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Living Life With Purpose When You Can't Work

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One of the biggest hurdles I’ve navigated while living with chronic illness is a loss of purpose. I am lucky enough that my husband’s income can support our family without my working, but not going to a job every day has its own challenges. One of the first things we ask about when meeting new people is, “What do you do for work?” How do I answer that question when I’ve stopped working? More importantly, how do I now define myself with the loss of that big part of who I was?

When I first stopped working, I didn’t immediately feel the loss. I was still finding what made sense for me in terms of treatments. There were a lot of doctor’s appointments and therapies to take up my time. As time passed though, I developed a sort of routine. Massage first and third week of the month. Chiropractor at the beginning of the month. Acupuncture two to three times per week and various doctor’s visits sprinkled throughout the month. These are the things that keep my body moving with the least amount of pain. Once I had my routine down, there was more time in my day to fill and because most people work, that time was spent largely alone. That isolation and loss of “self” exacerbated my feelings of depression.

My mom often says, “Work is therapy.” It gives you a reason to get up in the morning and make yourself presentable. It provides social interaction. Completion of tasks and good job performance give you a sense of accomplishment that is beneficial to overall well-being. Stopping work is more than just a financial loss. It became clear that I had to find a way to replace what a full-time job once provided in a way that allowed me to still care for my body.

It was not an overnight fix. The first step was to replace the social interaction. I go to a community acupuncture clinic two to three times per week for treatments and found myself sitting for a bit to talk to the staff after my appointment. They’ve become friends. One of the acupuncturists knits charity scarves in her down time between patients. It prompted me to pick up my crochet hook to join her. Then I started crocheting with a friend about once per week while her son was at daycare. I was crocheting so much that I decided I would make all my Christmas gifts and headed off to a local yarn shop for supplies.

There I found a beautiful community of women I’m now so thankful to be a part of. Sitting in a circle, each working on separate projects, we sit and talk. The topics vary widely from family, work, television and books to the gorgeous projects we’re working on. These women are so inspiring. We gush over each other’s projects and the beautiful yarns we’re working with. We listen to stories of kids and grandkids and babies. It’s a place of laughter, relaxation and friendship.

At the yarn shop, I found my purpose again. As we talked, the owner learned of my love of crochet and asked if I’d be willing to teach a beginner class. I’d never taught crochet before, but I took a chance. I worked with her to develop a project list, and although it’s starting slowly, the program is growing. She’s very supportive. I work twice per week for only a couple of hours at a time and I’m able to pass on my love of crochet to others in this beautifully supportive environment.

There’s an element of luck to my story. I was definitely in the right place at the right time. But I was in the right place because I put myself there. I didn’t let myself believe the lies depression told me. I knew there was a way to live my life with purpose and to feel useful and accomplished even while living with a disability.

Do everything you can to find your purpose again. You’re worth it.

Originally published: May 1, 2018
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