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Eye of the Storm

Taking It Easy

January 1999

I have a lot of friends who have spent good portions of their lives dealing with addictions. Whenever they would come to me sharing their problems about alcohol, drugs, sex, or whatever they were addicted to, I would nod my head sympathetically and give them the best advice I could. I always felt a bit detached from it all, though; while I've certainly had my flirtations with all of the above addictions, none of them ever seemed to stick. I've always considered nicotine to be about the only substance I've ever had difficulty giving up, and even then, I've always managed to quit it pretty easily (although I do have a tendency to resume the smoking after about a year every time.) But cigarettes have never caused me to wreck my car or exercise poor judgment, so I've always thought of myself as fairly addiction-free. Until recently, that is.

In some recent sessions with my shrink, I've become aware of a very sneaky addiction that has run my life for years. It's not something that most folks consider to be dangerous, and I suppose for most of them, it's not. But for me, and for many others who are also HIV positive, it can cause a great deal of torture and stress, unless it is recognized and dealt with. So here goes: My name is Joe and I'm a workaholic.

All right, I can hear you snickering, but I'm really beginning to believe that my obsession with "staying productive" is starting to become problematic. My work ethic is something I've always been very proud of. At any place I've ever worked, I was always "Joey-on-the-Spot". You know, the guy who could always perform any job in the whole department, and who usually ended up being the supervisor eventually. Yeah, that annoying goody-two-shoes was me. I've never slacked off at work, and I've never, ever been fired from a job. Makes you sick, doesn't it?

Even when I found myself living with HIV, I didn't leave my post until I had absolutely no other choice. When I finally became so ill that I had to stay home sick over a week, I finally confessed everything to my supervisor, and he arranged for me to go on a medical leave of absence. After I recovered, I knew my body was no longer in a position to carry a full-time work load, so I accepted my fate, and filed for disability. And I was a good boy -- I stayed at home, took care of myself and rested. For about two months.

All I had to do was a little volunteer work, and wham, the next thing I knew, I was editing this publication. I was the guy in charge once more. Even on disability, my addiction was just too strong. I had to do something productive, or I was convinced I would go crazy. And in six years, I still haven't slowed down -- even though I'm still on disability, still 30 pounds underweight, and still have less than 50 t-cells. In fact, since I took on this job in 1993, there has only been one month when I was unable to put out an issue of Survival News, and that was only because I was in the hospital with pneumonia and totally unable to get out of bed. There have been many days when I've dragged my poor body into this office to work and the others have chastised me for putting myself through such torture. But you see, I can't help it. I'm addicted to my work.

Now there was a time when that wouldn't have bothered me. In fact, I wore my stamina and dependability like a badge of courage, and never thought twice about putting myself though hell month after month. It never seemed to matter how sick I got, or how aware I became of the problem -- it still goes on to this very day. I'm actually sitting here at midnight just a few days before Christmas, typing for all I'm worth so I can leave for Florida to visit my family tomorrow morning at nine. I have to. I don't want you guys to think I'm a slacker!

So why can't I stop? My therapist asked me that very question. I told him that if I wasn't busy all the time, this annoying little voice in the back of my head would start whining at me: You're being lazy! You're wasting precious time! One day you're going to turn around and your life will have just whizzed by you. Get up! DO SOMETHING!

Then, as we got deeper and deeper into the conversation, I realized that my obsession with staying busy not only hadn't slowed down since I came down with HIV, it had actually gotten worse. And do you know why? I bet some of you out there with HIV know the answer. It was quite obvious, really, once I had taken the time to figure it out. I was afraid that if I slowed down -- if I didn't constantly have something to keep me motivated 24 hours a day -- I would die.

Was I being irrational? Perhaps. Logically, I know we all need time to rest, but the fear remains just as real. I've seen too many of my fellow PWAs just fade away as soon as they stopped having something to motivate them. In the back of my mind, I believed that I was still alive on this earth for a reason, and that if I wasn't constantly trying to do something to fulfill my destiny, my life could be snatched away at any moment. I was living on "borrowed time." And the only way I could pay back the loan was to make myself useful. No matter what the cost.

It has taken a great deal of effort to give myself permission to "take it easy" every now and then. And even when I pull an all-nighter to work on this newsletter, I make a point of rewarding myself with some time off now. Starting tomorrow, I intend to be lazing around my Dad's house for the next week, doing absolutely nothing of any real value, except eating and sleeping.

And will I feel guilty? Well, maybe a little. I'm still have work to do on this addiction. The important thing I try to remember is that resting does not equal laziness. If I choose to take some time off, I have to let that be okay. Not only do I deserve it, but my body needs it. And I have to stop believing that I'm getting ready to die just because I have some limitations now that I didn't used to have. I have AIDS, after all. Some would be amazed at the mere fact that I'm still alive.

I'm aware that rest is just as important -- if not more important -- than work. I just have to tell myself that enough times that I'll begin to believe it. And who knows? Maybe some day I'll have enough time on my hands to figure out how to stop smoking for good. I'll have to do something with all that newly-discovered spare time. I don't want to be a SLACKER, you know.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.
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