How To Get Yourself Working Again After A Health Crisis
In May 2011, I returned from Europe with salmonella poisoning. Those awful six days reminded me of the very worst days during the 13 years I dealt with mild to severely active Crohn’s Disease. Having been in remission with this illness for six years, I had forgotten what it felt like to live under the cloud of a chronic condition. When I say forgotten I don’t mean I didn’t remember; it was no longer a daily concern.
Once I recovered—and realized it didn’t trigger a new flare—I felt a deep appreciation for that younger woman who stepped through many difficult days without giving up. This is the same courage I see in others managing work and life while dancing with energy-draining, often painful, chronic conditions. Unfortunately, in a culture that favors striving, productivity and achievement, many hide their illness in shame and do battle with a lurking sense of failure.
I say phooey to that! A serious health setback demands depth-digging strength. There is peace in acceptance, and from acceptance creative solutions are born. My book, Business from Bed, is unique in that it integrates the physical/emotional aspects of recovery with the practical aspects of rebuilding a business or career, one step at a time.
Step 1: Accept and embrace where you are.
This meets you in the most vulnerable place of all, between life as you knew it before and life as it is now. If you get stuck in a comparison trap, sure that there's nothing good about your present situation, you’re sunk. It’s not that you shouldn’t feel this way; that’s quite normal. The danger is getting trapped there.
This is where the setback becomes the gift. Honest self-reflection often reveals some blemishes in the fairy tale. I offer a series of questions and several methods for helping you accept, and embrace, your reality today. Most people discover (I did!) that they were sacrificing their personal integrity for some kind of security. Think money, love, acceptance, identity.
Step 2: Embrace the new normal.
There’s no better time than this to revisit your values, dreams and ideals. You might FEEL the pressure to get back to the routine as soon as you can. But, wait; didn’t you uncover a few blemishes? Instead of trying to get back to the before-time, why not stand in present-day reality and investigate from here? What dreams have been ignored? What talents have been underutilized? What kind of work schedule would support your well-being? Step 2 offers a variety of questions and exercises to re-awaken the dreamer within.
Step 3: It's back to “business” under new management.
Having awakened yourself to new and/or reclaimed ideals, you're in a unique position to take a fresh look at work. Start with these questions. Don’t think; see what your body has to say.
Will you go back to the same business (job or career)?What, if anything, needs to change?If returning to your own business, can you rebuild using the same approach, or do you need to make changes so that it’s more sustainable and/or satisfying?
Step 4: Ask for help.
Ah, yes, the Achilles heel of every self-sufficient person: the need to ask for help. Everyone I interviewed mentioned just how difficult their new dependence was, at least initially. They also admitted that it was one of the gifts of their health crisis. Accepting help was actually OK.
Still, it’s not as simple as just asking. There are important questions to answer:
- Who can help?
- How they can help?
- How do you respond to unsolicited help?
- How do you protect your privacy and maintain clear boundaries?
Step 5: Slow down, don’t move too fast!
Once you start feeling better, it’s tempting to overextend yourself. It marks a fragile point in the recovery journey, the dance between the delight over feeling better and the reality of not yet being 100%. This is when unhealthy habits are most likely to resurface. People ask me, “How do I know when to yield to my body and when to push through?” My reply: When in doubt, stop and wait. At the very least take a break.
Step 6: Map out a plan for your success.
Once you've established harmony between mind (drive) and body (needs), I find many people benefit from mapping out a realistic routine based on a typical workweek, a “Master Planning Schedule.” Your tailor-made MPS accounts for the natural ebb and flow of your energy, and helps establish a realistic working schedule so that you can do the work that really matters without sacrificing your health.
I can’t offer you the entire book in a short blog post, but I do hope that you have enough to get started and, better yet, to know you’re not alone.