I’ve been trying to work out how to write this blog post for months but it’s been sat in my draft folder because, apparently, I’m not very good at managing work and rest. In fact, when I told R the title of this post he said, “I assume you’re getting a guest blogger in for this one.” Funny guy.
But then, in December I heard a programme on Radio 4 on this very subject and it began with a very important point…
You can’t have a conversation about how to manage work and rest without defining what each of those things mean to you. Work (or certainly, office work) used to be something that happened between the hours of 9am and 5pm; we left the house to go to work to make money, and then we came home to rest. Technology has now blurred these lines and society is changing; we now have the ability to work from anywhere, we are contactable all of the time, and many of us say we feel rested after doing something we enjoy – not necessarily something that involves being at home. We go away for the weekend to rest, using our rest time to explore new cities and do more stuff. But what’s that they say; a change is as good as a rest?
It is therefore up to each of us to define what ‘work’ and ‘rest’ means to us and how much we need of each.
For me, the activities are very blurred but how I interpret them is very clear. ‘Work’ means doing something because I have to – and usually at a time when I would rather not be doing it. On the other hand, ‘rest’ is everything I do by choice because I enjoy it and because I feel better for having done it. That means that if, for example, I have to go and see friends and I’m not in the mood then it can feel like work, and if I’m sat on my sofa in my pyjamas and start researching an exciting work project then it can still feel like rest. The supermarket is work (I hate going to the supermarket), the hairdressers is work… work isn’t necessarily something I get paid to do, it’s something that takes effort and time when I’d rather be doing something else.
I get criticised time and time again by people (incredibly sweet and caring people, I should add) who think I work too much and don’t rest enough, but if we’re working from different starting points then it’s no wonder we can’t reach an agreement in this ongoing conversation.
When it comes to my job, I’m pretty anti the 9 to 5. As someone with a chronic pain condition, there are some times when I feel energised and motivated and I want to use those moments to be as productive as I can – even if they strike on a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, I want to be able to stay in bed when my legs just won’t get me down the stairs or my neck can’t hold up my head. Unfortunately, the problem with this great picture is that employers haven’t quite caught up with the fact that whilst many of us work during home time, they’re not very good at letting us be at home during work time.
I do recgonise that there’s a limit to all of this, and that everyone is different. Not everyone wants to blur those boundaries and not everyone should have to. Plus, this approach is really only justifiable if I make sure I’m getting some good rest alongside all that work, and that becomes a much harder argument when I’m unwell.
The thing with managing work and a chronic illness is that only you can work out what is tolerable. I work a full time job with fibromyalgia and regardless of how much of it is enjoyable, it still takes effort and energy. It uses my spoons. Every time I’m struggling and flaring, someone tells me to phone in sick.
Here’s the thing about phoning in sick when you have a chronic illness…
If I wake up and I’m in pain and I phone in sick, at what point do I go back in? If I stay at home until I’m pain free, I’ll be at home forever. If I phone in sick when I’m in pain then there’s got to be something that tells me it’s okay to go back to work – and I’m not sure what that is.
I could set myself a limit like, if my pain hits 8 out of 10 on the pain scale then I’ll phone in sick. But I bloody hate the pain scale. I have no idea what an 8 out of 10 feels like, and there are days when I hit 10 out of 10 and then discover oh hang on, it can get worse. Every time a specialist asks me to rate my pain out of 10 I could scream.
Edit – A reader recently reminded me that for many of us with chronic illnesses, there comes a point when we have to make a choice. I choose to work full time, but that means sacrificing a social life after work and carefully managing what I do at weekends. I choose to put my energy into my job, and that is my choice. In the future it may change but for now, that’s how I roll.
Writing this post, I know that regardless of the way I categorise it, I need to manage my health and I need to balance work and rest. That might not mean striking a difference between my job and my home life, but it still means drawing a line between things that give me enjoyment and energy versus things that drain me and leave me tired and frustrated.
So how do you rest? We all talk frequently about a work/life balance but if the lines have been blurred and we can no longer separate one from the other, it’s up to each of us to define the difference and manage it in a way that works. I know I can get sucked in to the work side a little too easily but in general, I feel like I’m getting better at finding ways to relax and I’m confident that I have a model that works for me.
How do you manage work and rest? Have you found the balance?