Life has a way of taking us right out of balance. Most of the time, we have some measure of control on what we will focus on and can turn our attention back to the things that need it.  But there are times when outside factors seem to rise up and derail our carefully curated life.

In a second major episode of my life, I could have congratulated myself on living through a bad divorce, re-organizing my financial life, seeing my children through graduation and full time employment, remarrying and accomplishing my lifetime dream of living in Australia for a year.  I was at the top of my game. I was strong emotionally, I had good friends, a caring husband, healthy adult children, a beautiful home and I was frankly pretty good at what I did too. But life had other ideas and stopped me in my tracks to retirement with a major and mysterious illness.  To put it simply, I was losing the use of my legs. No doctor was able to explain it and it was progressing in spite of my inclination to ignore the whole problem.

Sleep started to elude me, work became difficult to attend and my sick leave ran out. I was just one year from planned retirement. We had dreams of selling the house, taking off in our little camper Roadie for a year as grey nomads and then re-establishing ourselves in BC, somewhere not too far from the coast.  It was all within reach. But when ill health starts to tip the scales, you find you cannot attend to any of your other life segments. Sure I thought I would spend my days at the pool in aquafit class, I’d go for walks and get outside, I’d sleep when I wanted to and stay away from the computer after 9pm.  It would all go back into a natural equilibrium if I resorted my priorities and listened to my body.

Well, I did all those things, and more. I tried seeking more medical advice, and then ignoring the whole issue. I started to hold on to things and people so I could appear to walk normally. I took up crocheting for charity thinking I might as well make someone’s life better and that might help me heal. I radically changed my diet and made the very hard decision to retire early.

Now, illness is an odd thing. It’s like inviting another being into your life and your relationships. It’s that unwelcomed relative that just won’t go away.  Pretty soon it takes all your attention and energy and brings along its friends, anger and resentment. You can try adding balance to your life but these are powerful forces that really try to steer your energy (what’s left of it) elsewhere.

But again, this is about what you can do right. Possibly the best thing that I did for myself during that time was to join a free workshop group on living with chronic pain. I was able to learn more tools to help me cope with my changing situation and most importantly, recognize the cycle of chronic pain or chronic illness.

The tools were not unlike those I had cultivated in my previous time of crisis – hobbies and distractions, strong social networks and finding a way to communicate more effectively.  Importantly, what all this has in common is empowering yourself with knowledge so you can make the needed changes to rebalance your life.  The biggest difference at this stage was admitting that my life just wouldn’t look like it used to. There would be a new normal and I would have to find a way to make that work.

Have you faced a situation where your balance was threatened by factors outside your control? What tools did you use to regain your balance?