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Overwhelmed: A Book Review

I am reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No one has the Time by Brigid OverwhelmedShulte. Well, reading assumes a more peaceful process, I keep finding sections I adore and then either write them down or Google search something related to it.

You see, the concept of slowing down and looking after yourself is something everyone could do with, but especially a person with chronic pain and fatigue.

“She herself [an assistant professor of psychiatry] works hard at not feeling stressed. Among other things, she gets enough sleep, eats right, exercises, stops to breathe, meditates, sets realistic expectations, and makes constant adjustments to her goals and schedule – as life around her shifts.” P56

She sounds amazing. And like she has no children.

It’s the perfect time to read this book as I contemplate my new work/life balance as a mama.

Shulte explores the current employment law in America (very limited and not at all employee focused) and some of the innovative companies who are incorporating more employee focused measures. Things like flexible work hours, part time hours and less face time, surprisingly, lead to higher levels of productivity and retention of good staff.

I devoured this book.

I clung to it as if it could give me the answers I so desperately need about how to balance motherhood with work with a chronic illness. And it did give me a lot of guidance.

Shulte explores the concept of time and how gendered expectations can get in the road. She weaves memoir with research in a seamless story, leaving you feeling like you’re reading a stream of consciousness as it’s happening.

My learning highlights: Time is power; work smarter not longer; balancing work/rest periods; choose your most important goal and tackle that first; dads are as capable as mums; help kids develop resilience, perseverance and grit; play; meditate.

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The Definition of Successful

I think I lost sight of what is important. I lost sight of my definition of the term successful.

I got sucked into the idea of “rising”, of the point being to earn more and more and be “business minded” (read: work lots and have heaps of money).

But that’s not me. My goal has been to build myself a permanent part-time career. So that I can always chase the intersection  of my work life balance. So that I can be well, so that I can be a good mama.

My body and energy levels are unique. Prepregnancy I knew this to be 25-30 hours per week of work. Now, I plan to begin the experiment at 20 hours.

But I was looking for the wrong things.

If the goal is to have a permanent part-time career, then the actual job is going to be a bit different to what I have been thinking. Unfortunately, the business world hasn’t caught up to the idea of meaningful part-time work. So I need to aim at administration level roles.

If I’m being honest, that is a sticking point. I like to think of myself as “past” admin, I have done some amazing roles in the non-profit sector, there is such opportunity there, so I did far more than just administrative tasks when I was EA. Other administrative roles just don’t seem to cut it, challenge-wise.
But what is important is the ability to work part-time. And to be as close as possible to my baby’s care so that I spend as little time away from him as possible. I need to re focus on what’s important to me. Not get lost in the world’s definition of successful.
I am successful. I am good at my work, am married to the love of my life, have been given the joy of my life (my baby), know and follow my passions, live well with a chronic illness and love, A LOT.
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Acceptance, Kinda?

When you have fibromyalgia or any ongoing illness, the grieving process doesn’t really end.

I came to a sense of acceptance years ago and have simultaneously mustered a sense of reality with a huge sense of hope. 

I believe that how I live can help me significantly. But I know that even having eight hours in bed, I will not feel rested. That even when only working five hours, my neck will still hurt so much that I wake frequently, changing pillows in an effort to be comfortable.

In the beginning I soldiered through because no one had any sense of what may be wrong with me, other than the physical practitioners I tried who saw my regularly tightly coiled muscles. That either didn’t respond to treatment or only had a brief, slight window of relief.

By the time I moved to Auckland with my family for a new beginning four years ago, I was at the end of my tether. Every day was a battle. I was hanging on by a thread. I coped til 8am waiting for the painkiller, I then til 10 waiting for coffee, then til 12 for lunch break. After that it was 3pm for an energy drink, to try to combat my heavy eyelids, and 5 for home time. It was nasty. I wasn’t alive. I was coping.

Since then I’ve come leaps and bounds. But that black cloud hovers.

It swooped upon me this week.

I wish I did have the energy to work and really help with our mortgage, and still have the energy for baby and then more still for exercise and other parts of life.

Three hours of work last week has stirred up my neck. And it’s hit me again what I must cope with in order to live.

I’ll need to continually walk the tightrope in order to balance work with my baby with everything else. I’ll have to find the new level of pain I can cope with, the trade off for financial stability.

It makes me sad. As I sit here with a sore neck and a gorgeous baby whose energy levels already outweigh mine.

It would help if my family got it. But people without these issues can’t “get” it. And there are those that want to understand and those that don’t.

I am fighting for myself. I will try hard to find my balance. It’s just hard to fight the people around me in addition to the fibromyalgia and myself, because there is no one more disappointed than me.