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In building my mom community over recent years, I have learned this is one thing we all strive for in our lives: balance. It constantly becomes the topic of conversation. Where do family, friends, love, work, hobbies, self-care all fall into the picture? How do we have time for everything? How do we choose to spend our time? For many women, momentary success is felt in saying “no” to an unnecessary extra commitment or sneaking out the door at night to make it to a yoga class. For me, this has been a priority since I was 15 – one that really is life or death.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 15 as I was beginning college searches and planning for my professional future. Then, at the age of 23, while prepping to marry my high school sweetheart and finding my place in the working world, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Two major life changes at two pivotal moments. The ins and outs of the diagnosis and day-to-day struggles are a story for another day, but they have obviously both affected my life. These conditions are physically debilitating and emotionally draining. They rock your immune system and steal your energy. Stress becomes the worst enemy, as it triggers all of the symptoms.

After the initial diagnosis, my parents were determined that giving into the disease wasn’t going to be our path. My dad roused my teenage self out of bed each morning, hours before school, to go swimming to wake up my joints for the day. My mom worked to convince the most resistant meditation client that breathing and guided imagery were as important as any pill. And I set aside my pride and accepted help from all. Errands and movie watching partners were found in my brothers, cuddles from the dog, chauffeuring from friends. They offered and I said, “Yes.”

Many painful memories were connected to my health (or lack thereof). Passing up exciting job opportunities for those with less stress, watching others go on travel adventures that were too physically demanding, waiting through seven years of marriage before my medications were finally in control to get pregnant. Every decision I made (and still makes) comes back to the needs of my body.

My husband and I created a great analogy with understanding this concept. Each day, I am given a jar of energy and I choose how to use that energy. But there is only so much in the jar. If I have a huge presentation in the morning, then I will need to relax at home that evening because I am  drained. If I want to go out late with friends on Saturday night, then I will need to save the extensive house cleaning for another time. If I am flying solo as mama all day with my spirited toddler, then you know there will be some “Curious George” breaks during the afternoon.

Some days my heart focuses on the losses, the what ifs, the dreams and ambitions my type-A personality missed out on due to my health. But most days, I reap the benefits of a well-balanced life.  I am reminded of my strength and power in choosing to get a full night’s sleep, taking an afternoon walk, and understanding my limits. I am reminded that I choose how to spend each minute of my day and that I am blessed with a beautiful support system of family and friends.

Recently, I had two friends tell me that they admired the way I balance life and they look to me as a model. I realized that through these losses, I have gained a gift to pass on to others. I’ve rooted myself as a constant support and advocate for those around me to take care of themselves. Not everyone has the health challenges that have complicated my situation, but ALL of us only have a finite amount of energy in our jars.

I quit my dream job last year because the stress of being a new mom, keeping up with the pace of the position, and managing my medical needs were taking up more energy than I had in my jar each day.  While I definitely miss it some days (and the money!), I catch myself soaking in these moments with my daughter learning new things, checking on her sweet (sleeping) face at night, and reminding myself that this “ordinary” life means that my dreams really can come true.

Steffani Baker, M.Ed.- Steffani is a health educator with a passion for learning new things and empowering people from all backgrounds.  She spends as much time as possible outdoors with her spirited toddler, hubby, and pooch.  She’s a self-proclaimed foodie, living room dance party enthusiast, and single-handedly keeps her local Target in business.