Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.

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Progress matters more than perfection

Today I am scatterbrained.  I’ve worked on adding a little here and there to some writings I am working on, but I can’t seem to focus on and complete any one piece.  I have to remind myself at times that completion or perfection is not the end go.  The process is what matters.

Yesterday I was cleaning my house with one of my housemates, Raichu.  I was explaining how hard it is for me to clean at times.  I get very focused on everything being perfect.  I was sweeping the floor of the living room and talking about how frustrating it was for me that I had the spoons to sweep, and even then to do a bunch more cleaning tasks afterwards, but did not have the spoons to move all the furniture when sweeping, so it felt like I was doing nothing because I was not in my mind doing the job completely.  They said “It’s okay, moving everything can be a few times a year thing, our house does not need to be perfect and a lived in house in more cozy anyway.  You can do just a little bit of something and even if it doesn’t look done or perfect, it is cleaner then it was when you started.”

Well damn.  I’ve heard this all before, I’ve said this all before, but it still made a bit of tightness in my chest go away and made me breath a small sigh of relief to hear them say it.  I’m not sure why my brain clings to the idea that only perfection is good enough.  Not true perfection, but that feeling of done-ness when I know I’ve done the best I absolutely can, and I don’t see any imperfections left in my cleaning job that I could conceivably fix in a reasonable amount of time.  The problem is, that idea of -having done the best I can- is based on me on my best days.  I’m not often having my best days.  I’m a well put together hot mess, and focus, motivation, energy, these are all often a huge struggle for me.

I finished sweeping the living room without moving anything.  The floor still looked dirty to me, I didn’t have the spoons to mop and the living room is the dogs’ room, so there are dirty paw prints on the floor and dog fur sticking out from under the dog crates that I couldn’t get without moving them.  It is not just far from perfect, but it may be far from most people’s basic definition of clean.  I think about how the room with a couch, a well organized bookshelf, a somewhat organized cabinet, the two dog crates, a large floor rug, a dog bed in the corner, and a few toys and water dishes, is so much less cluttered and so much more clean than it was four or five years prior.  Five years ago when I began de-cluttering and re-claiming my life from a constant alcohol induced stupor, the living room I have now would have looked fantastic to me on it’s dirtiest days.  When I began that journey of self improvement and sunk much of that into improving my environment as well, I also became hard on myself in demanding perfection. Because if I let myself slide with personal perfection I ended up a shitty person, so I demanded perfection from my environment as well or else I was just -not good enough-.

The people in my life are teaching me to let go of that.  I got up a good pile of dog fur and dirt and cat litter with my sweeping to dump in the bin.  I also wiped down counters and the table, took up the clutter sitting around the kitchen and dining room, washed and folded three loads of laundry, cleaned the toilet, sink, and tub, and helped change a light bulb that has been out since a couple months after we moved in (so about six years).  Nothing I did was quite up to my standards, but all of it was good.  And at some point I have to accept that, that means I did good, and I can be proud of myself.