Sunday 22 August 2021

Nerd Church - Battling My Puritanical Work Ethic (and Society, I Guess)


(Warning: this post discusses chronic illness and ableism, as well as negative stereotyping. It also references grief, mental health problems, and Coronavirus/Covid 19)

'Battling My Puritanical Work Ethic (and Society, I Guess)' with a funky, artsy, background

I've been trying, lately, to resist the urge to respond to... pretty much anything going on in my life... by employing a puritanical work ethic.

Don't get me wrong - a good work ethic is a positive, and the strength of mine is by no means a bad thing.

I know that having a good work ethic means that I'm also resourceful, resilient, helpful, and determined, etc. etc. etc.

I also know the value of money, and of work itself. I don't take things for granted.

But the problem is that I have a tendency of responding to any life event - including and especially negative things that are entirely out of my control - by working myself into a state of exhaustion.

And that right there? Is pretty destructive behaviour.

I don't even know why I do it, really. Like, objectively I realise that throwing myself into work and productivity will in no way heal an ill family member, or bring someone back that I've lost.

But my knee-jerk reaction is that if I don't do something to fix things - something productive, whether or not that thing can realistically help or not - then I've somehow failed.

dividing line

There's a lot of social pressure for us to meet certain arbitrary standards in order for us to be 'worthy.'

Growing up in the UK, there's always been a lot of hate in the media for 'scroungers' 

In the press narrative, 'scroungers' are people who are on state benefits (including disbility benefits) and (allegedly) laze around doing nothing all day every day, and living it up while the rest of us have to work for our money.

I'm sure that people like that exist. People of every type exist somewhere. It's a big planet.

But the stereotype takes these most extreme examples of people on benefits, and frames those examples as 'the norm,' - and a norm that we should feel outrage at, to boot.

(I don't claim disability benefit by the way, although I probably could, because the system is prohibitively stressful and complex, and expects a level of consistency in my day-to-day symptoms which I just don't have. I don't want to stop having good days, thanks v. much.)

dividing line

Strangely, the fact that I enjoy most of my work is not a help here.

It means that I forget to take breaks, allow myself to take on more things than I probably should, berate myself for not completing inhuman levels of tasks...

(Which is why I have to keep reminding myself of work/life boundaries!)

I work hard. I know this, objectively. 

I have between 2 and 3 jobs, depending on how you wanna count them, and I'm working them in the middle of a global pandemic (yes in the middle - it's not over) while dealing with grief and mental health problems.

I work hard.

Subjectively? Ugh, that's a tough one.

Part of me will always feel like I could be doing more - and, weirdly, the harder I work, the more I feel like it's not 'enough.'

My family has worked damned hard for generations to allow me the level of comfort I currently have, and I am well aware that without my parents I would not be able to support myself financially, or even have a roof over my head.

And I feel guilt from that, I really do. 

- Let me make clear, if anyone else is in a similar situation: YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEEL GUILTY FOR.

...Now, if only I could convince myself of that *sigh*

dividing line

I don't think it helps that during my teen years, I had to throw myself into work when I was feeling sh***y.

At the age of about 15, I caught what the doctors suspected was Glandular Fever (Also known as 'Mono' especially in the US.)

A lot of people think that Glandular Fever is something you get over easily, but sometimes it's not. It's really not.

In fact, a lot of scientists now think that Glandular Fever can spark episodes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) - and I can believe that.

Whether I had CFS or not, my doctors called it 'post-viral fatigue.'

I can honestly say that since the age of 15, I have not gone a full month in top mental and physical health. 

Everything after that has been either a whole new health condition/disability to contend with, or else a rotating door of colds and viruses, or just plain stress and strain and tiredness, y'know?

The way people treat you when you're ill 'all the time' is downright unpleasant. At best, they expect you to complete the level of work you were doing before.

Add in that this was the age where I started doing exams, and having coursework to complete, and it's no wonder, really, that I learned to push myself beyond what was healthy.

What was healthy for me, at that time, would have been to celebrate making it down to the sofa before my energy gave out, and then nap. Maybe even stretch out the amount of time before the nap a little more every day.

What I did instead was take six tonnes of schoolwork downstairs and work my a** off for hours, despite the fact that some days I could barely see the page through my migraine-induced visual auras. 

(I started getting migraines about a year after the Glandular Fever. In my time I've had migraine with aura, migraine without aura, chronic migraine, and cluster headaches. Yay.)

...And then be down-right harrassed  by the school staff and the attendance officer about how much school I was missing. 

Which stressed me the f**k out, as you can imagine.

Oh, and my migraines? Usually triggered by major changes in stress levels - either more stress or less stress, the more sudden the change, the more likely the migraine.

Ironically, whenever I dragged my ill posterior into school, they were pretty much doing exactly the same goddamn topics as when I left. 

Like, I started to think I was delirious, because I literally left for two months, came back, and my English class was on the same chapter of Frankenstein as when I left. 

My school sucked, fair play.

And somewhere amongst *waves arm in a circular motion* all that, I learned the flawed lesson that when life gets tough, I need to work harder.

When in reality there's no one-size-fits-all response to any and every situation.

And in a lot of situations? All I'm doing by working harder is hurting myself, and making things even more difficult moving forwards.

So I've been trying to not let myself deploy said puritanical work ethic in a destructive way.

It's what's best for me, and for my work - I actually, weirdly, get more done when I work less, so I'm sabotaging myself by working more. But... it's difficult. 

Because it's not just me and my messed up ideas - society insists on feeding said ideas with stereotypes, not just about 'scroungers,' but about millennials being lazy and ungrateful, about hustle culture...

But still, I'm really trying to keep my work ethic in check.

...Which, ironically, is pretty hard work!

Does this sound familiar to any of you, dearest nerdlets?

Do you find yourself over-working a lot?

Or do you find it easier than I do to strike that balance?

Talk to me! 💖💬

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  1. I relate to this a lot, Cee! For me, working is very much related to my OCD. I feel like I need to get everything done in one day, so I start obsessing, and this leads to me being overworked. Us folks with mental illness just find it harder to strike that balance! But we can get there by helping each other out :)

    1. V. true! <3 Thanks Em.

      Yeah, I can get into some pretty bad mental feedback loops over working and self-worth and all that.

      Still, we'll get there somehow! Wherever 'there' is! ;) <3


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