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5 Things I Had to Let Go of When I Stopped Working

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When illness makes you unable to work, you learn to let go of so much more than just your job. These are the layers of letting go I experienced when I had to take a step back from the world. Each required a paradigm shift to help me process them.

1. Letting go of striving. Being sick meant I had to unloosen the mental knots of a lifetime spent striving and achieving. It forced me to confront my fears of inactivity and guilt over stillness. This was hard because my busyness and productivity had always been rewarded with social approval and “success.” I had to relearn how to rest without self-judgment, and despite the judgment of others. This  helped me relieve the constant pressure and evaluation of my body, and how much progress it had or had not made. This also helped me ease up on the unrealistic goals I set for my swift recovery date.

2. Letting go of my prior identity and ideas of self-worth. The meaning of our lives is so often derived from our jobs, material possessions and the state of our physical bodies. When these things are lost, it often creates painful feelings of worthlessness. Depression can often transpire as you believe your life obsolete. These harmful ideas are the result of living in an ableist Western society. If you examine other cultures and their progressive concepts of disability, those ideas are nowhere to be found. They are disability inclusive, and view all human experience as equal. This paradigm validates that there is so much more to a sick person than just a body lying in a bed. Reminding myself of this helps me to relax my hold on my body, and to not see myself as just a “sick person.” By doing so, I move beyond my illness, making space for a less limited role-bound self definition. This allows me to be both unapologetically myself and feel like I’m contributing to a world with my very existence.

painting of a woman sitting cross-legged and holding flowers to her chest
By Christina Baltais

3. Letting go of my independence. I always prided myself on my independence. Now that I was sick and unable to work, I needed to accept the help of others. Our society values taking care of others, but shuns the idea of being taken care of. I became aware of how much I internalized these views when I felt like a burden on others for needing help. I realized the appeal independence has; it keeps vulnerability at bay. I found that embracing my vulnerability has opened me up to my humanity. It’s humbled and deepened my heart, and connected me more to others. Me being open about my needs has also helped diminish the fears others have of expressing theirs, and around their own beliefs surrounding dependency and vulnerability.

4. Letting go of control. I had to learn to stop fighting my illness and surrender. What choice do you have when you’re faced with changes you can’t control? Surrender doesn’t mean stopping different treatments or giving up. It means chronic illness was now a part of my life, and we were going to have to learn to get along together. I had to let go of how I believed my life should be, and try to make peace with what was happening now with things as they were, whether I liked it or not. This required losing control and surrendering to the unknown, in ways I have never before experienced.

5. Letting go of my relationship with time. Our society is speed obsessed. Despite the stress that results from this pace, this is our society’s accepted pace. Chronic illness demands a change in rhythm, and embracing your inner tortoise. I’ve found this shift has made me put less emphasis on time being something wasted or spent – or something I have or don’t have. I take each moment as it comes now, and take one day at a time. On bad days, I take one minute at a time. This change in pace and presence has made me appreciate the smallest nuances in life, and not take one moment for granted.

Illness often brings waves upon waves of change. It is a great disruptor of life. One can easily feel stuck in the experience of it, until you find ways to create more space around it. I hope some of these ideas help bring more space around your experience, and help you navigate your waves with greater ease.

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Originally published: November 7, 2017
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