Is it common to feel guilty for needing to de-stress/unwind? I always feel bad because I should've been doing the thing that's stressing me out or causing problems instead of taking a break from it. Is this normal? How do I deal with it?
This is very common for people with various disabilities. Our society puts a lot of weight on doing things, and when we are not contributing by doing, the perception is that we are failing.
I believe this is complete and utter bullshit. A person’s worth is not determined by how much they can work, how much they contribute, or anything else like that. A person’s worth is inherent because they are a person.
Even so, what you are feeling is very real and very valid.
When I say that our worth is not determined by our contribution to society, that doesn’t mean you wrong to want to contribute or wrong for feeling bad that you cannot.
Personally, I hate not being able to contribute to my household. It really bothers me that everyone has to take care of me but I can’t do anything to take care of them. I want to reciprocate the care they give me and it causes a lot of depression and anxiety in me because I can’t.
Trying to figure out the difference between feeling bad because society places worth on your contribution and feel bad because you want to contribute can be really hard.
The two are very similar, and it is super easy to internalize society’s idea of worth. We start to see ourselves as lazy, as leaches, as drains on the people around us.
How do you address this? How do you deal with it? How do you manage it? These are all hard questions.
Try figure out exactly how the people around you or even society helps you. Having a concrete list of things will get you started on thinking about specifics.
Next think about what you really want. How do you want to contribute. Don’t worry about what you can or cannot do. Think about what you want to do. These can be big as “I want to change the world for the better,” or as small as, “I want to do something nice for a friend.”
Don’t limit yourself to things that are physical. If you are providing emotional support for someone, that is contributing to their wellbeing. That is taking care of them.
Once you have that list take, say, the top five things that you want to do. List out what it is that you personally are capable of doing that contribute in some manner to the items on the list. Try and come up with five things for each of the five items.
For example, if you want something big - being an astronaut - ask yourself why, and how you can do things that work towards this (even though it may be a completely unrealistic goal!). You can write about space. You can promote astronomy on a Science! themed blog. You can make a video blog about random space facts. You can investigate the history of space travel.
The idea is that big or small, there are things you can do right now, even to work towards goals that will never happen. I cannot ever be an astronaut - I have too many health problems. That doesn’t mean I can’t get closer by studying astronomy if I want to!
Starting small is a great way to get past executive dysfunction, too! And once you have the small down you can start to expand. Because you are starting with something you are interested in, it is going to be much easier to expand.
How does this look in practice? Well, let me use myself for an example.
A large reason why my wife and I ended up married, from my perspective at least, is that she made it very clear that even though I could not physically work I was providing her with mental and emotional stability. I was performing emotional labor for her, I was doing it a lot, and she not only needed that but appreciated it.
I honestly thought I was a drain on her and no good for her because I didn’t really understand what emotional labor was. It turns out she did, and it was a Big Deal. I’ve since learned that emotional labor is something I’m really good at in general. I provide a lot of it here on my blog with asks like these. I love it!
This, right here, is what I do to feel productive, to feel like I am contributing. I try and help people. I don’t work. I’m still disabled. I’m trying school and it is going OK, but I still worry about a job in the future and how I will pay off my school debt. But I no longer feel like I am not contributing to society. I am being productive in my own way, in a way that fulfils me needs.
I started my blog for myself to provide emotional labor for people who need it, but it also rekindled my love for writing. When a call went out for writers from ASAN, I sent information about my blog to the editor along with an idea that combined two of my blog posts into one post about gender and autism. They liked the idea, and I wrote the piece for them.
Now, I am providing the emotional labor that I love so much through a piece in anthology that ASAN is publishing later this year. I have turned a little personal blog into the start of a career as a writer.
I am enjoying this so much that it has allowed me to return to college. I am so interested in autism and autistic culture and providing help to those in the community that it is the incentive I need to do things I don’t even like. Basically, I found out that I want to help people so much that I can pass a math class.
I thought college was impossible for me, but here I am. All because I started small, writing rants on Facebook about gender stuff that only friends could see. All because I provided emotional labor for my then girlfriend. All because when you put those things together…
So yeah. Those are my thoughts on that.
There is one more thing, though, and I think this is exceptionally important. Celebrate the small victories. If it is hard for you to get out of bed in the morning, don’t be afraid to say, “You know what? For two weeks I have struggled to get out of bed and today it was easy. That’s a HUGE DEAL for me, and I’m proud of myself for that.”
This stuff matters. Society says that you are only productive if you contribute by being a good worker. I say that if you take a shower, you are being productive. If you half of a homework assignment two weeks before it is due, you are being productive. If you remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher instead of on your nightstand, you are being productive. If you drive someone around in circles playing pokemon go for an hour you are being productive.
Don’t let society set the standards for yourself. Set your own standards. Set the bar low. Raise it at your own pace and according to your own needs. There is no finish line because this is not a race.
Hope that helps!