It is okay to be unproductive.

White woman with reddish brown long hair laying on her belly on a gray couch, looking a little bored

Right now a lot of you are at home, off from your usual work hours, feeling these anxious feelings of needing to “get things done” and justify your time off. We remind ourselves in the disability community all the time of the fact that it is okay to be unproductive. We don’t have to spend every waking moment working on our to do lists or self care ideas. We don’t have to write 1000 words a day every day no matter what, and no, we don’t have to exercise our bodies on the days where they need rest.

I haven’t been writing much lately. This pandemic is hitting everyone hard and I don’t need to explain that, because anyone reading this is feeling it by now and they know it. The collective damage is new to us. New and undiagnosed anxieties, depression or PTSD are being experienced to some extent by most people at this point. 

When everyone is grieving together, how do we go on?

One thing I know for sure is that you have to fight that urge to be productive all the time. You have got to give it, and yourself, a rest. As healthy and abled people have recently discovered, it is exhausting to stay home 24/7. This is something that disabled people know very well. I pray that whenever this is all over, nobody will tell us how “lucky we are because we get to stay home all the time”, a trope we hear often. It is not a vacation to be home bound, and hopefully by now most will have enough lived experience to agree. 

(Side note for the chronically ill reading this – can you imagine being home bound AND healthy? The FREEDOM? The TIME?)

So from experience I can safely say that slightly changing some perspectives here could be good for your mental health. The words “screen time” have a whole new meaning and suddenly don’t feel so negative. When you are home bound, screen time is your life line. Most or all social time is online, and keeping your phone close by isn’t such a bad thing anymore. All of a sudden, you can rest, too. Sleep and rest become paramount to work. You can sleep and rest more often, and you should, so what is stopping you? Why not snooze that extra hour?

It took years for me to consciously “de-program” myself from the notion that I needed to be productive all the time. I hate to be that guy but, that’s what capitalism does. I am not going full blown anti capitalist on you here but the fact is that our societal systems influence our inner life. All we have really known is our worth being tied to our productivity or creative output or financial status.

Within that system, disabled people have clearly been seen as less than. Take the CERB in Canada, which recently acknowledged the fact that $2,000 is a minimum to live on in this country. Disabled people have consistently gotten half of that amount. There is a reason for this, as heart wrenching as it is. It isn’t based on scientific fact, statistics, or lived experiences influencing policy. Disabled people can no longer work, so they can no longer contribute to society, so they are quite literally worth less

Look at any treatment of disabled people in any country on this planet and it will further prove this as an unspoken guiding principle in disability policy.

So how do we as individuals navigate through this? At the base level, we can at least control our own mindsets and actions. We can start by allowing ourselves to be unproductive without guilt. This might sound simple but in practice I guarantee that you will resist it, probably right off the bat. Even if you can get there, the people around you won’t get there. Not that they are trying to put you down or doing so consciously, but I am sure that you will feel the judgement surround you.

We might have a situation here that will make it easier for us to feel unproductive without shaming ourselves or worrying that we are wasting our time, because a lot of people are in the same situation. This is exactly when we can start to “de-program” that need to be productive that thrives within our capitalist ideals. Whether you agree with this approach or not, I bet you have these “productivity thoughts” daily.

It took me two days to write these 863 words, and you know what? I live with CRPS so that in itself is a fucking feat! Changing my perspective on how much I get done while living with CRPS pain has made me more grateful for all I can do. I can do a whole lot, and writing a 863 word post in two days may seem like nothing to a healthy person, but depending on my fluctuating symptoms? It is like I finished a marathon. Not bad. Right now, everyone is living with something beyond their control (like my CRPS) and that something is probably negatively impacting their mental health. The least you can do for yourself is to adjust your perspective so you don’t ask so much of yourself day in and day out. Put down your to do list and give yourself a break.

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