I stare at the blinking cursor on my screen, wanting to move but not having the energy to do it. My head whirred in a daze as if I had little birds flying over it, and my eyes ached. This, three years ago, was my idea of how a successful, busy person looked.

I was “melinya,” which loosely translates as skinny, but teeters on malnourished in my mother tounge, Malayalam. Trust me, my family shoved rice and chicken curry into my mouth as often as possible, but as my life grew more and more hectic, I would neglect my basic necessities.

This wasn’t because I suffered with body image. I just thought I didn’t have time. Breakfast and dinner are for the weak, for those who can afford to waste those valuable minutes, I wrongly thought. But the problem ran deeper than just thinking I was too busy for any of those vital parts of the day.

When people would pass me and comment on how tired I looked, or when aunties mentioned how I’d thinned, a sense of excitement used to pass through me. Perhaps it was my subconconcious craving for attention, or perhaps I felt that looking this way proved that I was busy to the point of physical exhaustion, and thus, successful.

My obsession with looking exhuasted and sickly stemmed from an inner insecurity that I was unsuccessful, that I wasn’t trying hard enough or doing enough. So even when I did have time to eat or bathe or take care of myself, I didn’t.

This worked for me for a little bit, but this hyper focus on productivity was not only harmful for my physical health, but my mental health as well. Soon, I realized that despite everything I did, despite acting as if I were so busy to the point of unhealthiness, I wasn’t successful. My clubs weren’t blooming, my writing wasn’t progressing, my grades weren’t shining. And while I didn’t understand this then, I realize it now. By pushing myself beyond a limit for years, I lowered my productive output, and thus lowered my happiness.

COVID-19 has wrecked our lives, but I feel slightly guilty for it wrecking mine less than others. When forced out of school back at home–still with work, just without external factors–I began naturally doing something I lacked for a long time: taking care of myself.

I bingewatched Netflix shows like Shameless with 10 seasons, which I never would have done before. I ventured into new styles of writing like poetry. I began doing yoga and taking long, relaxing baths daily. I ate consistantly and abundently. I read books, I wrote my blog, I ran The Young Writers Initiative, I called my friends every day, I made new friends, I found cool organizations, and most of all, I finally found myself.

This change was all internal, not spurred by concerned friends or a shocking realization. It was gradual, like a slow reset. These past months have challenged me to take care of myself. I’m writing this now because yesterday, my friend’s mom noted how I’ve gotten a bit chubbier in the face. My friend scolded her at first, but her mom elaborated on what she meant. I didn’t look “melinya” anymore. I looked alive and full. My body may have some more oophm and my face may not be as thin and hollow as before, but I like that. I like looking healthy and happy.

And for some more self-reflection, I’ve realized that I’ve accomplished more in this time than I ever have before. The Young Writers Initiative is now a booming writing organization with over 50 clients, 100 volunteers, and a feature from NaNoWriMo. I’ve submitted and been accepted to pretty cool magazines. My grades are good, and my college apps are going well. I got into show choir, I became our conference director for Model UN. I actually succeeded at being a dance intern, and I got three jobs.

I think this, more than anything, is a challenge to the accepted definition of productivity. Sure, I’ve watched more Netflix and taken longer baths and called my friends for hours, but my productive output skyrocketed. My internal happiness, no matter how inconsistant, makes my bursts of work time hyperproductive. I guess my best piece of advice on productivity is one that is generic and one that we’ve all heard before.

Work hard, play hard.

I challenge you all to work harder and play harder now. I challenges you to test your limits, but not be so full of yourself to believe you don’t have any. I challenge you to work on your internal growth before you work on the growth of something else.

Health, both physical and mental, is wealth. Don’t ever forget that.

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