Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.

Meaning different things in different contexts, balance is an interesting word. Imagine yourself on a balance beam. Then think about your bank account balance. Then start thinking about the always present "work-life balance." Already this word is all over the place, infiltrating itself into everyday life.

There are a few instances in which my balance is right on. I'm great at balancing my checkbook. I love spending time with my friends and alone. I'm slowly getting better at the tree pose in yoga. Maybe some day I'll be able to hold a headstand or walk a tightrope.

But there are other places where my balance is way off. I often get my diet out of balance; I'll eat whatever is in front of me. And my work can overpower my personal life; my habit of working evenings and weekends throws my personal life well off balance.

But nowhere am I more out of balance than when there's movement involved. Inevitably, I'll get motion sickness. I have found that most people fall somewhere inside one of two categories: those who suffer from motion sickness, and those who do not. I know a few people who have no motion problems. They're happy to sit backwards on trains, read in the car, and rock on any boat (even in the most choppy of waters). To these people I say the following: you have absolutely no idea how lucky you are. Try, just try, to think about what your life would be like if every time you moved you felt queasy. Doesn't sound fun, does it?

Because it's not; in fact it's debilitating at times. And, unfortunately, most of the people I know fall somewhere on the motion sickness spectrum. I would venture to say that growing up I was probably at about a 5 on the motion sickness scale from 1-10, 1 being mild, infrequent sickness, and 10 being daily all consuming sickness. When I was a child, I thought I had it bad; I had to sit in the front seat, facing forward, looking out the window. I had to chew mint gum and once in a while take dramamine. But I could (and would) travel no problem, taking a plane, train, or automobile without giving it a second thought. I could enjoy a good roller coaster ride just fine, depite having a few motion sickness limits (like no reading in the car.)

But now, I can definitively say my motion sickness level is at a 10. Yes, that means it's a daily disability. If you were to ever travel around with me, you would notice the following: I drive. Always. I take dramamine every day, if my driving is not a possibility. I don't go on roller coasters, let alone boats. I have to sit forward on the train, at the front of the bus, and will throw up if I'm not able to control the motion sickness. I won't even go to a 3D movie. I have prescription motion sickness medication, both pills and skin patches. I even have those sea calm bands, although they don't even work for me on BART. You're lucky if they work for you.

The scopolamine patch pictured here causes blurred vision. 
I learned this while traveling in Cambodia.

Why do I have such horrendous motion sickness? As much as I want to blame my inner ear, I only put the blame squarely on my parents. Both my mother and my father suffer as severely as I do. It's a running family commentary about the places we have thrown up, which between us covers just about everywhere. Some of my top motion sickness travel destinations include Peru, Alaska, Israel, and even on my way to work (in the car driving down 280).

As I previously mentioned, I often get my diet out of balance as well. I think this is somewhat related to my motion sickness issues. If I'm eating too much rich, fried, heavy food, I'm much more likely to get ill while moving. If I eat unhealthful food for more than a day, I'll feel ill. If I drink alcohol, I'll get sick and throw up. Perhaps this is my body's way of keeping me healthy; because I don't drink. And I try to control the amount of junky food I consume (even though I love it so much). I'll never understand how my friends can have alcohol while flying. Alcohol is the most potent cause of my vomiting I've ever experienced. And then you put those two together? Talk about a toxic cocktail. The only thing I want while on an airplane is a little ginger ale and to crawl up into a ball, throw up, and get myself off the plane as soon as possible.

The other kind of balance that comes to mind when using this buzzword is the "work-life balance." I'm not sure who coined this term, but it's come up in a few (or all) recent job interviews. I always answer with honesty; that I'm always working on my work-life balance. I still believe in something I discovered in college about human beings; we are always managing work, love, and housing. And at least one of these always seemed to be in flux, needing my full attention. Plus, I only felt I could tackle one at a time. As I've gotten older, it's become more about the balance between work, family, and money. And I thought I had it rough when I was in my 20s. I had no idea. I feel like I am always focusing on these three items all at once.

Here are some interesting statistics from the OECD better life index that make me feel a little better about the fact that I don't have my work-life balance set.

  • People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work.
  • Women spend 248 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring. 
  • Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress.
While I see that life balance is a struggle for most people, especially women, I don't know how to not work every single day until the job is done. I don't, "work hard and play hard." I work hard and play at a normal level. I don't know any other way.

A new colleague told me she keeps normal work hours by accepting that, "there will always be work; but there will always be tomorrow." I don't have such discipline. But I'm trying. Because I love work. And I love life. As long as work and life aren't asking me to drive a train or man the sails. I prefer to stick to solid ground as much as I can. It helps me with my balance.

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