There, I sad it! I’m not sure if there is a twelve-step program – it would probably be a very organized one if there was – but being a workaholic is certainly a ‘thing’ and potentially quite a damaging one at that.
Of course I never knew that. For years I have displayed my workaholic credentials like a badge of honor. ‘ “I have NEVER had a holiday’ I would say proudly. ‘I work every hour of the day, go to sleep then get up and do it all over again!’ I would say as it if were funny or impressive or something.
I have finally learned that being a workaholic can actually be very damaging. If you add that related quality of being a perfectionist it can become dangerous. This is what happened to me and it is the main reason I am writing this post from the psych ward where I have been for the past three weeks.
Yesterday I had the useful epiphany that I am a workaholic and it is largely a damaging thing, I started to reflect on how my life has been and how my need to cram every hour full of very productive minutes was not as helpful as I thought it was.
I would always privilege quantity over quality. So in my mind the opportunity to speak to 2000 people was always preferable to talking to a scout group of ten-year-old kids. I always had to be busy. Idle time was wasted time. In my youth I had a drug problem, I NEEDED to be stoned ALL the time, from the moment I awoke to the moment I stumbled onto my mattress on the floor at night I was high. My more recent overwork issue is similar. I used to joke that my downtime was when I went to sleep. I wasn’t stoned all day long but I was occupied all day long and occupied with activities that had an output attached! I’m not an expert on brain processes but I suspect the reward areas of my brain that were switched on by my smoking weed in my twenties were very similar reward areas to those switched on by getting a book deal or giving a talk,
Like many addicts I hid the magnitude of the problem from friends and family. Outwardly I was coping. More than coping actually. Kicking goals! Killing it! Changing the world! Rocking the Kasbah! But I was exhausted and stressed. I would find myself saying ‘I am so tired’ unbidden at the end of the day. My perfectionism added stress to the overwork so for the past few years I have been doing incredible things and gaining recognition and accolades while in a state of high anxiety and stress. Not Good Yennski.
I am writing this piece because I know other people have similar struggles. I know other Neurodiverse people definitely have similar struggles. If you feel you have little control over your life, as many of us do, perfectionism is tempting and helps us to feel in control. If our personal life is chaotic or we face bigotry and bullying, throwing ourselves into work can help us feel we are more worthy. As with any addiction, work can give us that rush of endorphins and that sense of joy we may not find elsewhere. For autistic people there is a additional bind which’s that we often really love a topic we are passionate people with passionate interests. My passion is autism advocacy so I actually enjoy putting in an 80-hour week because I love the work itself. How can to be a problem if it helps people and it is my passion? This can make addressing workaholic tendencies for autistic people very difficult indeed.
This is all quite new thinking for me. Normally in posts like this I will list a bunch of suggested strategies but I’m not sure I have any! I’ll have a go…
- Just because something is productive and delivers an output – like work does – does not mean it is necessarily healthy
- If you find yourself getting into work to avoid a problem in life that is a sign of possible addictive behavior
- While human beings are primed to do productive activity, we need downtime too
- Take breaks. This does not need to be an expensive holiday, just something that makes you feel relaxed and refreshed. If you cannot relax that is a sign you may well have an issue
- It is always Ok to seek help
- Be aware if your passions are not giving you pleasure any more as that might be a sign thee is an issue
- Know that the line between being happily productive and a workaholic can blur over time, confusing us into thinking we are still happy and productive when in fact we are close to burnout,
- Being a workaholic can appear as a good quality to others in your life, especially your boss!! It is actually often ignored as a problem because your work is benefitting other people, even if it isn’t benefitting you!
I am glad I have discovered that I am a workaholic and look forward to working on addressing the issue and living a more balanced and healthy life. I am going to start by saying no to things, lots of things! No, no, no! And I will continue by reminding myself – often – that I don’t need to do it all myself, I actually spent the first week in hospital pretty much sleeping continuously. Evidently I needed to. I had almost ten years of continuous work and perfectionism to undo. My biggest fear about stepping back from my previous workload is that I will turn into a slacker and lose my work ethic, which demonstrates to me that I probably still have a ways to go yet!