I Work So Much I’m Sore From My Chair
As a freelancer, I thought I was made for pandemic-style work life. Maybe I was wrong.
I am a workaholic and I have hit rock bottom. By which I mean I literally have a rock for a bottom. I have the beginings of a bedsore from sitting in my desk chair. A chair sore.
Is this really possible? I’m afraid it is. Yesterday when I was toweling myself off from my first shower in three days I noticed a patch of chafed skin over my tailbone. That’s strange, I thought. It’s not like I’ve been riding a flying saucer-style toboggan down a snowy embankment (somehow this came to mind as the only possible way to acquire a patch of rough skin in this particular spot). I’d merely been sitting at my desk, for roughly fourteen hours a day, for the last several weeks.
By “roughly” I mean “at least.” According to the helpful and horrifying screen usage app on my Mac, my daily screen time average was 12 hours and 24 minutes a day, which was down from the previous week’s average of 13 hours and ten minutes. I attribute that to having spent at least part of one day last week at a doctor’s appointment that required an hour of travel time, nearly two hours of wait time, and a precious ten minutes with the doctor. It felt like a vacation.
In my defense, my chair cushion is quite worn. If it weren’t flattened into something approximately the thickness of an oven mitt, I probably wouldn’t have rubbed myself raw. On the other hand, the reason for the flattening is the number of hours I sit on it, so I guess we’re back to where we started.
Honestly, this is incredibly embarrassing. I hesitated to write about it, but one of my professional obligations is to produce something for this space every week. It’s an enviable gig in many ways. I can write about anything I like. I could probably even draw pictures or post mp3 files of original recorded material if I wanted to. But I can’t draw and I never seriously pursued music, though not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had (ditto for wishing I’d joined the FBI). And so I’m left with writing about what’s on my mind. And what’s on my mind is my work. The kind that takes place in my chair.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I work almost constantly. People who’ve known me for a long time would say I’ve always been this way, but lately it seems worse than ever. My workload feels like a schoolyard bully. It feels like something that’s knocking me down in an empty stairwell and stealing my lunch as I scamper off because I’m late to class and fear getting in trouble (the lunch be damned). Pretty much the only time I don’t spend working is the time I spend walking my dog, and most of that time is devoted to wondering how my life got this way.
The immediate answer is that being a freelancer is hard and you simply have to work a lot. This is especially true if, like me, you’ve launched a weekly podcast that requires nonstop marketing and promotion — not to mention doing the actual podcast, which requires preparation and concentrated discussion and praying to the audio tech gods. In addition to the podcast, I do things for actual money; things like teaching, writing articles for the few publications that pay more than eleven cents a word, and posting here every week (yes, I get paid for this, even more than eleven cents). This turns your life into a treadmill of deadlines, which is at once no way to live and, in my case, the only way to stay alive.
But overwork from freelancing is one thing. Overwork that leads to chair sores is something else entirely. It’s pandemic-style overwork. It’s what happens when Zoom replaces in-person meetings and commute times go from hours to seconds. A year ago, I would have told you that the new workplace conditions of the pandemic would have little effect on me, since I’ve essentially been working like this all my life. But I now realize that my familiarity with working from home may be having a certain frog-boiling-in-water effect.
Since I’ve never known work to be much different, I’m only now seeing the ways in which the rhythm of the pandemic workday is, in fact, very different. I’m realizing that all the activities and commitments I used to complain about because they tore me away from my work were serving a crucial purpose. The business lunches, the book launches, the obligatory coffee dates with people “who just want to pick your brain,” the dinner parties I wished I could get out of because I had a deadline the next morning: they seemed onerous at the time. But in fact they were the things that were keeping me in one piece. They were what kept me from being nothing more than an unshowered (if highly productive) wretch. They’re what kept my daily screen time down to an acceptable eight hours a day.
They were, quite literally, what saved my butt. I hope they come back soon. Because if I have to get standing desk I’ll never sit down.