My Body Is Not Always a Temple: Work-life Balance with CF

Elly Aylwin-Foster avatar

by Elly Aylwin-Foster |

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Many young professionals burn the candle at both ends, especially when the temptation to fit into a big city’s lifestyle lurks. Somehow, they continue to function as productive humans — for the most part. But a person with cystic fibrosis (CF) and those in their trusted circle know that holding down a job and taking care of themselves is a tiring tightrope to walk.

When I lived in London throughout most of my 20s, I was a little different than my peers. While I enjoyed a drink after work with friends, I was hard to pin down. I would appear at the pub and, like Cinderella in a slightly different time zone, vanish by 10 p.m. without fail. Murmurings of “neb time” and “physio won’t do itself” fluttered on the breeze I left in my wake. Though I was never careless enough to leave my shoes behind.

The trials of work-life balance remain, but now that I work for myself, they’ve taken on a new magnitude.

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I tend to allocate self-care into four categories. This is my interpretation, and it’s by no means scientific. Each aspect has to be balanced with the others for me to stay “well.”

  1. Exercise and activity.
  2. SLEEP. (Yes, it’s Caps Lock for emphasis.)
  3. Nutrition.
  4. Social activity.

At any one time, I tend to excel at two of these, be apathetic toward one, and blatantly ignore the existence of the other.

To illustrate that, dear reader, picture me writing this column after a long, tiring weekend hiking, a cat on my lap (this counts toward social activity), while stuffing fistfuls of peanut M&M’s into my mouth and Googling remedies for eye bags.

The highlights of a weekend hiking in the Peak District, U.K. (Courtesy of Elly Aylwin-Foster)

This week started off busy. New business inquiries and speculative emails pinged into my inbox. I crisscrossed my calendar with upcoming deadlines. On Monday I was already punishingly tired. And so despite my excitement at each new opportunity, I felt a little fear, too. A well-known founder in the advertising industry once said, “We are only ever three client calls away from disaster.”

I wonder if the CF community should have their own saying about sleep. One sleepless night and we can, hopefully, patch over the cracks. Two, and the stress on our body starts to show. Three, and we might as well don our comfy pajamas and retire to bed having pinned an “exacerbation incoming” sign onto our door.

Of the four self-care areas I’ve listed above, I find sleep and exercise to be the most pivotal. With eight hours’ sleep under my belt and (almost) daily exercise, I believe I avoid exacerbations and get through the remainder with less effort.

More work is great, but having only myself to advocate for my work-life balance is tough. The temptation to pick up every piece of work, because it’s in a field I care about deeply while sacrificing my self-care is often present. Listening to your body is hard. Doing so while meeting the demands the world places on us and making a living is even more challenging.

So what can those of us with CF do to better balance our self-care? After all, looking after ourselves is about much more than treatments. I am curious to know which aspects of self-care you find most challenging, and which ones are most rewarding?

Leave a comment below to let me know.

To stay up to date with my writing, and contribute to my book on life with chronic illness, visit


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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