How a health crisis and unemployment opened a door of possibility for me

A mysterious health issue and a departure from her old career left this writer adrift until she embraced a new approach.

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Photo by Chema Photo on Unsplash
Photo by Chema Photo on Unsplash

My hand was twitching uncontrollably.

Both my arms throbbed with pain.

I’d seen massage therapists, physical therapists, a chiropractor, multiple doctors… and still nobody could explain what was happening.

It had been a year since I’d defended my Ph.D. dissertation, and the aches and pains that I’d initially attributed to repetitive strain injury (after a frantic summer spent writing up over 200 pages of research) were showing little sign of abating.

Even worse, over the course of the last year, I’d noticed a loss of control over the fingers in my right hand, which had a tendency to dance and jerk around — making holding a pen or typing difficult.

Finally, a referral to a neurologist and a brain MRI provided clarity, if not necessarily relief — there was evidence that I’d had a small stroke in the area of my brain that controlled the movements in my right hand.

It didn’t explain everything — the doctors were still saying “we don’t know” an awful lot — but it was a diagnosis of sorts.

A diagnosis that came hot on the heels of a decision I’d taken to jump ship on my academic career (the only career path I’d known up until then) and when I had no idea what I was going to do next.

I was about to turn thirty and had recently got married… but instead of feeling excited about the future, it felt as though I was starting from scratch, with a physical handicap to boot.

I could have collapsed in a puddle.

But I decided to reframe the situation.

I decided to use it as a moment to make more thoughtful decisions about what I REALLY wanted my career to look like… rather than simply going all in on the first opportunity that presented itself.

I also decided to use the situation as a chance to design my entire life more thoughtfully: in a way that gave my body more grace, avoided emotional and physical burnout, and enabled me to lead a lifestyle with a waaaaaay better work-life balance.

Ultimately, those decisions led to me creating a job that lights me up by founding my own business… and which allows me to pay more attention and respect to my health.

If you’re going through your own “time in the wilderness” right now, as COVID-19 has thrown SO MANY careers and existences into turmoil, my heart goes out to you.

And please know this

Big life shifts don’t always come easy.

And they don’t always look promising at the outset.

(Personally, I ventured up some paths that seemed pretty bleak at first… but it was by hopping on some rather depressing freelance writing sites that I ultimately embarked on a road which led me to start my own lucrative business.)

A key lesson that I learned was: when you’re in the middle of navigating an enormous change in your life, don’t expect to figure everything out immediately.

But trying things out, taking inspired action, and staying plugged into your intuition and values, can nonetheless enable you to create powerful shifts.

These last few weeks have up-ended the understanding that many of us have always had of “this is how things are and this is the way that they can be”.

The question to ask ourselves now is: “How could things be?”

And — “how might I work towards the life I really want in this world, during this time when we’re being reminded just how short and precious life truly is?”

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