Toxic productivity. Pictured: someone working on their laptop while they're by a pool on holiday

I’m trying not to be a cheerleader of toxic productivity

Through writing these Confessions, I’ve noticed some recurring themes which, in themselves are not harmful, but collectively and accumulatively, can be truly toxic.

Mindful writing

So lately I’m trying to be more mindful of what I’m writing here. I know that’s not really the point; this is supposed to be a place of guilt-free imperfect stream-of-consciousness writing and, for the most part, it is. But I’m also hyper-aware of a trap that I often fall into, one which I don’t want to perpetuate, and that’s toxic productivity.

Recently in one of these free-form journal entries, I noticed that I was writing almost entirely about everything that I hoped to get done and everything I’d failed or succeeded in doing. It’s tough for me to get my head around, because thinking in those terms gives me comfort. If I’ve managed to get dressed, do some housework and write something, I consider that a good day; if I also shower, do some pet-care and work on my book, that’s a great day; if I stay in bed all day and watch Netflix, that’s a bad day. It’s a simple system.

But I know that’s the wrong way to think about it. My worth isn’t measured by my capacity to complete tasks; my worth is determined by my character. I’m a kind person and a good friend, and those are just some of the things my worth should be based on. My personal value is not determined by whether or not I’ve had a shower or taken out the rubbish, and thinking it does is one of my most toxic mind-sets.

A new bio

When I first started this process of documenting my mental health ups and downs I was also, on some level, cementing a brand for myself and my writing career. So, one of the first things I did was change my bios to read “Queer mental health writer and blogger specialising in productivity through mental illness.” That elevator pitch made sense to me, because I was striving so hard to be productive despite my depression and anxiety.

But I’ve come to realise that’s not the message I want to communicate at all. It’s not about what I can get done; this is about me living with depression and the reality behind the condition.

Recently, as I’ve been getting better, I’ve also been accomplishing more daily tasks and goals. It’s kind of a domino effect because reaching those accomplishments makes me feel better about myself, which helps me mentally overcome my depression, which means I can do more, which means I feel better, which means I can do more, and so on… until I can’t anymore.

And then, like every human being, I crash and burn. But, unlike many other human beings, I then attribute my crash to laziness and a lack of capability. Of course, this plummets me back into my depressive feelings, which makes me less able to complete tasks, which makes me feel worse, etc.

You might think I’m writing this from the epicentre of one of those dark spells, trying to pick myself up from one of the swirls on my downward spiral. But actually, the last few days I’ve been feeling better and better, mentally, physically and emotionally. And I think I just needed to be in this place of clarity to understand what I was doing to myself. What I’ve always been doing to myself.

What it should have always been about

I’ve always held myself to impossible standards and that’s a tremendously toxic thing to do. It’s also something I never believed I was doing, despite years of friends, family, therapists and other authority figures telling me to go easy on myself. I thought, ‘Well, they don’t know how many hours of Netflix I watch’ or ‘They don’t know how much time I waste just scrolling on my phone’. But that time isn’t wasted. It’s recovery; it’s entertainment; it’s those moments of lightness we all need in a world that hurls non-stop challenges our way.

I started this digital diary so that it might reach someone who needed to not feel alone through their own mental health struggles. But I think I’ve been doing that person a disservice by just talking about what I’ve managed to achieve each day. It’s not about that.

You may have noticed that my bios have changed again. They now read, “Queer mental health writer and blogger on a quest to find joy.” That’s what this is really about. That’s what it should always be about.

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