CRPL Logo on a navy background. Logo is gold rings intertwining, reminiscent of a wheel. Next to it are the letters CRPL in white

Issue #9

I Know You Are but What Am I?

John Loeppky

August 24, 2023

A turtle, brown and white, and almost golden is swimming in the ocean. The view is from the top down and we can see the floor below him, filled with rocks and vegetation.
I bet that turtle isn’t thinking about productivity/Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Stubborn Realizations Below the Surface

I’ve been told many times, in many different ways, that I have “big therapist energy.” Now, today’s email isn’t about to be about me patting myself on the back for a job well done—all I’ve tried to do is show up for my friends in a way I/they felt they needed—but it does mean that I have a fairly well honed sense of when I’m burnt out on that form of emotional labour. I know I need to step away when I find myself frustrated beyond belief that someone didn’t take my advice.

Sometimes, and it’s usually about the most minor of things, when you are tired and emotionally burned out you really do want to say, “But I told you this thing already! Why do you keep coming to me for advice if all you want is a vote of approval for your latest absurd assumption about the world?!” When that happens, I know it’s time to shut down the computer, refocus, to touch grass.

Cut to Derek Sivers. He’s one of these self help aficionados that I hadn’t come across until about four months ago. He was being interviewed by Tim Ferriss and was talking about an experience he had diving. He had lived through a panic attack while learning how scuba diving worked in practice, he had come very close to not getting his certification, and he was coached through it. The next time he got in the water, he supported a fellow diver who was having a panic attack. Here’s what he had to say about how he conceived of himself and others before and after:

“That experience taught me two kinds of empathy.  That we categorize people. Like I just said,  the type of person who  has a panic attack. And we think of a category of  person that’s, say, like, depressed, fat, homeless, divorced, bankrupt. And you think, “I would never  be those things. I’m not that kind of person.”  But I thought like, wow, a lot of these things are involuntary.  It’s not like somebody chooses to be depressed. And I realized I had  been unfairly categorizing people the same way I had unfairly categorized panic attack people  — because now I am one.”

And, for a lot of disabled people who are evenly remotely plugged into their communities what Sivers is presenting as groundbreaking is rudimentary. But I think we get into really treacherous territory when we judge people for these realizations. I’ll admit it, when I listened to that podcast the first time I was more than a little knocked off kilter by this idea that someone who is so entrenched in concepts of self identity hadn’t thought about how we shove people into boxes and conceive of ourselves in relation to those boxes. I was more than a little annoyed, even. Ironically, I was judging him pretty heavily.

But the more I thought about disability and productivity, about how a lot of disability activism forces a certain point of view on us (mostly for good, sometimes for bad) on social media, the more I began to think about the assumptions we make about each other—especially when we share disabilities. I wrote a few issues ago about why you should look outside of your own diagnosis bubble when you’re looking to structure your routines and I think it’s true here as well. I spent a lot of my time growing up, especially in parasport, seeing people of my quote-unquote function level and not understanding why they didn’t have the level of life skills I had, or why they got a power chair and I didn’t, or why my approach to life was let’s go through that wall and there’s was: Why can’t we just use the door?

And when it comes to our own ideas of productivity in disability spaces, especially when it comes to the blurry line between what someone wants to do, what someone thinks they can do, and what someone can do. I think we do this again and again and again. We look at ourselves in relation to those we know with vaguely similar lived experiences, but we also make assumptions about how that other person can reach their goals. 

Where am I going with this? Not sure, except to say that revisiting this podcast has made me take some time to reflect on what productivity boxes I put myself and others in. Here are three small conclusions that I’ve come to given what Sivers has shone a light on 

  1. I only recently (like, in the last three years) have begun to understand myself as neurodivergent. Before that, a lot of my self imposed shame when it came to a lack of productivity was focused on the physical manifestations of my cerebral palsy and not on the brain side—as hilarious as that sounds as i type it.
  2. I’m going through a similar process now that I recently returned to mental health medication for my anxiety and panic disorder. I have identified as mentally ill at points publicly—jury is still out for me as to whether mad is a framework that I can use to understand myself. Anxiety and panic used to fuel my productivity up until about two years ago and I need to think of myself in much longer timeframes if I want to integrate these learnings.
  3. I’ve learned a lot about how other people are productive by asking probing questions. I’m building a methodology to cripping productivity (more on that next week) but a lot of the foundation of the approach is assuming that everyone I speak to is disabled. How that plays out in my own personal productivity system building is an area that I need to spend more deliberate time on rather than just letting the proverbial wheels turn in the background. 

By the way, the rest of the Sivers podcast is pretty hit or miss, so proceed with caution if you’re not having the type of day where you can deal with rabbit holes about expensive suits.

Until tomorrow!

Want to Support More Disability-led Writing?

I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.