Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Sometimes when people ask me what activities I do, I jokingly include my health as an activity. I either say, "I get sick a lot" or "and I have chronic health problems" or something like that. Often it's kind of awkward and I make a mental note to never say that again (until the next time of course). But here's the thing: being ill, or disabled, or whatever label you want to afix, takes a LOT of time.

I was socialized into a culture that tells me I need to work hard and constantly get ahead. (Someone asked me what my motto was last week, and my first response was "work hard." And then I couldn't think of a better one.) This sounds good in theory, but it can lead to problems, especially when you have health problems. I'm getting better about trying not to do everything I used to. I'm "active" in student activities at my university, but not nearly as active as I used to be. Or I feel I should be.

When I read amandaw's "Second Shift for the Sick Post" (which can be found here, and which I highly suggest reading), it was like a light bulb went off. I mean, I knew dealing with my health takes a lot of time, but being able to put it in feminist and sociological theory really helped.

Sometimes, usually when my health is going through a lower point, I get to the end of the day and wonder where the time went; I'm exhausted, in pain, and nothing in my planner has been finished -- yet I feel like I've been busy trying to be "productive" all day. I used to beat myself up on those days. And I won't lie, I still do. But I've gotten better, because now I realize that what I have been doing is my "second shift for the sick."

What am I spending my time doing? There's prescriptions to be filled, doctors to be contacted, insurance hoops to be jumped through, etc. There is also the time I need to spend on self-care: stretching, heating pads, eating at the right times, etc. And finally, my brain and body is spending a lot of time simply being ill--I need to be in bed, my brain too closed-down to be "productive," everything has to be dark, etc. And this all not only takes time, it takes energy.

When I really sit down and look at it, there's a lot going on. I'm not so lazy after all.


  1. I felt this entirely in my head all day. Except without the last line. Which makes me feel like 800 times better about my life right now.

    So thank you for that.

    We work as hard as everyone else just in an oddly different way.

  2. Thanks Annie :) I think we work a lot harder than a lot of people of people I know (at least, I think so when I'm not beating myself up for being lazy...).

  3. I agree! It is really hard work being ill, micromanaging everything, and everything being harder and taking longer. I think if I suddenly got well I could take on just about anything and it would be so easy in contrast!
    Thanks for the link, I am off to read it now!

  4. Are you in my head?

    It saps your strength, being in pain all the time. "Go take a walk!" does not help.

    And sometimes I'm just tired.

    I love this post.

    I rarely do "stuff" as defined by health(ier) people when I have no obligations, but I need a break.

  5. It's really true-- a lot of my energy is taken up by being sick, which is of course the reason my energy is so low in the first place! Gah. I checked out the "Second Shift" post, and I agreed completely... so much so that I went off on a little rant about my professor again (I really need to let that go). You're not lazy, Assiya, you're trying your best! It's hard to do, but easy to say: be a little more forgiving of yourself today!

    (I'm a cornball who rhymes... if I can forgive myself for that, anything's possible).

  6. Wow, I didn't have any idea that other chronically ill and/or disabled folks felt the pressure to achieve 'something' everyday like I do. Assuming that the OP is American (which isn't all that right, I admit), I can't help but wonder what it is about American culture that makes us feel like achievement (at least what other people consider achievement...for me, showering and washing my hair is something I consider an achievement right now) is something someone else can measure and that a day is "wasted" when that visible result of production (again, based on what other people perceive as achievement or productivity) is not present.

    I have yet to read the "Second Shift" post, but Im going to after I post this. And I admit that some of the pressure to be productive is something that I tend to put on myself in addition to the pressure of an ableist society. So I often find myself feeling cruddy at the end of the day because I didn't do "something." I'm amazed at the extent to which I seem to have internalized that guilt.

    I actually have to consciously remind myself that feeling that way not only disempowers me, but it's actually detrimental to my emotional health to constantly feel that guilt. It's rather difficult, I didn't realize quite how badly I felt about my lack of "productivity" until I read this post and the comments. It's really gratifying to know that I'm not the only one who feels that way. I feel much less deranged about it now (lighthearted sarcasm here) that I know these feelings of pressure and the implication that lack of 'productivity' equates to laziness is felt by other people in my situation, a lot more frequently than I even realized.

    Thank you for such a great post!

  7. Someone once told me, that as chronically ill people, looking after our health is a part time job. I totally agree.