by Robyn Banks
Last year, I dropped out of uni. My life was falling apart around me, I’d run out of new excuses for extension requests on my assignments, I was failing to meet any of my responsibilities. My finances were in chaos, I wasn’t eating and I was totally failing to prioritise by continually allowing my grades and self care to slip in order to meet my obligations to other people, which I was barely doing anyway. I was always late, I couldn’t sleep, I managed to check my emails about once a month and consequently fell further and further out of the loop. I pushed my friends away, clawed them back, worried they all hated me and yapped on and on about just how irrevocably miserable I was. I was afraid of my lecturers, assuming they all had some kind of report card about me in their heads in which they totted up all of the missed classes, late assignments, and failings on my part and were sure to judge me for it. I became so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed, so I asked if I could drop out and try the year again in September.
Right now, I can’t seem to help it- but beating myself up about it isn’t productive
The road to feeling better is far from over, but a great deal of what I’ve learned has been about forgiving myself for the little things. So I’m ten minutes late because my brain did that thing it does again where time is suddenly not an issue and something becomes suddenly more interesting and bam, it slipped away? I don’t know why I do that, whether it’s a symptom of depression, anxiety or just a feature of my character, but what I have learned is that it’s better to arrive ten minutes late and positive than to arrive 30 minutes late or not at all because looking at the time brought on an anxiety attack and a deep spiral of self loathing. Right now, I can’t seem to help it – but beating myself up about it isn’t productive and all of the advice tells me to take it one day at a time and to see how far I’ve come from being a suicidal and housebound mess, and that’s what works. For the time being, other people will just have to deal while I slowly work my way back to being able to meet expectations.
And the high expectations and constant rush of the modern world can be very difficult for people not neurotypical to meet. Only a few months out of the hole of severe depression and I’m back trying to secure a first class degree so that postgrad study doors don’t close for me, write articles for student publications in my spare time, run societies, do fundraising, volunteering and activist work, and a whole series of extracurricular activities in the vain hope that I might one day get a job that feeds me without deeply challenging my ethics. And in a society of cuts and austerity where most of my friends who have graduated have gone back home to work minimum wage jobs, the idea that I might not be good enough to do all of that absolutely terrifies me. But I’m going to keep trying, even if it means I haven’t shaved my legs for a month and I have to set an alarm on my phone reminding me to eat two meals a day.
Which is why I was annoyed to read Greg Savage’s recent blog post on lateness. In it he condemns anybody who runs late as being rude and selfish, and for valuing their time over other peoples, and even chastises a dentist for running overtime with the patient before him. These people are not efficient with their time, apparently, and are a burden on those who are. Not only did this strike me as the rantings of a narcissistic and highly strung control freak, because after all, it’s the 21st century and smartphones exist and I can get any of number of things done in the ten minutes I’m waiting for somebody. I even have multiple apps for practicing Spanish. This seems to me more efficient than downing a bottle of wine, which is apparently what Greg does when he’s impatient. Not only this, but it also got me thinking about who is better able to meet these high time efficiency standards, and for whom an inability to meet them apparently constitutes a very deep moral failing.
People cross our paths every day who have unknown numbers of obstacles they have to overcome. People with all sorts of mental health problems, from depression to ADHD to autism, can really struggle with time management. People with invisible or visible physical disabilities may find themselves harshly judged. Women, in particular, are more likely to be affected by taking on the burdens of others, from being late to a meeting because of a nappy explosion to not completing work on time because a housemate has an emotional crisis. Damon Young lists some of the ways he feels his ethnicity affects him in this regard in this fantastic piece, which is as honest as it is jesting. In my opinion, we see exactly the same societal inequalities echoed again and again in these cultural codes of ‘respect’ and ‘manners’.
It’s worrying that in the corporate world, which assumes we should all aspire to be like it, time is valued only by its ability to be spent on labour, or, in other words, that time is money
We’re building a society where simply reaching the middle requires extensive productive output, where mental health treatment and ancient concepts like mindfulness are repurposed to increase efficiency and productivity. The goal for me, I am told, is to increase my ‘resiliance’- to reach a stage where I can still be a productive citizen who can make profit for others no matter what I am going through. It’s working for me because I want to produce, to achieve, to be more efficient in this constant game of catch-up. But it’s worrying, at the same time, that we value this neo-liberal mindset over empathy for other people, over our own health and that of our friends and colleagues. It’s worrying that in the corporate world, which assumes we should all aspire to be like it, time is valued only by its ability to be spent on labour, or, in other words, that time is money, and that at the end of the day that money is the single most important thing. It’s evident in the way that Greg bemoans a dentist for seeing him late, as though an acceptable alternative would be hurrying a patient out of the door with a half-finished extraction in the name of manners. But that is the way we’re headed, and you only have to listen to people in the medical and care professions to see how this obsession with efficiency reduces patients and people to targets and stats.
I’ve got a suggestion for Greg. Next time you find yourself becoming agitated and impatient because somebody is ten minutes late, try to consider the number of obstacles that person might have to overcome. Maybe they have a hidden disability, maybe a train was cancelled, or maybe they keep throwing up in the morning and they don’t know why (or is that just me?). Try to feel some empathy for your fellow humans and feel how much more empowering that is, see how much happier it makes you than becoming irate. Don’t down a bottle of wine, everybody knows that’s bad for you. Try to listen to the sounds around you, smell the city on the breeze, notice new things in your environment and try to simply be present in the moment. Because nothing is going to make me put your time before my health, especially if all that time means to you is money.
Not that drop out culture is any better. Join me next week for When Respect gets Prejudiced part 2: Bullshit people who characterise other people as being ‘negative’. That is, if I get it in on time.