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.

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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.

Topic for Conversation: Would you buy the Goochie Purse?

I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to justify to myself that I am an equal adult individual in this world to others. I go through various comparisons like the “hybrid” conversation I have with myself sometimes. I suppose this conversation is similar, but looking at it from another angle.

Consider this scenario: Your friend sells purses as a home business and you happen to be in the market for a new purse. You really like a particular style of Gucci purse she has in her selection. However, the purse has a defect. Your friend notices the defect and shows you a Goochie purse that looks exactly the same and is actually $50 cheaper than the Gucci with the defect. What do you do?

Me personally, I would either buy Gucci with a defect or a different purse altogether. I’m not interested in an imitation that may fool people, but would likely not hold up to the value of the authentic. The Goochie is likely to fall apart in a month, a year, or maybe two years if I am lucky. Buying a new purse every year is not my idea of effective time or money management. Thus, my choice is not based on the defect of the Gucci purse as much as the fact that I took time to consider the Goochie because of it. I even considered not getting the Gucci purse at all. I mean, if it is not perfect, then why get it?

(Also, to clarify regarding income, if I did not have the money to purchase a particular brand such as the one in this example, I would be more likely to pick a different brand altogether, one I could afford. I would not choose the imitation Goochie, because I would not be able to trust in its quality and endurance over time.)

Two concepts come out of this metaphor. First, human beings, myself included, are generally taught anything less than perfect is undesirable. This cultural message means I learned from an early age to identify myself as less than perfect and therefore undesirable. Second, if perfect is undesirable, then I must have to come up with an imitation of the authentic in order to be desirable. As you might guess, (and in case you need a reminder, we are out of the metaphor and talking about people here) I find both of these concepts horrifying and inhumane.

I am authentic. I might have defects, but I bet if we look hard enough, we can all find defects in ourselves. It is part of being authentically human. That’s my feeling about it anyway. I recognize that individuals from various cultural backgrounds would make a different choice based on what their cultures tell them about “defects.” Nevertheless, the cultural attitudes and expectations of items that are seen as in any way “defective” is exactly what this blog is aiming to alter.

Protecting Independence vs Relationship Cooperation

As my husband and I come to our 2 year anniversary, we have been discussing opportunities for enriching the home life experience. Through our discussions I have realized a behavior I have acquired over the years that contributes to a minor wedge in my ability to cooperate with genuine companionship. I protect my right to independence at home, and not just a little. I make compromises when they maintain my home life ideal, which is to adapt my home to maximize my ability to do things without help. When I put this priority into words it sounds completely rational and totally justified. However, in practice, I end up putting myself first and only superficially cooperating with a small piece of any particular issue perceived to potentially threaten the independence I spend so much time cultivating. Relationships are a whole different  ball game and a divergence from my initial game plan. I did not include compromise in my self-deterministic view of maximum freedom at home. School, community, work, and other people’s homes are where compromises need to happen, but my home is mine. Here’s the thing though… It’s not my home; it’s our home and we have equal rights, which means my game plan needs to change along with my life plan. I am not saying I am not going to be a stubborn negotiator, but I am saying I recognize my husband is entitled to negotiation.

The Hybrid

Sometimes I lose myself. I usually consider myself to be fairly self-confident, but sometimes I trip and find myself flat on my stomach, facing the heels of others. In those moments, I have a dialog with myself that usually begins with self-doubt and frustration. I tell myself that my disabilities make it impossible for me to truly be an equal to all those other people who do not have disabilities. I begin to see snippets of myself in others, relating to the bodies and minds of individuals who I am perceiving to be non-disabled. I compare what they have versus what I have. The negativity spirals out of control. Suddenly, like a splash of cold water, I remember X-men are just comics and super heroes do not (yet) exist.

So much about being disabled feels like separateness, us – individuals with disabilities – versus them – individuals perceived to be without disabilities. Society tends to use the disability label to draw a line in the sand for yet another group of those who are qualified to “have” and those who are not. Disabilities are another label used in the hierarchy of society, most aggressively when supplies are scarce and competition to survive is highest. The most common example of this in my own experience is when people say, “Okay, if you can do this, then I can do it.” Inherent in this statement is the implication that anyone else can do what I can do because I am disabled. I am inferior to anyone who does not have a disability. Thus, I should be picked for the team last, because anyone else can do what I can do at the very least, and most likely more.

Hopefully by now you have read through enough of the posts on this blog to know I do not feed into this mentality. It’s true, I sometimes get into a self-loathing or insecure funk… usually using my disability as the excuse for my negative attitude. Nevertheless, I always snap out of it, because I know I have met enough people less capable in one way or another than myself. I do not let myself forget that, even if society wants to pretend it is not true. Society cannot hold up the facade forever.

By the end of my internal dialog I am reminding myself comparisons are not always useful or necessary. I have to make more difficult decisions for myself on a daily basis than a majority of the population. I have to plan ahead and know myself more thoroughly than most people. I know these realities and so I also know I am not playing the same character on in the board game as other people. Therefore, it just is not useful for me to compare my performance to other people playing a completely different set of strengths and weaknesses, paths and relationships. Other people are not hybrid’s of myself. They are apples and I am an orange. We are not growing on the same tree or even in the same geographic location, but we are both fruits.

You might be questing this separateness mentality I use to justify myself, particularly given I just got done saying separateness is social injustice. No, we are not running in circles here. The kind of separateness I use to acknowledge the differences of living with a disability is recognition that having a disability is a uniqueness. However, despite my disabilities, I am not entirely unique to other human beings. In fact, all I really want is for society to recognize that middle ground that defines me. I am nothing special. I am disgustingly normal, hardly interesting. I am not the best at anything, but I am not the worst at most things either. I am painfully average and so are you. You and I are not that different, a little different, but not exceptionally different. I just want society to acknowledge I am not inferior. Others are not hybrids of the disabled. Not having a disability does not automatically mean you are comparatively better to others with disabilities in all things. I mean, if you are a hybrid human, then you should probably have the YouTube videos to prove it by now.

Get Excited

The holidays tend to be overly charged with emotion for most people, whether it be an excessive excitement for the constant celebration or a disdain for the race to keep up with what others possess. I would say that I tend to fall closer to the excessive excitement side. I could spend the winter months reciting the mantra of the despairing disabled woman who just wants to be like everybody else, but I just have no desire to be that person. I spent my entire childhood feeling angry at the world because of my disabilities, but I always found reasons to be excited about the holidays.

Part of what makes holidays empowering is the sense of equality in being able to make a holiday special in my own way. Within the past 30 years, commercialization of holidays has placed an expectation on individuals to celebrate through the possession of things. Regardless of purchase power, holidays are intended as a time for celebrating, and I try to make certain I celebrate in mind and spirit. I focus on obtainable pleasure and fun.

Holidays are also enlightening, because they remind me to appreciate the little things. I tend to race through my day, especially a work day, without really taking any time to reflect on the things going well. Holidays slow time down for a moment and allow me to “stop and smell the roses,” with the roses typically being the luxury of sleeping in late or eating corned beef hash in my pjs at 10:00 am.

I often find the empowering and enlightening nature of holidays to act as a sort of reset button for my ambitions and self-esteem. A single day off here or there may not seem like much, but it really can be quite nourishing. Again, the holidays are what I make them.

And so… I am excited about the holidays!

Going it Alone

I am rarely alone. At work, I engage in conversations with colleagues and clients all day. At home, my husband is generally present, because we carpool to work, so he’s at home when I am. You get it; I am in the presence of at least one other person all day long.

The kind of loneliness I experience is directly related to being a 30-something professional with a disability who has to figure out solutions individual to me on my own. I could ask colleagues and family for help, but then I would be asking them to understand my needs more than I do. More often than not, collaborating with others on solutions pertaining to my disability usually ends in me feeling annoyed I wasted my time and the other person’s by asking for advice in the first place. The few times I do not end up feeling annoyed are the times I end up infuriated by answers that feel absurd or belittling.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to finding someone who can effectively provide mentorship and support is the limited number of individuals in professional positions who can relate. Within my workplace of about 50 employees, for example, I am the only individual with a significant, life long, very noticeable disability. It is just not an issue for colleagues, so it does not make sense for them to have answers for me. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity of meeting several professionals with significant disabilities. Some are more approachable than others. I try to keep communication open with those who I admire so I can tap into their knowledge when I need support. Nevertheless, a majority of supports I find are outside of the workplace.

Physically, I am seldom alone. Emotionally, I feel very alone most of the time. Keeping up with the rest of the world is a completely realistic expectation for me, but it does require a lot of unique self-efficacy skills. Motivations come from within and endurance is vital.

Managing Feelings of Pride

I know it might sound absurd to suggest too much pride could be an issue, but it can be when the level of respect and cooperation received at work does not translate into personal life. At work, my educational level and position result in some staff treating me with more respect by default, because the responsibilities of my position place me as a source of feedback, support and guidance for others. I am accustomed to a general sense of cooperation and compliance at work with what I have to say, meaning my values, opinions, education, and capabilities are routinely heard and acknowledged.

With the constant affirmations at work, I often have to remind myself outside of the workplace that individuals at home and in the community have a different kind of relationship with me. When I go shopping, for instance, other shoppers will often make light hearted comments about my disabilities, because my disabilities are physical and obvious.

Here are some examples:

“Wow, are you going to stay that little? You didn’t eat right.”

“You’re a short one. Aren’t cha?!’

“Here, let me get that for you.” (No, I didn’t ask first.)

– Insert clerk awkwardly handing me my shopping bag at check out. –

“Do you need someone to carry that for you?”

“Do you need a basket?”

Of course, I believe I am capable of recognizing when I need a basket and can obtain one for myself, so you can understand the feelings of insult when shopping becomes a defensive activity as opposed to a pleasurable outing. However, the individuals making these comments do not know me personally. In fact, most individuals I encounter in the community have never seen me before and are making a momentary decision to offer help or process the situation based on the visual evidence that I do not have all the nuts and bolts compared to a majority of others. Furthermore, my disability is visually unique, even compared to many other disabilities, so when people are seeing me for the first time, they are often seeing the kind of disability I have for the first time as well.

Family encounters are different, because family members know me almost completely, so it can be even more insulting to hear light hearted joking or comments from siblings, parents, or relatives. Siblings might make jokes and parents or relatives might make assumptions that could potentially cause me to feel left out of an activity if I allow the comment to insult me. When I allow the comments to insult me, I separate myself from the activity and I separate myself from the individuals who made the comments. I draw attention to myself and further exacerbate the once minor comment into an elephant. At the point when comments become elephants, people are embarrassed. I am embarrassed. They are embarrassed. A formerly enjoyable moment feels impossibly miserable.

I am one of those people who believes in self-fulfilling prophecies. I believe that life will be as miserable or as wonderful as I decide it will be and I refuse to allow my life to be miserable. I do not want that for myself, so I spend a lot of my time exploring opportunities for positive outcomes or reflecting and learning from mistakes. I cannot change my disabilities. Living a wonderful life means becoming comfortable in my own skin, as I am, as I will be until the day I die. I need to play the game with the cards I was dealt. The phrase “mind over matter” exists for a reason, because it is tried and true.

Individuals in the community are not insulting me on purpose. They are processing what they see and responding. I cannot allow myself to be insulted by the learning experiences of others. I need to be able to respond respectfully, often sacrificing my pride. When I respond respectfully, I become approachable. People are more willing to ask questions, engage in dialog and learn from me when I am approachable. I want people to approach me so that they can get to know me better. People who know me better have more knowledge about my capabilities and are less likely to make comments that feel insulting.

Here are some examples of common responses:

“Haha, yeah, I know! Thanks, but I am Ok.”

“Sure. Thank you so much.”

“You’re right, I am ____! Haha. I have a lot of years of practice though.”

“Hey, thanks. You know, I am actually OK to get this on my own, but if I do need help, I will definitely come find you.”

People are going to make assumptions and your best response is to provide opportunities for others to feel comfortable talking to you and asking questions. If I think I am going to get dagger eyes or a scowl, I am going to steer clear. The problem with using anger to protect yourself from insult is the gap in knowledge left for individuals to fill with their own assumptions, which may or may not be accurate. Do not give other people the opportunity to answer their own questions about you. Show them, answer them, and engage them with patience and compassion.

Here are some assumptions you can make that will help you:

  1. People are curious about you and want to know about you.
  2. People do not know you like you know yourself.
  3. Winning the minor battles does not mean victory for you and should not be your priority.
  4. Pride is not more important than compassion.
  5. Creating an elephant better be worth the pride you sacrifice. Elephants only matter if the issue will matter many years from now.
  6. The people who know you well might still need teaching, and that is OK.
  7. You are allowed bad days, but you should always reflect on them and learn from them.
  8. You are interesting and you matter.
  9. No one has any more of a voice or any less of a voice than you.
  10. You decide whether your life will be miserable or wonderful.

Self-Image

I spend so much of my time feeling like I have to prove myself capable that I forget sometimes not everyone views me as incapable. The notion I need to prove myself capable is not without just cause. I can provide numerous examples encountering people who have treated me as incapable in one capacity or another. I had a supervisor once who would get onto his knees to talk to me. I had coworkers assuming I was almost 10 years younger make statements to me about not knowing what it is like to be a “real adult.” I have had people tell me, “well, you probably can’t do that…” The list goes on, but the fact remains, most people do not treat me as incapable. Enough people have and enough people do treat me as incapable regularly, but most people do not. Nevertheless, I stand on guard for the unexpected moment when I need to overcompensate or protect my dignity. How then, am I supposed to know when to feel confident and put my shield down?

The answer is the common cure for most social ailments: Leading by example is the best way to “prove” anything. I tend to keep my shield up at work. In other words, I put a lot of energy into actively proving myself, not as an individual with a disability, but rather as a professional who wants to be good at my job. Thus, my focus is not specifically on promoting my capabilities as an individual with disabilities, though I ensure the message is an added bonus by simply feeling good about the work I am doing. When I focus on doing my best, other people notice and the image colleagues and supervisors have of me reflects what I am doing as opposed to what I might not be able to do.

Remember those bad days I talked about? The bad days are when insecurities I may be harboring inflate the shield and result in misinterpretations of how others think of me or view me. I become more easily defensive or insulted by comments, jokes, or glances that may have had nothing to do with me at all. These moments of negative self-talk combined with instances when individuals truly are discriminating make it difficult to feel like I can put my shield down even for a quick rest. However, resting the shield needs to happen, because constantly standing guard ready for attack is just not healthy for anyone.

So when does the shield go down? AT HOME. Your home needs to be the place where you can be as able or disabled as you choose. Your shield should be up at work, because you should be doing your best at work regardless of any disabilities. Home is your place to rest, just as it is for anyone else.

Be A Problem Solver, Be Needed

My colleagues can perform a few office tasks that take me longer to complete due to my disabilities. Not being able to do some things expected of other employees can often feel embarrassing. Everyone wants to feel competent at work, so when a disability gets in the way of completing tasks, it is frustrating, You cannot change your disability, but two solutions seem to have made a positive impact on my own self-image and self-confidence in the workplace.

Just to put my example in perspective: I work with four other individuals who have exactly the same professional responsibilities. Although my colleagues and I sometimes interact and cooperate, most tasks are completed independently of one another. Thus, I manage my own time and can plan my day in my own way to maximize effectiveness.

My primary goal is to figure out ways of completing tasks without having to ask for help. Sometimes I may need to ask for assistance, but I make sure to exhaust all possible alternatives before I put myself in a situation where I am waiting on others to be available to help me. I like being independent, so taking a few moments to figure out an alternative solution that fits my needs is worth my attention.

However, by taking the time to find creative ways of completing tasks on my own, I might, unlike my colleagues, need to use up some precious extra time. How am I supposed to keep up with my colleagues if they do not have to worry about making adaptations for themselves? Sometimes I do not keep up. For example, I definitely do not type as fast as some of my colleagues (though I guarantee I am a better writer).

I need to be aware of the negatives, though my real focus is on building an equal number of positives, and hopefully more, to compensate. I know I am a problem solver who is willing to take chances and cooperative with the collaborative process. In addition, I have observed my colleagues over time to learn more about their skills so that I could strategically gain skills in useful areas that others could not provide. I picked an information niche and I am now a go-to colleague for topic specific information.

In sum:

  1. I make sure I am maintaining as much independence as possible so that I do not have to experience the guilt and embarrassment of needing assistance. I only ask for help when I am absolutely certain I cannot find a way to do something on my own.
  2. I make sure I stay relevant and useful in ways my colleagues and peers cannot fulfill so that I can feel confident I am contributing to my workplace by offering a unique knowledge base or skill set.