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The tightrope of work-life balance can be hard to navigate.

Then you add outside stressors like chronic illness, parenting, and household maintenance to the mix, and it can feel almost impossible.

The pandemic has only made sustaining a balance even more strenuous.

I learned early into my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) that I’d need to pace myself. I was diagnosed right before the pandemic, adding to the chaos of 2020.

I struggled to find a balance working at home. I found myself working at all hours, even answering emails at 3 a.m. By the end of the week, I felt burnt out and overworked.

It was hard to unplug, but I needed to establish boundaries for myself. These boundaries helped me create a seamless working environment to aid my everyday life and my chronic illness.

Here are some of the ways I managed to find a work-life balance while prioritizing my health.

When working in an office, there’s usually a designated space for you to work. Whether it’s a cubicle or an office, there are supplies for you to accomplish your daily duties.

But when working from home, you may not have access to the equipment, tools, and devices you need. It’s essential to tailor your dedicated workspace to suit your needs.

I bought a small corner desk, lamp, and computer chair for my home. The desk is large enough to fit my laptop and some other knickknacks. I needed a space I could associate with work since working on my couch was no longer cutting it.

Creating this space has helped me establish a separation between work hours and personal time. My son and fiancé respect my new “office” and allow me to work there uninterrupted (well, sometimes).

The word “no” can be challenging to say in the workplace, but it’s important to set boundaries.

The first step is to be specific regarding your reasoning. It could help to reference what you currently have on your plate and why you can’t complete another task.

Pushing yourself past what you can handle will only make matters worse — opening the door to a possible flare.

In the past, I’ve felt anxious when explaining why I couldn’t complete an assignment due to an MS flare or my symptoms. But I was open and explained how my symptoms affected my ability to work. I was also fortunate to have an understanding boss.

Of course, it’s up to you to decide how open you want to be with your boss about your health.

I also make use of the term “bandwidth” when explaining the capacity I have for work assignments. “I don’t have the bandwidth” is my favorite bit of corporate-speak.

Before the pandemic, people would often take small breaks in an office setting. From quick interactions with co-workers to grabbing a cup of coffee, we took moments away from our desks.

Now that many people are working from home, these moments don’t occur as often. It can be hard to break away from continuous work.

Be sure to make time for yourself by scheduling breaks and lunch hours. Hold yourself to those breaks and use them for a proper unplug.

I have a scheduled standing lunch hour. If I can’t take lunch during that time frame, I make sure to reschedule it.

I also take at least three breaks throughout the day outside of my lunch hour to get up and stretch. I experience a lot of stiffness, so I need to move around to combat that.

Sometimes I even use my breaks for a small catnap. Fatigue is one symptom I experience regularly. One of the advantages of working from home is that I can get the rest I need.

Believe it or not, your body will let you know precisely what it needs. It’s up to us to listen. Ignoring clear signs can be disastrous for folks with chronic illnesses.

Two years ago I noticed a small spot of blurriness in my right eye. I went to my eye doctor and explained what I was experiencing. He told me it was normal and not to be concerned.

Something didn’t feel right, but I ignored that feeling. I listened to my doctor. Eventually, it went away.

Fast-forward a year later and the blurriness returned, but worse. The whole bottom half of my eye was blurry.

A month later I was diagnosed with MS. I often reflect on the first onset of symptoms. If I had listened to my body, I could’ve started treatment sooner. I may have been able to avoid the more severe symptoms I experience now.

The odds are that at some point you’ve told yourself, “There is no time for self-care” or “I don’t need that, I’m fine.”

Many of us don’t make self-care a priority. We often believe that our focus needs to be on work, home life, and the kids. But self-care is crucial because you’re focusing on yourself and your needs.

It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. It can be as simple as watching your favorite show or taking a warm bath. Do whatever is necessary for you.

To maintain a work-life balance when living with a condition like MS, it’s important to establish boundaries.

Create a routine and make use of scheduled breaks and lunch hours to avoid burnout.

A designated space for work will allow you to disconnect after hours and prevent you from associating your whole home with work.

Lastly, remember to listen to your body — self-care is essential.

Moyna John is a multiple sclerosis advocate and freelance blogger. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in December 2019. Moyna is passionate about adding representation within the MS community, creating space for Black MS warriors, and empowering modern women to live a purposeful lifestyle outside of chronic illness. Visit her website or follow Moyna on Instagram.