God, I hate this word. I have had several therapy sessions, pages of journals filled, and many tears shed over my hatred of this word.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no feeling quite like a productive afternoon of running errands, cleaning your room, putting fresh sheets on your bed, folding some clothes, topped with lighting a candle to relax for the evening.
That is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s a basic girls ‘productive’ ritual – the lighting of a candle after cleaning a room is almost Holy.
Side note, in this ritual ‘running errands’ equates to buying things we don’t need at Home Goods, digging through the dollar section at Target, and sniffing dozens of candles until we find the perfect one to commence the final part of our ceremony.
Don’t laugh at me. I KNOW YOU KNOW.
If you don’t, you’re probably a man in denial about what your wife is doing when she says she needs to run errands and that might be for the best.
A lot of people would consider the room cleaning, candle lighting ritual a productive afternoon.
For me, when I get to the whole candlelight, relaxing part of the basic girl ritual I sit down, look around and instantly come up with 50 other things I should be doing.
Now, if you’re a woman or a mom – you probably also feel this. It’s in our nature, we are productive beings that go, go, go, go, go. Maybe I’m normal, I don’t know. But it doesn’t FEEL normal.
Or at least the reaction I get to this doesn’t feel normal.
Like right now; I just baked cupcakes for my nephew’s birthday, cleaned my kitchen, took my garbage out, washed and folded two loads of laundry (or will by the end of the night), cleaned my living room, cleaned my bathroom, tidied up my bedroom, and worked out.
AND I worked 9 hours today.
The basic girl ritual has been fulfilled, the candle lighting part of the ceremony has begun and the relaxation is well deserved.
I sat down with a beer in my hand and cute little kitties curled next to me.
Then it starts.
My chest feels heavy and I start breathing rapidly.
My mind starts racing and I think to myself, what else could I do?
Should I scrub the bathroom floor? Or the wall. The wall DEFINITELY needs to be cleaned tonight.
My closet is messy, I should re-organize it tonight, right after I scrub the walls…
I better do the walls in every room, not just the bathroom.
Maybe we should rearrange the living room, I need to scrub the baseboard behind the couch anyways.
The Christmas decorations make it too cluttered in here, should I put them away?
Maybe I should reorganize where things are in the kitchen to make it look better?
Sometimes I give in to it and do something crazy like completely rearrange our bedroom, by myself.
Other times, I force myself to sit in the anxiety of it and try to let it pass.
There are times the anxiety gets so bad that I shut down and do nothing for a solid week, resulting in feeling horrible and filled to the brim with unspeakable disappointment and disgust with myself. *Cue an entirely different shame spiral*
This is a really weird thing because I’m also a very messy person. I have a lot of things. And I REALLY like being lazy.
It’s a constant internal battle and I hate it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up amazing quiet mornings, fun at-home dates with my husband, or outings with friends because my need to do something ‘productive’ has completely possessed me.
Or the shame I feel if someone comes over and GOD FORBID my apartment looks like someone actually lives here.
THERE SHALL BE NO LIVING IN THIS HOMESTEAD AND I HEREBY DECLARE WE MUST DO CHORES ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.-My head, every day.
It’s not hard for me to pinpoint where this comes from. Growing up, ‘lazy days’ weren’t really a thing. There was always a project. Always something that needed to be done. Always something more important than just…. being.
And there was always a terrifying response if we had the nerve to just be. Or do our homework instead of ‘being productive’. Or spend time doing something that didn’t better our home or our property.
I am almost 30 years old. I have lived on my own since I was 18.
I am almost 30 years old and my heart jumps at the sound of my husband opening our front door.
Suddenly I am 15.
My eyes dart around the room to make sure it looks okay.
If I’m sitting on the couch, my first reaction is to jump up quickly and make it look like I have been busy.
YOU WILL NOT CATCH ME ON MY ASS, SIR. I will not give you the ammo.
Then, we start chatting and I find a way to list all the things I’ve done that day…
“Hi babe, how was your day? Oh good? Cool. I cooked dinner and cleaned the kitchen and did some laundry!!! And tomorrow, I’m going to repaint our entire apartment complex… yeah yeah, I know – it’s an apartment complex, it’ll cost a fortune and I’ll get in trouble… but PRODUCTIVITY!!!! I think I’ll wash all the cars parked here while I’m at it”
Okay, the second part of that is an exaggeration – but I can’t tell you I HAVEN’T thought of it…
It’s as if I’m looking for his approval. I jump at the opportunity to tell him these things so he doesn’t look around the apartment and wonder if I just sat on my ass. Begging for his acknowledgment of all that I’ve done so he doesn’t think I was worthless all day.
So his face doesn’t turn red with rage, his brows don’t furrow, his hands won’t clench into fists at his side and so doesn’t get in my face and scream.
So he doesn’t tell me I’m a disappointment.
If he even THOUGHT the word ‘lazy’, I would shatter beyond repair.
My husband and I have been together for 8 years at the end of this month.
I can count the times he has truly ‘yelled’ at me on one hand and most of the time, when he ‘yells’ (if you can even call it that) at me it’s because I WON’T STOP DOING PRODUCTIVE THINGS.
Or because apparently, I cook eggs in a way that will ‘ruin the pain’ or some bullshit like that – PLEASE.
(I ate eggs for dinner and just frantically jumped up to clean the pan while writing this because I do in fact, destroy the pan every time I cook eggs.. I don’t know how to fix it, someone send help)
My husband also does not care if the dishes are in the sink (unless it’s an egg pan, see above), or if there are blankets on the couch or laundry in the hamper, or if I just said fuck it and didn’t move from the same spot on the couch all day.
Oh, on the contrary; he PRAISES me when I don’t move my ass all day because if you ask him, I’m the most productive person he knows and I never stop. It drives him batty.
So this is clearly a stupid and irrational response.
It’s amazing how the things that happen when we are young stick with us and influence the way we respond to things as adults, without even realizing it.
So, something I’ve spent a lot of time working on this year and something I’m REALLY proud of is redefining my idea of productivity.
Don’t worry, I STILL CLEAN MY APARTMENT AND DO MY LAUNDRY, and I will forever frantically clean my egg pans before he can see them…
But what I’ve done this year is make a list of all my values and what productivity means in relation to those values.
Now, on days that I feel the anxiety creep up and start to get the urge to do 500 million things when it’s time to relax, I reflect on those values. I journal and I focus on what I did that filled my cup.
That means now a lazy day with my husband watching TV or by myself is productive.
It means a weekend getaway doing something I love is productive.
It means spending time with family is productive.
Reading or writing is productive.
Yes, I still do A LOT of the other things every day, I still get a little stressed when the sink is full or the laundry is overflowing, but it’s a manageable and appropriate amount.
Now, productivity does not need to result in something you can visibly see. It does not need to be something I do to seek approval. It does not need to control my life.
This year, I have redefined productive and in 2021 I am going to do my best to live up to it.