Almost 10 years ago, I experienced a life-altering, soul-shaking, rock-bottom moment in my life. I’d been suffering through a year-and-a-half long bout with illness, during which I’d visited five different medical professionals seeking an answer to what was wrong with me. I finally got one, from an ER doctor: With his eyes wide as he skimmed the paperwork cradled in one of his arms, he told me that the reason I had been sick for so long — experiencing sudden weight loss, chronic thirst and hunger, depression, tingling in my legs and feet, bed-wetting, and breathlessness — was because I had undiagnosed type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease.
Had I waited just a few more hours to seek medical attention, I would have died.
I spent five days in the hospital where I went from the ICU to meetings with nurses, who would teach me how to dose and inject insulin, check my blood sugar 10 times a day, count the grams of carbohydrates I consumed, and test my urine for ketones. I learned that my disease had no cure, and I would be responsible for keeping myself alive. The littlest error could wind me back into the hospital — or worse, kill me.
Since that day, a lot in my life has changed. My husband and I bought a house, I graduated graduate school, I started my teaching career, we adopted four children, we bought another house, and I left my teaching job. All the while, I’ve been managing my disease. When I left my teaching job to be a mostly stay-at-home-mom, I took on a new career: writing. I’ve written five books, and I’m on track to complete a sixth. I’ve also penned hundreds of articles on health, adoption, and parenting.
It’s for those reasons, I assume, that many of my friends have asked me over the years how it is I “do it all.” How do I manage my home, parent my kids, be a wife, sister, daughter, and friend, volunteer in my child’s class on occasion, run an adoption support group, and write? What’s my secret? They want in.
Here’s the secret: I don’t do it all.
My disease has taught me many valuable lessons that have now become unwritten life rules — ones that I’ll never compromise on.
1. Say no often, and say no well.
If an opportunity doesn’t excite me, fuel my passion — or benefit my family — then the answer is no.
But don’t get me wrong: When I say “no,” it’s with grace (thank you for thinking of me) and with confidence (it’s not something I’m going to do at this time). It’s also without explanation. I’ve found that the more details you provide someone, the more they can resent you, argue with you, or dislike you.
2. Say yes to what matters.
For me, if I don’t take care of my health, I am literally unable to take care of others. My children depend on me to be strong and available; therefore, it’s crucial I say yes to getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and taking time to unwind and relax. Often society believes that a person who doesn’t have a jam-packed schedule is lazy, unmotivated, or untalented; but really, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe a person who knows what matters and sticks to those things is a wise, mature, and happy individual.
3. Allow change when it’s necessary.
I don’t hide from change, but I don’t switch gears on a dime, either. If an opportunity or an idea presents itself, I consider it and I decide if it’s for me or not. If something isn’t working, it’s time to change. If something is working well, I let it be for this season. I’m open to newness, but I’m also not pursuing the next great opportunity at all times.
So no, I don’t do it “all.” I do what matters. I love my kids and my spouse, I write what I want and when I want, and I take care of myself. I don’t have a crammed schedule, I don’t say “yes” to every opportunity that knocks, and I’m not afraid to say “no.” I relentlessly pursue what matters, and I let go of everything else. Do I have a life of perfect balance? Absolutely not. But am I mostly at peace? Yes.
And I strongly believe that we all can reach that place of contentment, too.