The notion of balance
Sometimes things turn out exactly as you hoped, but not at all in the way you planned.
Years ago – well, not so many years ago – before I moved to Sweden, I would entertain thoughts about the wonderful new opportunities living in Scandinavian would bring to me. As a woman of a certain age, I had raised two sons, dealt with the realities of home ownership, and experienced the distress that comes from having two parents with Alzheimer’s disease.
Now that my kids had grown and my parents passed away, moving to Sweden was to be my time. Finally, I was going to be able to make the mosaic table I had always wanted to design. I would be strong and healthy and embracing a clean natural Scandinavian lifestyle. I’d be working as an international writer or correspondent for a great news publication or two, and my guy and I would travel to Norway, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Poland … of course, there would also be regular visits back to the United States.
Some of those things happened. And some of those things I still hope for. The journey I’ve traveled over the last three years has been rewarding, sometimes excruciating, and more of a self-awakening then I ever anticipated.
Much to my dismay, and sometimes outright anger, I found that once in Sweden I was again in the position of being a care taker – hopes for the mosaic table began to fade because being a care taker requires an enormous amount of time and energy. I had hoped, and planned, that I was finally done with it. I had hoped that while living in Sweden, I would realise my own potential.
This time the care giving was different. It was different from raising wonderful boys. It was different from dealing with elderly parents. This time it took so much from me – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – that after two and a half years, I was left with nothing more to offer. There was nothing left to even offer myself … and then, one day in May, I found myself quite unable to function. All systems were down.
Lying in bed that morning in May, I knew I was sick from the flu and possibility bronchitis, but I also knew there were underlying issues which were contributing to the deterioration of my health. That morning I believed I was dying.
Well. I didn’t die. I did have the flu and bronchitis and later discovered that I had adrenal exhaustion. The depletion of my adrenals was causing me to experience dizzy spells, heart palpitations, insomnia, daily exhaustion, weight gain, foggy thinking, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath and a whole host of other not very nice experiences.
As your adrenal glands (which are responsible for more than you can imagine) begin to function below necessary levels changes occur in your metabolism. Fluid and electrolyte balance is affected, the heart and cardiovascular system is affected, as is the respiratory system – your adrenals can no longer meet the demands for stress … so your body takes away from other functions and organs to make up for the loss and to enable one to cope. This is why stress can kill you.
I take this all pretty seriously and follow my doctor’s and therapist’s orders to the letter. I had to say ‘no’ to some amazing opportunities this past summer. If my body was tired, I listened and I rested. I sat in the sun. I read heaps of fiction, took carefully selected vitamins and minerals, and had to reset my circadian rhythm (no easy feat, I tell you). As such, I am feeling better than I have in years but I still have a long way to go. Adrenal exhaustion is not something which is cured in a month. It requires a complete lifestyle change. It is a wake-up call. And, oddly enough, the best type of recovery is what here in Sweden, we call lagom – not too much, not too little. Balance.
I am now back at work and I believe performing better than ever, and I’ve been given the go-ahead for morning walks and some strength training – but as I said, recovery is a lifestyle change and it requires finding balance, proper exercise, good food choices and mostly … taking care of yourself.
Dressing nicely, maintaining a good weight, getting your hair cut is all good, and many of us do that, but when I write of taking care of yourself what I’m saying is take no prisoners, reset your priorities, set up boundaries, tell people NO, set goals, stand up for yourself, avoid negativity like the plague, and yes … pamper yourself too. Your health and happiness is the priority and while that may sound selfish, it is not. You can not give to others unless you give to yourself first. You do not have to put yourself in a situation where you think you are ageing hard or perhaps dying before you get the wake-up call.
So, there you have it. Getting sick was how I was able to realise that I needed to make myself the priority. It was the event that took me from focusing on another – being less co-dependent – to caring for myself. It is indeed my time. And this life that I am living in Sweden, is my life. It can be a life that you’ve always dreamed of too, but you have to be brave, you have to say no, you have to be firm and set boundaries, you need to have goals and you need to have the energy to meet those goals.
I think many people are suffering from adrenal fatigue or exhaustion and aren’t even aware of it. I certainly wasn’t. I also believe many expats in Sweden tend to forget themselves in their struggle to make a new life in Scandinavia, and culture shock can sure take its toll. At the repeated suggestions of my therapist, who btw ROCKS, I’d like to share this journey with you. Yup, it’s another form of care giving, for which I seem to be destined, but it’s a clear path to positivity.
I will be adding a new section to this blog entitled Scandinavian Wellness. Under the category “Wellness” you will find essays on taking care of yourself, natural ways to indulge and provide luxury on budget, dealing with SAD and the dark Scandinavian winters, vitamins and supplements, living in nature, meditation, yoga, salt baths, the magic of coconut oil and other tips and ideas that I will share as I travel the road to recovery.
Join me. 🙂