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How the 'Cult of Productivity' Harms People With Chronic Illness

While scrolling through my Facebook feed last night, I caught the headline of an article promising to teach me “how to have a productive meltdown” during the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, I thought it was a joke, or maybe a satirical essay.

It was not.

As someone who has numerous chronic physical and mental illnesses, the headline struck me as not only insensitive, but dangerous. Sure, I understand that the author probably didn’t mean to use the word “meltdown” to describe an acute physical or psychiatric condition in a medical sense. Yet, coupled with the pandemic’s catastrophic effect on mental health, the headline is problematic.

It is impossible to drown out our society’s narrative that a person’s value is tied to their productivity. We are pressured to always be working, “hustling,” and climbing the never-ending ladders of achievement. I know having a strong work ethic is important. I would not have been able to excel in school, persevere through law school, and become an attorney without hard work and motivation. The problem arises when hard work becomes an idol and workaholism a virtue.

Our humanity is lost in our collective pursuit of productivity. This is especially apparent in corporate America, where the willingness to work hard is often exploited. People who live with chronic illness are often well aware of this reality. People like me.

Ever since childhood, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder have been my constant companions. I also have so many chronic illnesses and conditions that are still in diagnostic-limbo that I literally have a spreadsheet to keep up with them all. Yet, despite my best efforts and hard work, I still experience “meltdowns.” I’m not able to keep up with the pace of my peers who have similar educational backgrounds and experience as me.

This is how it feels: I am running in a marathon. The other runners pass me easily, and I grow increasingly frustrated with my lack of progress despite my efforts. My attention is on the competition. What I constantly forget, though, is that my shoes are filled with cement and each step I take is a victory in itself.

I want to encourage everyone, especially the members of the chronic illness community, to resist the lie that our worth is intrinsically tied to our output. Reject efforts of companies and businesses who are attempting to hijack our health, treating it as a commodity for optimization and monetization.

Rest in the truth that you are valued and important, just the way you are. Do your best to ignore our culture’s obsession with efficiency at any cost.

And remember, you have a community of fellow chronic illness warriors running alongside you, every step of the way.

This story originally appeared on The Legal Zebra.

Getty image by Tijana87.