“Your value is not determined by your productivity” or is it?
While I fully accept this sentiment on behalf of my cats, I’m not so sure I believe it is true for myself.
Like so many people battling chronic illness, I still grieve the previous version of myself. I call her Leonie V.44 the 2014 model; she was the fastest, most efficient, energetic, self-disciplined, staggeringly resourceful version of me yet. With a high-speed processing capacity and the ability to outsource what she couldn’t do via memory alone to her phone, there wasn’t much she couldn’t handle.
Unfortunately, the upgrade Leonie V.45 (2016 model) was full of bugs. She was still very efficient and even discovered she could brush her teeth and sob loudly at the same time (the crying actually facilitated the teeth brushing) so as you can see she was still very productive with her time. She didn’t know it yet, but she was about to receive a big ‘system error’ message. A massive mental and physical breakdown that she’s still recovering from a year and a half later.
Eighteen months of virtually zero productivity equaling weakness in V.44’s eyes will, ironically, be the greatest strength of the up and coming V.46. Leonie V.46 (2017 model) has changed her definition of the word “productive” and has upgraded her “self-worth” files.
Productive for me these days is the basics of daily living. Showering, general housework, meal preparation and exercising when I can, not pushing myself to do things that are going to stress my body and mind. In the past I’d always ignored that little voice, the one that whispers, “I’m tired now”, “I’m feeling stressed”, “I am unhappy in this situation or environment”.
I’d become too serious. I’d forgotten how to be playful. I was letting people abuse my good nature. I felt like a go-cart without brakes hurtling down a mountain. I was gaining speed and bits were starting to fly off. I had lost control, and my lifestyle was no longer sustainable.
I have a pathological hatred of saying no to people. In fact, I’m so ineffectual, that I have been known at times to say, “Yes, YES I’ll do it!” before I even know what it is I’m being asked to do. I have read that many people with chronic fatigue share this common trait, also known as “The disease to please” and also predominately a female trait. Having extremely low self-esteem from a very young age, I felt that I was worth more when I was giving and productive. I could make people happy, make them like me. Make myself worthy of drawing breath on this planet. It filled the place inside of me that I couldn’t fill myself.
The only issue with solving the self-esteem problem from the ‘outside in’ was that I also gave everyone around me the power to make me feel worthless. As the saying goes, “You can lie down for some people to walk on you and they will still complain you’re not flat enough.” Some people can’t be pleased, and if you’re unlucky enough to have a parent, partner, boss or close friend who falls into this category you might find yourself giving to the point of depletion while feeling more worthless than ever. In psychology terms, this is called your “locus (location) of control”. If it’s outside of you, you will be forever trapped, needing people to prop you up, if it’s inside of you, then you can do that for yourself, and finally, the opinions of others will cease to bother you. As per the adage, “A lion doesn’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.”
You could probably get by surviving in this manner if you were able to guarantee that everybody around you had your very best interests at heart and wanted to affirm you each and every time you needed it. However, sadly the world is full of opportunists, narcissists, and sociopaths who are predators and the natural enemy of the “sacrificial-giver”. They can sniff them out across a crowded room, and manipulate and control them almost instantly, expertly tapping into their automatic built-in “Yes!” (how flat do you want me?) response.
They’re often very charming, and they are past masters at projecting their own “stuff” onto others, which the neurotic sacrificial-giver is happy to take on. The sacrificial-giver always says, “it must be my fault” and the narcissistic-taker always agrees with them. It would appear to be a match made in heaven if it wasn’t toxic and destructive for the giver. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and when the sacrificial-giver learns to break the cycle, they often are left isolated and friendless. This, in turn, can pull them back into the whole, “I was wrong, it wasn’t you, it was me, I changed, I should have met your needs”. Escaping the cycle means preparing to cull your so-called friends and to face some nasty backlash. On the upside, allowing yourself to say how you feel, and to say no, will very quickly weed out the emotional vampires who feed off of your weakness.
The sacrificial-giver usually ends up sick; if the mind can’t say no, at some point the body will. You can’t serve from an empty vessel or a broken one. Ironically when I got sick, being forced to say ‘no’ was one of the most difficult things that I had to do repeatedly. Even as I write this, I had to say no to an engagement I was meant to be at this morning. I hardly slept last night and the horror of saying no was only marginally outweighed by the horror to follow of the toll that would take on my body and mind if I forced myself to say ‘yes’. These days when I say yes to things I shouldn’t, I’ll pay a high price, and possibly end up having another breakdown, and I can’t do that to myself. I’m worth more than that.
I’m now saying, “I’d like to, but I’ll get back to you closer to the day,” or “Sorry I just can’t commit to any plans at the moment, I need to be more spontaneous these days due to my health”. I can’t handle any kind of stress, so I have to carefully consider where my physical and emotional energy goes due to the toll it takes on my health. I honestly do have to subscribe to that Polish expression, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys”. I can’t expend precious energy getting all outraged and involved in any dramas that are not absolutely my circus nor my monkeys. Not that I’m calling my children monkeys. Ok, I am, but it’s purely metaphorical.
I am changing. I have been forced to change. I now have the gift of working on myself to reconstruct who I am from the inside out. To say yes or no for the right reasons, not because I need to feel loved, or important. I’m learning to find that inside of me, and it’s a real challenge!
I am learning to see myself as a person of value independent of my level of productivity, and I highly recommend it.