Elvia Knoll and Ken Braiterman: Two Workaholics Discuss Workaholism

Workaholism is unsustainable, the authors agree

Workaholism is unsustainable, the authors agree

I haven’t figured out how to be an advocate, and do this work, without burning out every few months.  In a very good article by Ken Braiterman about strength-based recovery and peer support, he mentioned his workaholism.  

What hit a chord for me was when he said that, earlier in his life, “my life was my work, and my work was my job.”

I am like that.  Everything runs together like a big clump of things that intertwine. I don’t have a good work schedule sometimes, and then i feel like i’m “always working.”  I’m not. but i’m always thinking about work.  That’s workaholism, I guess.I’m actually on a kind of sabbatical now.   I work some, but I’m kind of on vacation.  Even on vacation, I feel the need to work work work, like i have to pound myself into the pavement, or I am  not giving enough.

Strength-Based and Ability-Based Recovery

Also. I did not realize that “strength-based” was an actual term. I had heard it, but didn’t really know too much about it.  I also use the term to describe what I want to see in our mental health systems.

I think of it as ABILITY.  The person with the “illness” has to realize their ability to recover.  There is too much enabling, disabling, crippling “help,” which i think is very tricky. In order to recover, you have to want to survive, and stop being a victim or a patient.

People don’t always like that option.  It can sound like I’m just telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. which i’m not really.  But, yes, you do have to use your own potential to get through the obstacle.

Workaholism is Unsustainable

Ken Braiterman:  Workaholism is ultimately an unsustainable way of life.Elvia Knoll:   Its so true!!!!!!!   I have a hard time focusing, or dividing space for different things. When i read. it relates to work.

When i go buy a book, I’m tempted to buy psychology books.  I get so frustrated.  I have a kind of obsession about my passions.   I do them until i can’t stand them anymore.  I’ve always been like that.   I need balance.

Ken Braiterman:  Me too. Even at my age, knowing what I know now, having gone thru what I have, I still fall into workaholic sieges.  And since my work as a self-employed writer is solitary, they soon become isolation sieges that cause emotional problems. I have to be creative, resourceful, and disciplined about being with people and enjoying play time.

Other Activities Must Balance Workaholism

Playing washtub bass is one way Ken balances his workaholism.  (Becky Wetherill Mercier on banjo)

Playing washtub bass is one way Ken balances his workaholism. (Becky Wetherill Mercier on banjo)

Elvia Knoll:  I loved that, in your article, you mentioned all the different things you do.  I have a terrible habit of acting like, or thinking, “what for?”  “What’s the point?”  I live in a GREAT city for music and art and everything, and i talk myself out of it.  I don’t know why.

I have no problem meeting people, but I have developed a fear of social situations.  It’s very unlike me, so it’s really a weird feeling.  I spend a lot of time with family, which is good, but I try to have my own life also.

Ken Braiterman:  My friend, who is in Alcoholics Anonymous, talks about the “velcro couch” and “thousand-pound phone.”  That’s exactly what they are:  you can’t tear yourself off the couch, or pick up the phone, even though you know you’ll like it, need to do it, and it’s good for you.  AA creates wonderful expressions and affirmations.

Isaac Newton said a bady at rest tends to remain at rest, and a body in motion tends to remain in motion, In other words, it takes a little extra effort to start something in motion. It’s easier after that, and worth it.

Sometimes, I do things just because they’re different from being home alone, working, reading, or watching classic movies. I make myself do it because too much home alone time has a bad cumulative effect on me.

Elvia Knoll:  I feel inspired by your article to try some new things, and i’m going to need to spend some energy on creating that life balance.

Ken Braiterman:  I needed time, creativity, resourcefulness, and a willingness to try new things, to find activities I enjoy to balance my workaholism.  I did not like or pursue everything I tried.  I had to keep trying.  I’m very glad I did.

May I use your comments as a blog on wellnesswordworks.com?

Elvia Knoll:   I have no idea what you think about what I said  is worthy of a blog. HAHA.  I don’t really know what I said other than admitting that I am a workaholic, and unbalanced in my activities.  But SURE!  Go for it.  I’m flattered. and if it helps someone, great.

Just One Last Thing about Workaholism

Elvia Knoll:  YES, for me, it’s important to have a dream, to live for a dream, to go for it — even though I’m never totally “there” yet.  I don’t want to just say, “This is it.  This is as far as it goes.”  I have to be dreaming of better bigger things, or else I am not alive.

I think that is why I work a lot, because my job involves a lot of dreaming of better things. and trying to influence the discussion about mental health.   I have a purpose, and it feels good to do something I’m passionate about.  Sometimes, other activities don’t carry that “importance,” so they get pushed aside.

But I’ve found that even drawing with my niece can be such a huge blessing.  It takes me completely out of my world, and gives me a break.  Where I get stuck is negotiating this On and Off time with myself:  how much work is enough?

I have the tendency to think that nothing is enough, but i know this is my flaw.  I’m starting to think there is a reason I have this flaw.  It makes me who i am.   Anyway, enough philosophy for now.  I LOVE to philosophize.

How can you balance the tendency toward workaholism in your life?

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

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