I've been a workaholic for a long time. It's something I can say without fear of reprisals or stigma, because I live in a society in which productivity and backbreaking hard work are celebrated.
Unlike other addictions, being hooked on work is often seen as admirable. When I reply to people's, "how are you?"s with "busy", I'm more likely to receive approving nods than judgmental stares.
It will come as no surprise to my loved ones that I am working during this long weekend. Many of them have raised my work habits with me over the years, but I've generally fobbed them off, or countered with, "I'd rather be busy than the opposite" and, "I know it's unsustainable, but I can't do anything about it".
Truth be told, being busy makes me feel validated. Taking a break makes me feel guilty and lazy.
Ironically, I'm often asked what I actually do. I've been self-employed since I left school, first as a musician, and now as a kind of "miscellaneous creator of various things". Filling out an ACC form is a nightmare. Occupation? Which one? When people ask me in conversation, I often get a niggling feeling that I'm not good enough. I may be a musician who writes columns, edits a website, produces campaigns, web series, documentaries and events, sits on boards, speaks professionally, and recently wrote a book, but is that really enough?
Having no one to tell you to take leave (what's that?) or to cover for you when you're sick certainly contributes, as does the potential feast or famine nature of my income, but I don't think my workaholism would miraculously disappear if I worked in a 9 to 5 job. I'm a highly motivated and determined (read: stubborn) perfectionist with a penchant for self-punishment. I'd likely be the last person to leave the office and one of those people who went into work during the weekend.
On that: if you're reading this column on Saturday while you sit at your desk, I see you. I'm the pot, you're the kettle, and we're both black.
That's the thing. I wouldn't normally navel-gaze so wallowingly, but I don't think I'm alone in this. I have friends who go to work at 8am and arrive home at 11pm. We live in a society that encourages us to be on the go all the time. Research suggests that it's not only the length of time we're working that's problematic, but also the level of stress we experience, which is on the rise. A 2017 survey of 93,000 Kiwi employees found that 31.2 per cent of them reported that their work-related stress had increased during the last two years.
All that extra stress doesn't just evaporate when we get home. It can cause all kinds of issues. I know that my workaholism has been a contributing factor to events I'm sure most of us would rather avoid. I've been able to ignore the impact of my workaholism for years, turning a blind eye to my health and avoiding significant relationships as I became more and more consumed by an out of control internal drive. Recently, I've been given a few wake-up calls.
Two weeks ago, during an 80-hour workweek, I went down with the flu. I had no prospect of taking time off, and one night while I was working late I became so tired that my vision was blurry. I couldn't read the words on my computer screen. I've worked plenty of punishing hours, but that was the first time I'd ever experienced such an overt symptom of overwork. The words on my screen were bleeding diagonally into each other, and no amount of blinking would set them right. It was disconcerting to say the least.
Then, on the following Monday morning, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and was shocked. I got on the scales and it turns out that I've lost 7kg since the start of the year (over 10 per cent of my bodyweight).
It's not just my physical health that has suffered. My workaholism has wreaked havoc upon my personal life and relationships. In short, the events of the last few weeks have been the harsh learning curve I probably have had coming for a long time.
I may be able to soldier on through exhaustion and sickness, but I can't ignore blurred vision, my skeletal frame or the impact my addiction has had upon the people I love. I have some serious self-reflection to do. It's time that I took responsibility for that nasty voice inside my head that screams, "not good enough!" when I stop work at 7pm. That little demon is about to be served an eviction notice.
Because, really, what is it all for? As I blubbered to my best friend while she fed me wine and handed me tissues this week, it's all a bit meaningless when it comes at such a high price.
The slogan I grew up emulating needs updating. Just because girls can do anything doesn't mean we should do everything.