In an Age of Comparison, Busy does not Equal Productive

It seems that we have forgotten what it’s like to intentionally choose rest. When we do, we feel as though we are derailing our lives. It plagues us with guilt. I believe that this thinking is rooted in a culture of shame, pride and comparison.

How can shame and pride thrive simultaneously?

If you think about it, one cannot exist without the other. A culture of shame, lurking behind our obsession with productivity, is deeply embedded within society. And I would argue that it affects women more harshly.

One of the greatest threats to our peace of mind and ability to enjoy the present moment is the idea that busyness equates with productivity. We obsessively praise and admire what looks like productivity.

Instagram stories, facebook posts and twitter updates fuel the phenomenon. We see our friends’ elaborately organised desks and cups of coffee as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds, feeling guilty for not doing more ourselves. These constant comparisons and feelings of falling short pose a serious threat to our mental well-being.

When did our mental energy become less important than being recognized as worthy and successful by society?

Picture this: the ideal woman. She is able to multitask at all times, dedicates a perfect amount of time to each task, and always looks flawless. Effortlessly efficient in the workplace, she still makes it home in time to make dinner from scratch. She spends time with her family and gets the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

For real? These are impossible standards to live up to on a good day. More than anything, they set us up for burnout.

The dominant message is that it’s okay to compromise our health and wellness at the expense of appearing successful and gaining praise from others. We are expected to keep it together at every moment of every day, and to carry the emotions of our children and significant others while seamlessly managing our own. We should not express or even identify as feeling any anger or irritation. We are expected to love perfectly.

This is what is implicitly perpetuated by a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. How busy we are has become an indication of our worthiness.

Busy does not equal productive. 

Breaking down, being vulnerable, admitting to sometimes not being able to handle everything: we view these as weaknesses. Can you see it now? Little old pride, rearing its head, spurred on by shame and ready to put up a fight.

It is time for this narrative to change. We need to make a conscious individual and collective effort to fight back against this mentality, especially at a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever.

Periods of rest should not be scorned and embraced only once we are exhausted beyond recognition. Rest should be an intentional form of self-care to maintain good mental health, not a last-minute strategy to salvage what’s left.

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe

BeMeBeFree: a Campaign to Tackle Teen Anxiety

To no one’s surprise, researchers found a 20% increase in diagnoses of anxietybetween 2007 and 2012. Now in 2018 the rate is even higher. There are a plethora of reasons for this. Many blame social media, while some blame a lack of parenting – the list goes on and on. There’s no shortage of people to blame.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 38% of teen girls and 26% of teen boys have anxiety disorders, yet data shows that 40% of students with mental health concerns never seek help.

There are a ton of statistics showing how badly anxiety is affecting our youth and how it’s reaching alarming rates, but what I don’t see a lot of is thorough examinations of the culture that young people live in today. There are many countries worldwide where doctors don’t have to medicate children as young as 8. There are numerous other countries where the suicide rate and incidents of eating disorders in young people haven’t reached epidemic proportions.

Why is this happening at this rate in America?

I created the BeMeBeFree Campaign to take a look at how anxiety affects our youth, but instead of hearing about it from academics, I wanted teens to share their story with us on our website www.bemebefree.org. Storytelling is a creative form that teens really gravitate to, so I decided to create a story sharing campaign where teens could share their story and encourage others to do the same.

Research has shown that if someone with anxiety writes about how they’re feeling and share it with others, it reduces their angst.

Carolyn Costin, a leading anxiety therapist working on the BeMeBeFree Campaign told me that “with little down time, less sleep and constant social media vigilance, our modern technology, cultural pressures and instant image access create an anxious suffering in our youth in ways that we are just beginning to fully understand.”

I’m reaching out to 20,000 high schools, 3,000 universities and 800 mental health organizations asking them to invite students to submit stories of how they’ve dealt with anxiety. We’ll be posting them on the story community page of our website so others can read them and hopefully become empowered to share their story. This will start the process of teens building a community and creating something that’s important to them – a sense of belonging to something.

Credit: Be Me Be Free

One of the unique things about this campaign is that Lifetime have agree to turn a story that we select from the submissions into a movie to air next year. During the process of making the movie I plan to implement various initiatives to keep engaging with our audience to keep the discussion going.

Shukree Tilghman, a writer/producer of the hit NBC show ‘This is Us’ has come aboard the BeMeBeFree Campaign/movie as an Executive Producer.

Ultimately, our campaign goal is to improve the culture of mental health in America and connect our youth. Submissions are open until 5 October 2018. 

Sharp Objects: a Story of Female Power, Abuse, Trauma & Pain

Content warning: This post contains mention of self-injury and abuse.

Breathtaking, uncomfortable, and timely.

These are the three best words I can find to describe HBO’s eight-episode series Sharp Objects – based on the book of the same title by author of New York Times bestseller Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.

This psychological thriller abounds with breathtaking and unexpected moments that left me on the edge of my seat throughout the eight episodes and especially during the finale.

It also abounds with uncomfortable situations and emotions that we, the viewers, are forced to face alongside the characters: abuse, fractured relationships, trauma, pain, and death. It is also a timely story which features three women as the main characters: Camille, Adora, and Amma.

However, these women aren’t the Wonder-Woman-type of female characters we perhaps expect to see in today’s #MeToo era — which is exactly why this is an important story to be told in today’s climate.

Patricia Clarkson, who plays Adora, made this point in an interview with HBO:

“It’s wonderful for us, as women, to be portrayed as heroes and warriors … But we can’t forget there’s also darkness … And these are the stories we must continue to tell — these kinds of female stories. The time is now.”

The story takes us, alongside protagonist Camille Preaker, back to her hometown of Wind Gap, a small town in the Southern United States, where Camille, a newspaper reporter, is sent to investigate the death of two young girls. This is not just another assignment for the reporter, but a journey towards Camille’s painful past. In Wind Gap, Camille returns to the place where she’s from, and where her abusive mother (Adora), her stepfather (Alan) and half-sister (Amma) still live, in a seemingly perfect house and perfect life.

But underneath the surface of this ‘perfect’ family lies a long history of female power, abuse, trauma, and pain.

Sharp Objects was Flynn’s first novel, released in 2006, but publishers weren’t exactly “beating down [her] door” about publishing the book, she said in an interview. She was told that “people don’t want to read about women they can’t root for; who aren’t heroic.” For Flynn, however, Camille is a heroic character in her own unique way:

“Sometimes, if you’re in a lot of psychological pain and been through a lot of psychological damage, the most heroic thing that you can do is to keep your head above water, and that’s what Camille does again, and again every single day.”

To me, Camille’s story is important because it’s a story about surviving despite unspeakable pain — even though she survives by engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms through substance abuse and self-injury. It isn’t a pretty story, but it’s still worth being told, because the truth is, this is the story of many women in real life.

In the era of #MeToo, which has been exposing long-held gender inequalities and men’s power and abuse against women, a story which highlights the abuse women can impose on other women is almost unbearably uncomfortable, but also of the utmost importance. Abuse takes many shapes and forms, and sometimes, it takes the form of a woman and a mother — an uncomfortable realization Sharp Objects forces us to make.

Though the story is fictitious, the issues it explores — such as substance abuse, self-injury, and child abuse — are very real. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 12 women in developed countries will develop an alcohol dependence in their lifetime.

Data from the United State’s Centers for Disease Prevention and Control indicates that in 2012, 54% of child maltreatment perpetrators were women. About 4% of American adults engage in self-injury behaviors, with skin cutting as the most common method (between 70-90%) according to Mental Health America.

These statistics, are, of course, only glimpses into these and the other complex issues explored in the show, but they highlight that preconceived ideas we may hold — such as women as victims and not perpetrators of abuse — are not always accurate.

Sharp Objects was an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult show to watch, but I believe the conversations that this story have started around female power, abuse, trauma, and pain are timely and needed.

I know for me, this is a story that has touched me deeply, and that will stay with me for a long time to come.

If you’re in the US, you can watch the first episode for free on HBO.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-injury, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, or has been a victim of abuse, please reach out for help. Visit HBO for a list of resources worldwide.