The Mighty Logo

When the Voice in My Head Says Resting Is Unproductive

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

For someone who has been chronically ill for nearly 20 years, I’m not very good at being sick.

I’m great at pushing through pain and fatigue, working through symptoms, and generally putting on a good show of being somewhat healthy. I’ve worked through many things I shouldn’t have, always driven on by guilt and feelings of inadequacy.

My anxiety skyrockets if I feel like I haven’t done anything productive, so on the rare occasions I allow myself to stop and rest, to just acknowledge that I am in fact sick, I end up riddled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Then the nasty little voice in the back of my head starts asking me if I just like being sick, and if that I’m just giving in to it because I secretly want to spend my life on the couch.

Even an ovarian cancer diagnosis didn’t stop the guilt.

I worked between my two surgeries and had every intention of working between my second surgery and the start of chemotherapy… until my employer sent a three-line group email explain my job was to be made redundant in just over two months.

When I angrily recounted this information to one of my oncology doctors, she responded by handing me a medical certificate for three months, told me I didn’t need the stress of an unsupportive workplace getting in the way of my health, and advised me to get Netflix and focus on rest and recovery.

I spent the next six months going though chemotherapy, watching all 10 seasons of “Stargate SG1” and thoroughly re-evaluating my life. I returned to my first passion, writing, and compiled a checklist of traits my next employer absolutely had to have.

By the time I started my new job, eight weeks after my last chemo, I thought I had a handle on the idea of resting when I needed to… Until I got a cold during my third week of work and my doctor told me to stay home for at least three days.

All of the feelings of guilt came flooding back. I was trying to find work I could do from home because I felt inadequate for having to stop for something as trivial as a cold, and that sneaking fear that maybe I was only “giving in” to sick leave because on some level I wanted to spend my life on the couch came rushing back.

While I was sulking on Facebook, an image about procrastination popped up on my Newsfeed.

At first it just made me grumpy. Here was another reminder that I could be out getting things done, but instead I was wasting my time on the couch, half-heartedly flicking through Facebook.

But then it occurred to me. Why put off healing for tomorrow when I can so easily do it today?

I can finish off the paperwork later in the week. The work on the plot points for a story I’m working on can easily wait until I have a clearer head. The world won’t end if I don’t do housework, and we have enough food in the house so I can put off grocery shopping. But if I want to heal quickly and effectively, I can only do that today.

I’m sure the fact that it took nearly 20 years to come to this conclusion makes me a slow learner. But when you are sick, your body needs time to heal. At a certain point, pushing through your illness, fighting against your illness and pushing off healing for the never eventuating “later” becomes a form of procrastination.

So today, at nearly 3 p.m., I am on my couch in my PJs, under a blanket, happily watching Harry Potter movies. Because today, it’s the most productive thing for me to do.

Oh, all right, and I felt unproductive so I wrote this blog entry. Baby steps.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 17, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home