Hard Lesson: The non-negotiable importance of a healthy work-life balance
I am a 26-year old software developer from Chennai, India. I have always been more of a self-taught person than a mainstream academic. My interest in technology and development stemmed from this passion for self-learning. This interest prompted me to complete advanced diplomas in Computer and Mobile Hardware, Software, Networking, Web Designing, Web Development, Audio-Visual Editing, and Server Administration.
The above has been the narrative that I have stuck to all-along. However, there is more to my story, which I haven't revealed before. This blog post is an open narrative of my life, detailing the various choices I have made, which ended up wreaking havoc with my physical health and mental well-being.
I learnt the hard way, the need for, and importance of, a healthy work-life balance, along with consistent physical activity. A lack of this balance bordered on an unhealthy obsession with work, affecting both physical health and mental well-being. This in-turn, ironically, affected the efficiency and productivity of work itself. Looking back, I see where I have gone wrong, but I was too young to realize the path I was heading on at the time, which I regret in hindsight.
My first exposure to a computer was at the age of 3. I spent most of my waking time in front of the computer, trying to disassemble it, to learn about its architecture and inner workings. Computers quickly became my passion, and quite honestly an obsession, to the point that I stopped going out to play with friends. This was the beginning of my soon-to-become-permanent sedentary and inactive lifestyle.
I kept thinking about computers and technology all the time, even at school. Instead of being in the classroom studying, I used to go to the computer lab and help the lab engineer. The headmaster at school called my parents and complained about my unhealthy obsession with computers and the fact that I was losing focus and interest in academics. My parents, concerned about my obsession, took me to a Psychologist. He heard me out, and tried to talk to me about the importance of academics, but I was absolutely stubborn about quitting academics and focusing full-time on computers.
Finally, after much persuasion and discussion, my parents realized that I was no longer inclined towards mainstream academics. They allowed me to discontinue my academics in grade 7, and start working on computers full-time. It seemed like a great victory for me, but it so ended up that I started sitting on the computer for 20-22 hours a day, getting up only to eat or sleep. This compounded an already sedentary lifestyle, and led to a host of other ailments.
My health: a rocky beginning and unending concerns
I had developed an ear infection at a very early age, which went unnoticed until I was about 14 years old. Each time the infection flared up, we went to a doctor who prescribed medication and said it would go away in a few days. Over the years we saw several doctors, each of whom followed the same course of action.
The infection advanced with time and was accompanied with heavy dizziness, which made it hard for me to sit or stand. At this point, my parents and I went to see a specialist, who told me that my left ear was heavily infected and would need immediate surgery. A few months after, the right ear also needed to be operated on due to bone damage from the infection, and needed a steel plate. I suffered with dizziness for a long time after the surgery too.
All this affected my hearing, reducing my auditory capacity to 55% in my left ear and 75% in my right. Till date, I can only hear high-decibel noises only, and have trouble hearing speech and other sounds at low-decibels.
After about a year, I got a bit of a skin rash. Initially it subsided with some medication, but then it became more severe and spread throughout the body. I visited a number of skin specialists who ran various tests ranging from blood count to cancer, but none provided a definite answer to the condition. The infection had spread all over the body and was deeply agonizing making it hard to sit, stand or sleep. Finally, after over two months and INR 60,000 (~1000USD) in tests, the issue had become evident. The over-prescription of steroid medication for the initial skin rash is what triggered this skin condition, but it was in great deal caused due to constant stress. It took a further 2 years and 6 months to partly recover from the damage, which was excruciatingly painful and depressing. Stress can be greatly damaging!
Further, due to my incorrect pattern of brushing and improper oral hygiene, I ended up with 8 cavities. I have had to get eight of my teeth removed and replaced with artificial teeth.
To add on to things, my sedentary life and lack of physical activity reduced my outdoor exposure to the sun, resulting in a vitamin D deficiency. It also caused me to become extremely obsese. At the peak, I weighed about 165 kilograms. After some physical activity and lifestyle change, I reduced my weight to 140 kilograms. This seemed like a great win, and I started neglecting physical activity and started sitting in front of the computer again. :(
My biggest and most challenging health concern continues to be my obesity, due to my lack of interest in a disciplined regimen of physical activity.
Thankfully though, I am happy that as on date I have a working mind and body :)
I have learnt that academics or no academics, life is meant to be enjoyed and lived with interest, passion and love. We must not forget that our body and mind play the key role in order to achieve great things in life and to experience life as it is meant to be. We must never take them for granted.
Nothing must get in the way of a healthy and disciplined lifestyle with equal balance of work and life. Make time for a hobby such as reading or music. Family time is also important. Spend time with your parents, spouse, siblings and children. These activities help calm the mind and keep stress levels in control. For me, my biggest stress buster has been my dog, Sofie :)
Limit working hours to no more than 10-12 hours a day. Even while working, get up every hour and stretch the body. Focus the eyes away from the screen once at least every 15 minutes to avoid fatigue and dryness. No matter how long you work, there is always work to be done! It is always better to work in a systematic and disciplined manner.
Physical activity and fitness is absolutely essential for maintaining good health and a sharp mind. Most people lose interest in working out, because it is too boring to do alone. I would recommend a sport involving friends, so it is fun, but also meets the requirement for physical activity. It also helps gain some exposure to the sun, meeting the Vitamin D quota! ;)
Sleep is extremely important. Make sure to get at least 6-7 hours of good sleep to help the body and mind rejuvenate and refresh.
I urge those reading my blog to learn from the mistakes I have made, and the pain I have had to experience. Try and alter your choices, so you can live a life of inspiration, love, contentment and fulfillment. You can still work on whatever it is that you find passionate, but you can do it without having to compromise due to health limitations.