Why self-care is work ?

The last few weeks I have been struggling with the idea of work. What is work? Am I working to my full capacity? And should I be working harder?

This idea that work is paid employment has been a challenging concept for me. Defined in OT literature, work is contributing to the social and economic fabric of one’s community (productivity), whilst self-care is looking after one’s self.

It’s simple right? Self-care is brushing your teeth, dressing and showering. But what happens when you spend the majority of your week managing an illness?

Every week I see my psychiatrist, my psychologist,attend a hospital day program and work in a paid role. When I am not at appointments I am resting and doing other therapies to stay well.

It’s a huge time and energy commitment. Trust me, I would much rather be doing something “productive” and working more, such as aspiring to advance my career as an OT. But everyday is a challenge to find the balance between work and looking after my self. It’s something that if I don’t get the balance “just right” it can put me at risk of relapse and a hospital admission.

 A FAQ I get, is, can people with BPD work?

My answer is yes.

Do not downplay how hard it is to get out of bed, attend your appointments, listen to so many people’s advice, take your meds and still care for others in your life. You are already working!

A few years a go I had a mental health clinician who told me I could work 5 days a week, a clinician who had limited after hour times and got upset at me for stopping my appointments for a month. This is something that breaks me at times. I absolutely love my job. It brings me routine, a strong sense of identity and competence and I love being around my colleagues they are so supportive not just at work but in my therapy work life as well. I’m so blessed that they understand that without my therapy work there would be no “OT work”. Something that I am struggling to accept myself.

My point is we need to celebrate these achievements for our patients. Be clear with your therapy goals and provide reassurance of even the smallest achievements. Attending appointments is so hard for people with mental health conditions. As clinicians we don’t see what happens after our patients leave the consultation rooms. For me I am in bed by 3 pm trying to recover.

We need to congratulate people for attending their appointments regularly and not be so quick to label people as ‘non compliant’. Just like when we turn up for work, so to are our patients turning up to work. However, they are accepting that they need to work to manage their health but also stay alive.

Just like occupation the occupation of ‘work’ self-managing my illnesses comes from the values of wanting to provide and be there for my family, obligation to my treatment team and a hope to stay/be well.

I have had several people ask me can people with BPD work. There is no right or wrong answer for this questions. Everyone is different. On a daily basis I have to readjust what is a ‘healthy’ workload for me. I am extremely blessed to work in a role that has flexibility and co-workers who support me in finding this balance.

Periods of my life I accept that I will be hospitalised and cant work but at other times work is one of my strongest identities that makes me feel competent and valued. 

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