self-care, depression, anxiety, guilt, and laziness


I’ve been struggling.

When I first started blogging, I realized I was entering a brand-new world. I was excited about it, but it terrified me, too. As I started learning about feminism and spiritual abuse and violence against women and egalitarianism and the oppression of women in the church, and as I started writing about it, becoming passionate about it, I always knew something was coming. I knew when I started wading even deeper into these issues– and the people these issues represent– that I was going to burn myself out. It was just a matter of time.

This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop blogging, or that I’m even going to slow down my posting schedule (which, right now, is every weekday), but I do have to give myself permission to not put something up every day. It’s weird– I’m not doing this for money, this isn’t a part of my job, blogging is completely voluntary, but on the days when I don’t post?

I feel guilty.

I always feel guilty.

When I was a child, I started poking around at the Casio keyboard my mother had. I picked it up pretty quickly, and my mom decided that I needed to start taking lessons as soon as I was old enough at 6. I took lessons from that point forward, pretty solidly, for the next 16 years. And, all growing up, my mother would joke about how she “couldn’t pry me away from that piano with a crowbar.”

When my father got out of the military when I was 12,  and we had a little extra cash for the first time in years, he bought me a piano to replace the keyboard I’d been using all that time. A real, honest-to-God piano– a beautiful Kohler & Campbell. I threw myself into practicing, and it got to the point when I was practicing for anywhere between 5 to 10 hours every day. I was constantly, constantly playing. When I was at a summer music academy, one of the visiting preachers complimented a few of us on our talent. In a rare burst of confidence, I firmly asserted that “it’s not talent, it’s work. You do something for 5 hours a day for 10 years, you’d be good at it, too.” I was proud of myself when I was in college years later and the same preacher used what I’d said as a sermon illustration.

It’s not talent, it’s work.

During those 16 years when I was endlessly, unceasingly practicing the piano, I always claimed that I was doing it because I loved it. And, that was partially true. I did love playing the piano. I still do, although I have a hard time thinking about it now. But the reason that my mother couldn’t pry me away from the piano with a crowbar wasn’t because I loved it just that much– it was because every second I wasn’t playing the piano (or doing something else “productive”) I felt guilty. As long as I was playing the piano, I was working on something important. I was improving my ability, growing my talent, and making sure I had the ticket I needed to get into college as a music major. That was my only way out.

Practicing piano became the the only way I had of avoiding . . . anything, really. As a homeschooler, there was always more homework, there was always more, there was always a project, a book, a report, an essay, a homework assignment, a review– there was always something I could be doing. But, as long as I was playing the piano, I could forget about the weight of all of the undone work that felt like it was crushing me. As long as I was practicing, the fact that I could be doing more, working harder, finishing the year early, graduating early, getting an A on every single assignment… I didn’t have to think about it.

That just became more intense when I hit college. I scheduled 18 or 20 credits every semester. I was in class from 8 am until 5 or 7 pm every single day, every single semester. Any open slot I had that wasn’t one I needed to eat, I filled with with something. Usually I filled that empty slot with accompanying for a voice lesson. The second I was out of dinner, I was working on homework, or I was practicing. Usually I was practicing until the halls closed at 10, and then I’d work on my homework for an hour before lights out. And I’d get up the next day to start it all over again.

When I got to my senior recital, I was completely burned out. In the minutes leading up to taking the stage, I almost went berserk I was so stressed. My piano instructor had to grab me by the shoulders and literally shake me out of it. When I finally finished, I didn’t even make it three steps off stage before I was a quivering, silently sobbing mess on the floor.

I haven’t played the piano since then. Oh, I’ve dabbled. I’ve played around a few times, but I haven’t practiced. Not since then. I can’t. Just thinking about sitting down to practice piano makes me want to panic, curl up under my blankets, and never, ever come out again. When my mother asked me if I wanted the piano after I got married, I had to resist the urge to scream no. No, I most certainly did not want that thing in my apartment– or anywhere near me, really.

But then I went to grad school.

And instead of practicing piano, I started writing grad papers– and I started doing the exact same thing I’d always done with piano. For my first term paper– which I wrote on Edgar Allan Poe’s prose poem Eureka and used structuralism to analyze the flow between the inductive and deductive logic present in the Enlightenment and Romantic philosophies Poe was interacting with– I had 132 pages of notes. 132 Pages of Notes for what was a 20-page paper. I read Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Georg Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit for that paper. For one of the last classes that I took in grad school, I got up everyday at 4 am for three weeks to do the research and writing. My bibliography was 6 pages long. This was a pattern I followed for two years. I had one professor take me aside after a class, look me in the eyes, and say, “Sam, you have to do less work, or you’re going to kill yourself.” For the first year in grad school, I plain just didn’t sleep.  I would get 2 or 3 hours on a good night, and ended up getting horribly sick.

I finished my program, but I’ve been blogging and researching and writing for almost a year now, and it’s been at the same sort of breakneck pace that I’ve been in my entire life, and I don’t know how to stop. Anytime I try to say “ok, Samantha, you really need to quit, you really need to take a break. Just take a step back and breathe” and then I try to go do something that doesn’t have to do with researching rape statistics, and every second I’m not working on my project I feel this pressing, sickening urgency. On long weekends, I get agitated and anxious. My heart starts beating 120 times a minute, and I get nauseated. I start pacing, drinking glass after glass of water… and then I end up working, because I can’t help it.

And even when I am working on my project, there’s always something I should be doing. Always. It never stops. There’s always laundry. There’s always a dirty kitchen. There’s always dust on my floorboards or a rug that needs vacuumed or a bed that needs made or clothes that need put away or dinner to make. There’s always the fact that I need to test out of two years of college French in order to get that piece of paper that says I have an MA.

So every single time I try to stop, to take a break… the entire time I’m not frantically working, I feel guilty. I feel lazy. I feel ashamed.

I wish I knew how to make it stop.

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  • I understand the feeling of the pressure to perform. When I was little everyone said I was going to one day be an Olympic swimmer. I was doing 500 situps a day, swimming and began lifting weights between the 6th and 7th grade. By my senior year of high school I hated swimming with a passion. I did the same thing with engineering in college, though. Now I feel kind of burnt out on life. Perhaps thinking of it as a health think might help you. I know my mental health can’t take the stress of extreme stuff anymore. So instead of feeling guilty you can compliment yourself on keeping yourself mentally healthy.

  • Anonymouse

    I’m leaving this anonymous because I don’t want to tell the entire Internet that I’ve been in therapy – but I have, and it was specifically because of the “shoulds” – I should this, I should that, I should to another thing, and if I picked one thing in that list it meant I was ignoring the other two, how lazy am I to be ignoring things that need doing?

    You can see why the therapy.

    What made it stop for me was Cognitive Behavorial Therapy. That deals with how you approach a specific list of thought stoppers, especially “you should…” and “you shouldn’t…” After years, decades – CBT finally slowed that not-merry merry-go-round in my head.

    • I also found thought-stopping and redirecting to be the single MOST useful strategy I learned from a therapist. The second most useful is meditation. Once I was able to stop thoughts, I was able to begin to practice meditation. Thich Nhat Hahn’s mantra has been my centering device for 22 years now, and it has helped me transform my life. Say lines 1 and 3 on in-breaths, and 2 and 4 on out breaths: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Living in the present moment….I know this is a wonderful moment.” I hope you find peace and balance.

  • Hilary

    “The rabbis looked upon the maintenance of bodily health as a religious obligation. This is made clear in the following anecdote, in which Hillel is once more the hero. When Hillel had finished a session of study with his pupils, “he accompanied them part of the way. They said to him, ‘Master, where are you going?’ ‘To perform a religious duty,’ he replied. ‘Which religious duty?’ they asked. ‘To bathe in the bath-house.’ ‘Is that a religious duty?’ they wondered. He answered them: ‘One who is designated to scrape and clean the statues of the king which are set up in theatres and circuses is paid for the work and he associates with nobility. Surely must I who am created in the divine image and likeness, take care of my body!” quoted from “The Wisdom of the Talmud” by Ben Zion Bosker.


    I posted you this story because I think it makes an important point, that the care of our bodies is as important a religious obligation as anything else we can do with our lives. Taking care of ourselves includes respecting our need for sleep and rest. Samantha, even God rested after creation – there is a reason we are commanded to rest for Shabbat! I know you’re Christian but I also know that you have respect for Jewish traditions after all the work you did studying for the Bitter Waters posts. I know I rarely get to enjoy a Shabbat that is a full rest from all work and obligations – sometimes I have to go back to work, or the housework is pilled up, or I have family obligations. I trust God not to be an anal-retentive asshole and I do the best I can.

    Would it be possible for you to take a nap on Saturday afternoon? Just that much, I know Saturdays get incredibly loaded with work, but just one afternoon nap to honor the need to rest after a week of creating in the world, and to honor your own need to refresh yourself.

  • Peggy Y

    I am so sorry to hear that there is such pressure inside for you. I am blessed to not feel that much pressure, but I have friends and family who do, so I witness what that relentless “do” drive does to people I love. My prayer for you, as for them, is peace.

  • Sounds like you do need a good, solid break. Blogging can get ridiculously time-consuming and draining. I only post two times a week right now. I was posting three times a week, and it was nearly killing me. Two times a week is hard enough right now, too. But I get the feeling–like if I stop, I’ll let everyone down. But next year, I think I might just go down to once a week. I don’t think ANYONE who reads your blog is going to fault you for taking a step back. Or even for posting less a week. Five times a week is exhausting, especially if it’s mainly you doing all the posting. I’ve honestly wondered before how you keep it up.

    Sometimes, it’s good to step back and rest and really think about things. Americans are so good at keeping busy, busy, busy and performing, performing, performing that we’ve forgotten the necessity of rest, of quiet days, of the small pleasures of life. We’ve forgotten that we’re worth more than our performance. That we’re inherently worth something because God created us and delights in us. He delights in all the small things we take pleasure in, not just the great things we do. Rest is just as vital as going at a breakneck pace trying to change the world. Because you can’t change the world if you’re burned out all the time.

  • I so know this feeling, I was like that too until I got very sick and started having seizures, like my body just said ‘I quit’, and since then I haven’t been physically able to do all those things I should be doing, at least most of them, and the guilt of not being a healthy normal person who could handle those things is just sickeningly crushing.

    I have the anxiety attacks and rapid heartbeat too, terrible dreams when I sleep, full of stress and desperation, all those things, but I end up doing the opposite of you, I feel so overwhelmed by all the things that need doing and crushed into the claustrophobic box of my own uselessness that I end up paralyzed by the indecision of knowing that maybe I could accomplish one thing, one small thing, but which thing, and then how horrible would I be for ignoring all the others?

    The fact that I have a good reason for not being able to do things, let alone do everything at once, doesn’t actually help. Then I just feel betrayed and humiliated by my own body, and so guilty that other people are having to pick up the slack and support me. I feel like…I’m just drenched in shame, all day every day, ashamed that I’m even existing and taking up space in people’s lives.

    They’re my family, and they say they don’t mind, but I know the medical bills are piling up, and it’s just like…why am I even here? All of the things that need doing, that I feel like I should try to do even if I know I’m probably not physically up to it, is just a constant stress and weight on my mind, When I think about it, I panic, and I freeze, my mind goes blank and I couldn’t do even the simplest thing to save my life. I feel utterly terrified and ashamed and hopeless when I try desperately to focus on just one thing that I could maybe do…more often than not, it doesn’t happen.

    Seriously, I need so much therapy, my doctor referred me to a counselor who specializes in helping people who are living with chronic pain and other disabilities, so maybe she’ll be able to help. I haven’t met her yet, but I really do just need…someone to talk to, someone very sane who can help me sort the things in my head out sensibly.

    …Aaand obviously when I need to talk I just ramble at anyone, sorry for the wall of text here. :’) Mainly I just want to say I know exactly how you feel, and I hope you find a way to get through it and make things better.

    • Don’t apologize. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there, vulnerable and uncovered like this. What you’ve shared might help you, and it might help someone else; it’s helped me today to understand just a little what it’s like to live as someone who isn’t the same as me.

      At my core, I’m a slacker. Most people wouldn’t think it if they didn’t know me well; I have a good career doing a job that I love, I have two kids, a wife, a home and we have a number of pets. My life is full of full of people and things that bring me great joy. But I actively try not to fill my day with things to do. I don’t understand what it’s like to feel like you need to spend all your time being productive.

      But today, I don’t understand a little less than I did yesterday. Thank you for sharing.

      • In my case it comes from the way I was raised, we were scolded for any little bit of time that was wasted on not doing ‘edifying’ or productive things. My dad was a perfectionist control freak and we were constantly told that we had to ‘give 110%’ in any job you did, even if it was our little chores around the house. There was just this huge emphasis on not doing anything frivolous, not doing things just because you enjoyed it – there had to be some kind of instructional, edifying or productive point to it. Reading fantasy and scifi and fiction in general, just for fun, was heavily frowned upon, and we weren’t allowed to watch hardly any movies or tv. Every single minute of every day we had to be doing, going the extra mile, constantly pushing ourselves to be better than the best. Some people maybe can handle that kind of pressure, but I took it into my adult life and had a major breakdown and burnout twice because I stressed myself into an anxiety attack with trying to always do everything, and do it exactly right, the first time, there is no try, only do. It’s toxic, this mindset, it gets into your soul and even though you know it’s bullshit, you can’t just shake it off and make it go away. It chokes you, closes you in and traps you in this desperate state of always wanting and striving to do just a little better, better than everyone else, give just a little more, prove that you can do it if you give it your all, and but so, you never quite make it because there is always more things to do beyond it, and the perfectionist goals that were set aren’t really realistic or achievable. You never win, you never achieve, you are never allowed to feel satisfied, because there is always, always another tidal wave swamping in with more things to do, whenever you think you might be getting close to accomplishing something. It’s like a constant nightmare, sometimes, the world just goes dark and grey, as if the sun had gone behind the clouds, but it didn’t, it’s still shining but it looks grey too…the whole world loses colour, and a heavy cloud of dread hangs overhead and weighs everything down, slows everything down, sometimes, it’s like life is in slow motion and like a bad dream, you can’t move or think or do anything, just huddle in your shell like a turtle and hope it passes before you end up crying from sheer hopelessness. You’re supposed to be better, you’re supposed to be able to do all these things and do them perfectly, in the time you were allotted, and you fail over and over because no one is perfect, It just….builds up over time, the guilt and anxiety and fear of what other people think of your terrible uselessness, and eventually you snap. I’ve done twice now, and I’m really struggling with all these issues, trying to get a handle on it and not let it control me so much. I really hope that the new therapist will be able to help.

  • I feel guilty.

    Don’t do that. Try to be more relaxed about it. Taking a vacation from blogging is fine. Slowing down is fine.

  • An afterthought —

    Feeling guilty is one of the dragons that you need to defeat.

  • I taught 7th and 8th grade English for 7 years. In the summers I taught high school history, my major subject, and coached track. At the school I was teaching most of the other teachers had been there for more than 15 years. I looked around the teacher’s lounge during lunch one day and a thought hit me, “Do I want to look this crabby and cranky in another ten years? Teaching middle school is exhausting because you can’t take your eyes off the students for a second. I applied for a teaching position at a high school and taught the next twenty years at that level. I helped out with the golf team for a few years, but gave up coaching. When you’re married with kids prioritizing your stress level becomes important. Even for singles who are afraid the walls will crash in if they relax for a minute you have to find time to release stress. It’s a shame the piano and perhaps singing is a stressor you they are great stress relievers, maybe listening to soft music could help. Exercise is another great destresser. Some have mentioned therapy, you might read Adrenaline and Stress, by Dr. Mark Hyman. I used it when teaching a high school psychology class. Think of burn out as the equivalent of hyperventilating. Too much oxygen is not a good thing, neither is stress.
    Post once a week or once a month, your readers will be just as happy, quality, not quantity is what matters.

  • Haha you almost wrote about the same thing I did today. I’m horrible these days. I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep. Because WORK.

  • Tamara Rice

    I can really relate to your piano story. While I’m not sure I used it as an escape as much as it sounds like maybe you did, I did practice obsessively. And I actually didn’t make it through the first year of college piano because the anxiety induced by the idea of an actual, real (not just the parents) recital kicked my anxiety through the roof. I have always been shaky, had always struggled to memorize … the result of a nervous, anxiety-ridden me shaking my way through a song I knew I’d barely remember all because we had to perform in this way to pass? It caused me to quit. To this day I think, the “memorization” part of recitals and even the act of recitals themselves is noble, but utterly stupid as a pass/fail for musicians. I just wanted to play. I didn’t need to perform and shouldn’t have been made to. My brain didn’t work that way and it’s one of the main reasons I gave it up. Today I find that absolutely unfair and maddening, but apparently college music programs weren’t made for introverts who just want to be great artists. 🙂

    Back to you–sorry for the diversion, but your piano story got me–I can see how writing can be a way to stay busy, to keep in a state you have become used to: busy/pressure/etc. Your blog is amazing. I hope you can find a peaceful balance for yourself where you feel good about the time/energy put into it. But kudos to you for recognizing in yourself something that might not be the healthiest thing for you. I hope you can start finding more peace in being still, as it sounds like maybe that’s what you are after. And I think there is fullness in that for all of us who struggle with anxiety. Thanks for sharing this, Samantha.

  • Don Albertson

    Take a walk somewhere quiet and Listen. It’s never silent. The world is always doing something interesting but if you don’t Listen then it’s doubtful that you will notice.

  • Koko

    I’m so sorry you’ve been conditioned to having to do more and more in order to feel productive (and, if I may be so bold, worthy).

    I won’t try to diagnose you or give you advice. You probably already have an idea of what you need to do to facilitate self-care, anyway.

    I am going to (figuratively) look you in the eye and say, “You’re going to figure this out. What you’re doing to yourself isn’t healthy, and acknowledging that publicly is hella courageous. With your brains and pluck, you’ll figure out a way to get to a better place. You got this.”

  • I hope this doesn’t feel like too much of a cop-out answer but I’ve not got a lot of experience of the intensity of what you describe; my own background was milder than this (though still not healthy at all, and i did burn out). Elizabeth Esther on the other hand is a fabulous blogger who has been talking about this (not knowing how to take care of herself) on her blog for a long time at http://www.elizabethesther.com/
    I would recommend you contact her privately as I’m sure she’s got pointers from her own experience coming out of a fundamentalist setting.

  • To some degree, my mother, who has traces of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD, which is different than OCD) and also Generalized Anxiety Disorder reminds me of what you wrote here.

    I wish she would get mental help, and now I wish you would too. 😉 People deserve happiness and these types of mental disorders prevent that. It’s unfortunate and I just want the best for you.

  • I always feel like I’m lazy no matter how much I do. I’ll think to myself “wow, you haven’t done anything all weekend” but yet if I write down everything I’ve done I realize how much it is. Like other commenters here, if I feel overwhelmed I have a tendency to close off and not do anything. The only situation I can be in that doesn’t make me fee like I have to do something is a vacation. If I’m not at home, then I don’t have to do the things there because I can’t. Unfortunately, I don’t get many vacations.

  • It’s okay with me if you don’t blog every day. I’d rather have your mind in a good place. You’ve gotten enough advice from others. Just know that I care about you.

  • Q: What happens if the bed doesn’t get made (aside from feeling guilt)?
    A: At night, you crawl in and pull the covers over yourself. In other words, nothing.

    What happens if you don’t post to your blog every day or if you take a week off from reading rape statistics? Most likely, nothing. The only person likely to notice would be your husband.

    I’m not saying this to be heartless, just to give you a cler perspective on how much perpetual busyness for the sake of busyness matters. Despite your 5 hours per day of piano practicing, I’ve never heard of Samantha the great classical pianist or Samantha the great Poe scholar and literary critic. Yet you poured your energies into these things until you were sick and exhausted. For what? Seems like far too steep a price to pay for avoiding a little guilt.

    Our lives truly are like a vapor that is here for a little while and then gone. Everything we do should have a good purpose: providing for our families; bringing personal joy, peace and fulfillment to ourselves; bringing healing to others. Anything beyond that is a waste, a lie, a hamster wheel designed to keep us trapped and running in circles. Try to remember the last time you took a leisurely walk through the woods or spent an hour just cuddling with your husband. I bet it’s been a while.

  • notleia

    Right now I’m suffering some pretty strong depression, and I’m realizing that I also don’t know how to cope with the stress of not finding anything better than a cashier job after graduating college. Or how to cope with my (ex)fiance breaking off our relationship in this last month. Or how to self-care beyond distracting myself with the Internet all day. I feel isolated. I’m taking pills and therapy, but all I can do now is try to take it a day at a time. Lately the only reason I think I’m functioning at all is because I just feel numb now. It makes me question my capability and my adulthood-ness. I often feel like a failure.
    So while I may not share your symptoms, I feel you all. Internet hugs?

  • Louise Tennyson

    Try doing some mindfulness meditation, you can probably find some tutorials on here. It will teach you how to take time out, even if just for 10 minutes a day to start with. If you feel guilty about it, you need to tell yourself that it is for your own benefit, for your own mental health.

  • Margaret

    {{{Hugs}}} much love.

  • Let me weave of words a quiet place, the silent breath and an open gaze looking out on life from the place within, designed by God to see….

    This became too long, so I poured it into a post, dedicated to you. Read, if you wish. http://loveisnotequaltolove.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-letter-of-love-to-all-over-strained.html

  • SunnySide

    Just wanted to echo the benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s gentle, all about changing thought patterns and viewing things in a more healthy/positive way.

    People may find these interesting: http://healthland.time.com/2011/09/13/qa-a-yale-psychologist-calls-for-the-end-of-individual-psychotherapy/, https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome/new/splash

  • i chose to obsess freely about tbe value of the Here And Now Of Life. regardless of its “productivity” measures up, the now is the most important time of our lives. it is the only time we can make a choice to live.

  • Your blog title could have been my theme for this weeknd…

    Aside from that – you know that whole “I feel guilty. I always feel guilty.” ? I just want you to know that your stories have been one of the first major steps in doing away with MY guilty feelings. I know exactly the feelings you’re talking about… creeping insidious little things that they are. Granted this is not to heap more preassure on you to post freaquently! I totally support you taking care of YOU and moving through your own stuggles offline if it helps.

    Boy do I know the feelings though, and I’ve reached burn out on most levels which has rendered me a sloppy vegetable currently. It took 4 years to reach burn out on all levels though – avoid it if you can. A guilt-ridden vegetable life is incredibly… uncomfortable. I’m still trying to find a way to crawl back from the depths. I come from a loooong line of “Kill ourselves for performance” people, it’s a coping mechanism, defense mechanism, even an identity for some. It was for me.

    You totally have our support.

  • {{{{{Hugs}}}}}. It’s hard to know what to say beyond that. My heart goes out to you. I think you’re at a point in your journey where almost anything can trigger a guilt trip. You are so talented that “Just do your best” is not helpful. You are correct that this is a serious problem.

    Several years ago, I went through a period where I felt I had to choose between exercise and sleep and taking a shower. Somehow I had so much I thought I had to do that the last 30-minute block of my day came down to a choice between three essentials. If I didn’t exercise, I was not serious about losing weight. If I didn’t shower, I wasn’t serious about my personal hygiene. If I didn’t use that 30 minutes for additional sleep, then I wasn’t serious about fixing my insomnia. To this day, I’m not sure what snapped me out it, but suddenly, I said to myself about one particular activity that was driving me insane, “Screw it! I’m going to take a shower AND a nap and not do [this thing].” It was … empowering. And even though I tried to feel guilty about not doing [this thing], I only had a passing twinge.

    I’m still in recovery from trying to do too much – sometimes I still say yes when I should say no – but I’m slowly getting better. Maybe something that would work for you is to put together a 24-hour day of rest out of your week – it’s biblical! – by selecting certain activities that you will take time off from once or twice a week. Such as, “Today I’m not going to do any laundry (1 hour), or cook dinner (1 hour) or play Candy Crush Saga (1 hour). I’ll do them every other day of the week, but today is the Day of Rest for these things.” Spreading them out over the week and planning the breaks will hopefully help with the guilt.