Redefining Productivity (Again)

Though I set myself the (completely arbitrary) goal of writing two blog posts in May, for various reasons, most of them medical, I wasn’t able to follow through. It’s not as if I forgot or didn’t make an effort to get the job done; it’s just that every time I sat down to force myself to churn something out, my brain was like, “Hahahahahahahahahahahaha … nope.” As a result, I generated a folder of half-finished drafts, but there’s only one May 2019 blog entry in the archives of De Morbo Sacro.

My reaction to this lack of a second post (anger at myself, guilt, “you’re a useless person who can’t manage a [self-assigned] task that any idiot off the street could handle”—in other words, an almost comically extreme response to a very, very low-stakes situation) made me realize that it’s once again time to examine how I approach being “productive.” This is a complicated, emotional thing for me for which I tend not to activate the rational part of my brain, which I’m sure is in there. Indeed, only recently have I begun to more clearly see the larger benefits of striving for balance instead of its alternative—engaging in guilt-driven activity beyond reasonable limits, limits that take into account my complex health needs.

I genuinely try to do what’s best for my overall wellbeing, but, as my ridiculously over-the-top reaction to the May-blog-post thing hinted at, I have a weird hangup that always seems to get in the way. (OK, other stuff gets in the way, too, but for the purposes of this entry, let me focus on one of my biggest barriers to achieving balance and ignore my other, erm, “quirks.”)

To put it bluntly, I don’t want to miss my self-imposed deadlines, ever. Under no circumstances. I set a lot of these deadlines for myself, and unless I’m really, really unwell—in-the-hospital unwell, or in-the-middle-of-a-seizure unwell, or actively postictal unwell—I almost always force myself to keep going until I’ve checked every.single.item off my to-do lists (which I make daily, weekly, and monthly). Historically, I haven’t been very good at considering external factors such as, you know, my health when deciding whether I need to push myself in this weird, likely idiosyncratic manner.

The notebook in which I write my to-do lists. Check out the motivating/incredibly adorable sticker.


To give credit where credit is arguably due, I’d say I’m a little better than I once was in terms of what goes on my lists in the first place. (When I was attending a brain-injury day hospital, my social worker encouraged me to write what I thought was a list of an appropriate length and then immediately remove half the items. This strategy is very effective for me.) I still struggle, however, to recognize that it’s OK not to reach all my goals when the only person who cares if I do or not is me and when exhausting myself in order to complete self-imposed tasks makes me a) vulnerable to more seizures and thus b) kinda stupid.

And that, of course, leads to the vicious cycle I can’t seem to get out of. I do stuff because, well, who am I if I don’t? [Cue mini identity crisis!] I do stuff to prove that I can. I do stuff when I should probably be resting because I have major FOMO. And then I inevitably have more seizures and am out for the count for a while—sometimes for a long while—which is obviously counterproductive and makes me feel worse about myself and causes me to try to make up for lost time as soon as my brain is back to its normal level of abnormality.

Over the past month, I’ve made great strides in changing how I approach productivity. I’ve introduced more self-imposed, but very helpful, structure into my days, and I’ve been making a real effort to focus on the many things that I’m still able to do. I’m finding a sweet spot in which I’m involved and busy enough to keep me engaged and fulfilled but not to the point of my health being negatively impacted. As the result of having accepted some uncomfortable compromises, I have concrete, lived evidence to look back on when I need a reminder that the key to staying here, to being able to continue with activities and relationships that give me a sense of purpose, is taking care of myself and being willing to be flexible, to adapt my plans, and my to-do list, when I need to, as well as resisting the ever-present temptation to do more.

And yes, writing this post was on my to-do list today. Yes, it’ll give me great joy to put a check mark next to it. Yes, it’s now time for a snack and then a very long nap. That, my friends, is called balance.


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