CW: Grief related to ability/disability
In spending much of my life, and much of my career, talking to and working with disabled people, I’ve heard a lot about huge losses when it comes to identity and—to use medical model terminology—function. Overused words like tragic and life-altering come to mind. Car crashes, domestic violence, cancer, freak accidents, and all kinds of other huge changes are part and parcel with both disability non-profit work and my brand of journalism.
But there are also the small things, the grief of knowing that something you could do yesterday is not something you can do today. That even the smallest actions require twice the effort. We talk about this a lot with physical disabilities, but there is also a grief in the small losses of noticing things you might never be able to do that aren’t as visible or inherently understood as destabilizing. My anxiety and panic disorders mean that it’s not sensible for me to continue pursuing having a driver’s license, for example. Someone’s neurodivergence predisposing them to addiction and feeling unsafe in alcohol-heavy spaces could be another. These are the hidden costs.
Forgive me for going a little out of order in today’s email, but this leads me to step four of my cripping productivity system: cultivating grief and joy. To crip productivity advice and identify what is useful to people like us who are, shall we say, disability-oriented (even if we are not all disabled) we need to feel our feelings. I’m not a licensed therapist, I will not claim to be, but sitting in our grief and cultivating joy are vital when it comes to understanding our relationship to productivity.
For example, some days I can sit in my comfy desk chair. Transferring from my wheelchair or walking into the room is no problem and everything is easy peasy. Some days, like today, I have to sit in my wheelchair to be able to get through my workday (no matter how long I choose to make it). I had to grieve my inability to perform hyper abledness. While I didn’t consider sitting in my chair a failure, I did have to reorient myself to a productive me that couldn’t sit where he normally did, who could compartmentalize the pain in my lower back, a person I had been for in or around seven years before I had no choice but to address it.
And not to sound toxically positive, but sitting in my wheelchair has also led to the cultivating of some joy. One of my dogs, the one who I jokingly call my office manager, loves sitting in my desk chair more than sitting on my wheelchair (though she will do so whenever I’m not looking). Sitting in my chair makes it easier for me to ground my feet (and so also ground when I’m very anxious). Sitting in my chair gives me a better angle for video calls. I know it might seem odd to connect these things to joy and productivity but I think doing so can allow us to unpack productivity advice with an eye towards the small crumb of joy.
When un-cripped productivity advice hurts the most, in my experience, is when it seems to be speaking to a past version of yourself—whether that past self is real or imagined. Watching productivity advice I would have sworn by in my first few years of university, if I had been so inclined back then, now is cause for cringe. It’s all focused on hacks, and a lack of sleep, and heroic feats of capitalistic “rigour.” When we crip productivity advice we should preemptively make space for those inevitable feelings of grief and begin to build capacity in our development schedule to grasp onto the small joys that come with these productivity changes. If your only barometer for a productive day is how many words you’ve written or tasks you’ve checked off then burn out, anecdotally speaking, is as inevitable as disability is.
Which leads us back around to step 3: Taking small bites.
It can be really easy, when we come across productivity advice that resonates with us, to want to go all-in. This is especially true because, as YouTubers like Ali Abdaal will readily admit, productivity advice tends to be systemified. Pithy titles and methodologies tend to sell—hell, I’m writing about my own right now—but that gamification can make you feel like if you’re not doing all of the steps you’re doing it wrong. This is not a cult, we don’t have to devote ourselves to every commandment of some dude behind a computer with a decent resume.
This step is also informed by a concept that I hear activists in multiple spaces use, largely mental health/addiction recovery and disability ones, “Fed is best.” The idea is that, instead of judging yourself for not making the most nutritious meal for dinner, or for falling away from your goals for a day, being fed is the main focus. Everything else, to varying degrees, can be secondary.
For example, I’ve been in a little bit of gentle conflict with some freelance journalism colleagues over the last year. I’ve found, especially in writer-focused pockets of social media, it’s much easier to complain about your current work situation than it is to address the root causes for those issues. A little while ago I was told that this amounted to me arguing that “no one wants to work anymore”. My small bite is that I do believe that bigger amounts of effort do tend to, over a long amount of time, result in bigger results.
However, just because I believe that streamlining work in a way that doesn’t swallow my psyche on social media is a good foundation doesn’t mean that I subscribe to the idea that an increased amount of complaining on social media is a fault of just my generation. If anything, I’m annoyed that my current business-owning options on social media are “Everything is terrible” (Twitter) or “Every catastrophe is an opportunity to build generational wealth” (LinkedIn). In the end, my other small bite to take away through the lens of cripped productivity is that I was asking for something (nuance) that a particular platform (Twitter) is not optimized for. I need to be okay and sit with that. I need to fill my cup, or feed my own engine, in ways that not only aren't detrimental to me, but also aren't a burden on others.
In other words, time for me to follow my own advice.
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