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Redefining 'Productivity' When You're Chronically Ill

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Throughout my life I felt as if I needed to be doing something “productive” at all times — working, studying, going out, exercising etc.

Enter Lyme. I was stuck in bed, unable to work, unable to move and in physical and emotional pain. My brain felt like mush and it was hard to read, think or talk. I could barely do anything, let alone anything “productive.” At times, all I could do was sleep, eat and shower — and even those were a struggle. I felt guilt, shame and embarrassment.

I realized I had to change my definition of productivity to fit my new life. What if being “productive” now meant doing everything I could to heal? That meant sleeping, going to doctors’ appointments and taking baths were actually productive. At this time, my main goal was health, so any healing activity was actually helping me accomplish my goal.

As I started to get better, I changed my definition of “productive” once again to mean doing anything that made me happy. Listening to music? Productive. Going for a walk? Productive. Taking a nap? Productive. By doing things that brought me joy, I was actually more fulfilled emotionally, which took away a lot of the negative feelings I had experienced at the beginning of my illness. And I found this emotional fulfillment gave me the confidence, strength and wisdom to accomplish the physical goals I wanted to accomplish.

Although society’s definition of being productive is go-go-go working super hard to accomplish things, I believe this is not attainable for everyone at all times. It ends up making us feel unworthy, less than and like a failure, especially when we live with a chronic illness or are going through anything where we need to take a step back and focus on our physical and/or emotional health.

Maybe there will be seasons in our life when we go-go-go and seasons when we need to just be, rest and spend time with ourselves. And maybe there will be times when we balance both at once. The time I spent healing in bed was necessary for me to understand myself on a new level, listen to my body, change my perspective on what’s important, cultivate creativity, and get clear about my needs, goals and dreams. That sounds productive to me.

Instead of a “one-size fits all” approach to productivity, maybe we need to consider that productivity looks different for everyone, and it may change at different points in our lives. And maybe we can embrace where we are and what we are capable of at this moment, allow ourselves to find joy whenever possible and know that in itself is productive.

This story originally appeared on Lyme Body and Soul.

Getty image by BY-STUDIO.

Originally published: August 6, 2019
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