Rambling about sloth

January 5, 2009

The History Channel has been running a series on the seven deadly sins, and last night I caught some of the show on sloth, something I’ve often had trouble with

Sloth, acedia, the noonday demon, melancholia – I studied it in my former life as an aspiring medievalist, and it struck me as the most persuasive of the sins.  How easy when you aren’t at your best to pull the covers over your head and hide in bed all day.  How easy to put things off for as long as I can.  How easy to hate myself for it later, even now.

Lately I have to wonder if my renewed slothful tendencies are actually all that bad.  I feel a lot of guilt about them due to my deep-rooted Protestant work ethic, but while I tend to think of pulling the covers over my head as lazy, nonproductive, and cowardly, sometimes retreating and retrenching is also a key survival skill.  And sometimes that work ethic, so often motivated by guilt and fear of what people will think, is counterproductive, wrong, and harmful.

There are so many days now when I hate going into work, and I do it anyway.  I love my job and consider it important and worthwhile; that I mainly consider it important and worthwhile in the abstract lately, is something I really struggle with.  I go in, I go through my list of things to get done for the day (without which I’m nearly useless lately) and it’s seldom as bad as I fear it’ll be when I pull myself out of my warm bed in the morning, but there’s little joy in it. I still work hard, even when my office door is locked because I’m working through tears, but sometimes the work seems trivial.

I’m so used to slogging through the days now that I forget to notice how I feel when doing it, and grief has sapped my energy wonderfully.  My hypothyroidism grew worse in the months after Teddy’s death (common postpartum thing, I guess), but since I put off having it checked until early December, I had no idea.  My doctor called me on the phone to discuss my blood work and said, “You must have been feeling terrible,” to which I could only respond, “I didn’t really notice.”  And I may be feeling better after a few weeks of upped meds, but I still can’t tell definitively.

At the end of this month, I have to write up my annual review for work, and part of me will feel ashamed that I accomplished so little this year, even though I know that part of me needs to shut up.  As the wise wife of one of my work friends said to me, “It’s only work.  There are more important things.”  She’s so very right.  Now, if I can only make myself believe it.

So, today, as I stay home watching the snow fall and feel relieved for this very plausible excuse to avoid the outside world a little longer, I tell myself that it’s okay, that I’m not lazy or a bad librarian to give myself this break, that the pleasure I take in the insulation of snow isn’t deviant or wrong.

I’m grateful for the snow, for the reason to hide at home for a day.  The closest thing I’m making to a New Year’s resolution is this, to be gentle with myself, to tend to myself, to let myself rest.



  1. A very wise midwife said to us after our son was stillborn “be selfish”. I’m so grateful to her for implanting that phrase into my head. Over the past four months there have been times when I’ve felt this ridiculous sense of obligation to attend events or to “play nicely” with others when it’s the last thing I feel like doing. Every so often I say to myself, “be selfish”, and allow myself to hide away and just be.

  2. Protestant stoicism = not good.
    Taking care of myself now = good.
    I can work more later… but won’t ever be healthy again if I don’t take care now.
    hugs and yay snow

  3. I love your resolution, Erica. It’s something I have to remind myself of daily. And you know what? If I could get away with not working for money, I would in a heartbeat so happily stay home and be at my computer, cozy and warm, all day. Writing, reading, and healing take a lot of energy, and they are meaningful too.

  4. It is probably cliche to most of us by now, but grief really is hard work. I remember so well the feelings you describe. I remember being unable to muster the will to clean my house and wondering what in the world was wrong with me. I knew I was grieving but I still worried this new “slothful” behavior was simply becoming a bad habit. Now I can look back and see that, no, it was not a bad habit, it was just still grief- and it took a lot longer to pull out of than I thought it should or would.

    Please give yourself a break whenever and wherever you can. As Lucy said, be selfish. Please. I wish I had been so much more firm in my resolve to take care of myself during that time, rather than worrying about everyone else.

  5. I don’t know where one finds the motivation to do anything anymore after a child dies. You are surviving, grieving, missing. I don’t see a sloth-ful person. I see a hurting one.

    Be gentle with yourself.

  6. My son, Sam, died before he was born on July 13, 2008. I came back to work in September and at my annual review in November, my boss told me I seemed “frustrated and unenthusiastic.” I wanted to scream, “Don’t you remember that my baby died and I think about it every second of every hour of every day?” How can people expect us to be enthusiastic about something so silly as work? There are so many people who live for their work and I’ve always tried not to be one of them. Now more than ever we know that there are more important things in life. I’m just trying my best to hold myself together and get my work done.

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