recharge is necessary and the 6 holidays I get a year is not generally enough. Weekends too, seem to fly by and before I know it, I am right back at my desk as if I never left. 

As with everything in life, balancing the race to the finish line with finding enjoyment in daily life is a constant pendulum. Even when I try to make a routine out of practicing mindfulness, I am seldom successful with maintaining it before my mind snaps back into forward thinking. 

I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you the kinds of things I do to incorporate the present tense in my daily life. First, I consider the red flags for when my body is sending the message to slow things down a bit. Second, I decide ahead of time to make time, almost like setting an appointment for myself, to just relax and do enjoyable things. Third, I know the kinds of activities that will keep my mind racing forward and the ones that will allow for calmness of mind. Last, I focus on sensory relaxations  and activities first such exercising, cooking, or massage. Like I said though, everyone is going to have different interests or different needs. 

Ultimately, I start to feel frustrated and robotic when I don’t take time to relax. Even though relaxing is not my default setting, I make time for it and the effort usually pays off. My biggest fear is dropping dead and not having taken enough time to relax and enjoy the present moments of day to day life.

The Disability Card

I do not consider myself a gamer, but I have enough friends who are to know every card in a deck has strengths and weaknesses; it simply depends on strategy. The disability card is best known for “I can’t do that because of my disability.” Other common uses of the disability card would be “My life is worse than your life because I’m disabled” and “Things are so much harder for me because I am disabled.” You might even hear someone use it to convey, “I work so much harder than a lot of other people because I am disabled.”

Use of the disability card is most often done with honesty, but honest is not always conveyed in ways that maintain dignity. Sometimes people make powerful statements with passion and later regret the way they communicated their messages. The disability card holds a significant amount of passion in it’s message. The individual playing it needs to be aware of the emotional tone and potential interpretations the disability card evokes. 

The disability card is either a plea for help, a justification, an excuse, an opportunity to vent, or a call to justice. To play the card effectively, you have to be aware of your intent. Society already knows having a disability stinks, so the disability card is really an announcement everyone already knows. In addition, no one at work is going to directly disagree with it, but if you use the disability card at work then you might find people taking the long way around your desk to avoid you. 

People with disabilities want to be treated like equals and with respect. If people without disabilities are constantly facing the disability card in conversation or task completion, the situation becomes a me versus you, disabled versus non disabled encounter. Tension around the person who plays the disability card is often high. People with disabilities are more likely to be treated as equal and with respect when they can remain approachable.

All I am saying is this: avoid using the disability card unless it is absolutely necessary and does not make others feel like you’re a jerk. 

Managing Energy Levels

My work day is 8am to 5pm, from Monday through Friday. The schedule does not change, but if I am not efficient at work then I end up taking work home in order to meet weekly deadlines. I equate this constant cycle with dirty dishes or dirty laundry, a repeated chore that is just part of the job. Nevertheless, I keep my ears and eyes alert for any possible changes I can make to get work done more efficiently at work so I am not bringing work home. Bringing work home is the primary strain on my energy level, because I end up planning my whole weekend around needing to get it done. Managing the boundary between work and home is not the only drain on my energy level. From seasonal changes to relationship stressors, food choices, sleep cycles, and allergies, my energy is attacked on all sides relentlessly.

I have always been a lot smaller than my peers, and I am not sure if that is why I require so much sleep, but I often feel as though my small figure forces me to exert more energy than my taller counterparts. Furthermore, I do not get to eat as much or drink as much caffeine as my larger peers. I eat less, drink less, yet must keep up in all other areas of life. I am no physicist, but I am fairly certain the energy has to come from somewhere and I am mostly confident my body demands it in the form of sleep. Thus, at somewhere between 8:30-10:00 PM my body literally shuts off. Like a light switch, I fall asleep so fast I do not even have time to attempt negotiation. Since I have to be at work by 8:00 AM and I am one of those unfortunate people who needs time to just stare at the wall in the morning, I end up getting out of bed around 6-6:30 AM.  You are doing the math correctly, folks. My body demands 9-10 hours of sleep per night and if I try not to deliver, it takes it from me just like the IRS takes overdue taxes right from your bank account. I have tried fighting the sleep regime, but I have found it always ends up winning the battle.

For me, getting enough sleep is a priority because it has the most impact on my ability to deal with the other factors draining my energy. For example, if I am too tired to listen or cooperate with my family or coworker, then I am much more likely to misunderstand something, take insult to something, or lack interest in what others may be saying to me. In order to show genuine compassion and interest in others, I rely first on being awake enough to fully engage them. Another example is my food choices. If I am overtired I am much more likely to seek out quick and easy meals. The quick and easy foods are not usually the healthy ones (well, except oatmeal, but a person can only eat so much oatmeal). When I have had enough sleep I am much more willing to take time to make something from scratch or even plan a meal ahead of time. My brain has no interest in cooking or planning ahead when I am tired.

I am big fan of taking action when things are not working. I want to do well at work, at home, and in other facets of my life. Part of having disabilities means having to make accommodations for myself to maintain endurance and keep up with others. I do this by paying attention to my energy level and letting my body take what it needs in order to succeed. I wish I was one of those people who could stay up until 12:00 PM on a work night. I would get to do so much more with my life! I will just have to chase wild adventures in my dreams while I recharge my battery for tomorrow.

Anger Monster

Today was a bad day at work. Bad things happened. Not to me, but just in general. Funny though, I thought I was handling it really well. I learned I may have been harboring some resentment towards my day when I returned home and felt irritated by everything in my path. Bad days at work really don’t happen often for me in my current profession, but I certainly remember jobs when most days were bad, or at the least, a lot of days were bad. Sometimes I feel like I am carrying that old baggage of negativity around with me like a dormant infection in my body waiting for an opportunity to resurface.

Baggage is a funny thing, because it convinces us it’s important, all the while holding the weight of issues better left behind. Resentment of past experiences can easily transform into heavy baggage, and not at all useful. Bad days don’t need to be scrapbooked or carved into rock for constant wound picking.

Perhaps by now you might be wondering what this has to do about being a disabled professional? Well, this particular post is intended to demonstrate that typical thoughts, feelings, and experiences happen at work for individuals with disabilities just as much as individuals without. Thus, we may conclude the anger monsters could happen to anyone. They infect our attitudes on life, work, and self-image. They have the ability to disguise themselves and sink so far into our subconscious that we begin to feel powerless to stop them from taking control.

All individuals in a workplace could potentially run into the anger monster. I just want you to be watching out for it. If you feel angry or resentful, call yourself out on it and give yourself permission to not bring the baggage forward. Make a choice to either meet a difficult situation, thought, or feeling head on or to let it go and just leave it alone.