When I was in high school, I slept in until 2 PM, I was repeatedly late to school, I rarely did my homework, I seemed incapable of cleaning my room, and I smoked marijuana every day. My behavior, demeanor, and life goals revolved around using as little energy as possible. I was affectionately given the nickname Z by some of my friends, which was short for lazy. I was committed to my identity enough that had a giant, black, Z tattooed on my arm for my 18th birthday. But, I didn’t believe that laziness was a bad thing. Lazy meant that I didn’t care, that I was “too cool”, and that I did whatever I wanted.
You must be thinking, “Where were his parents and why didn’t they motivate or punish him during all of this?” They were right by me the whole time and they were good parents. My dad bought me a motorcycle and sold it the day after I was arrested for DUI. My parents gave me every opportunity to stay in high school and when I stopped going, they stopped giving me money. I was forced to get a $7/hour landscaping job at the age of 16. When I learned that school was the better option, they fought to get me back in. They said they would help pay for college if I applied myself. My life was full of opportunity and I experienced the consequences of my laziness. Why then, after working myself out of a hole, did I still choose to be lazy when I made it to college? Why did I go back to sleeping in, doing drugs, not doing homework, and not taking care of myself? It’s because, there is no such thing as lazy.
I know this because, in 2007, when I smashed my car into a concrete barrier at 45 mph, it wasn’t due to laziness. I know this because when I entered a rehab facility 3 days later, they didn’t say I suffered from laziness. They told me that the laziness was actually depression and anxiety that was manifesting as self-defeating behavior. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I actually care a lot. I cared so much about what everyone thought of me that I was crippled with anxiety. It was so difficult to live in my own head that I tried to shut the whole system down. I was so tired from my mental marathons that I didn’t have the focus or energy to complete simple tasks, no matter how much external motivation was provided. The only things that helped quiet my mind enough were sleep, drugs, and distractions. Ironically, they may have even saved me from myself in my darkest of times.
The phrase that actually held the least truth was “You’re lazy.” It meant that I was actively making a choice to be a failure. But, what no one understood was that I wasn’t choosing anything. Why would I choose to be lazy when there was so much gain and so much to lose? I had lost control of everything going on in my life.
I wasn’t alone in this. 44,193 people died last year from suicide and there are about 1.1 million attempts. We will never know how many people actively consider harming themselves because of how they feel. How many of these people would be described as unmotivated, lethargic, or lazy? How often do these feelings contribute to addictions and unhealthy habits? My educated guess is nearly 100%.
So, what can we do to stop this epidemic of self-defeating behaviors and mental instability? The first thing we can do is to stop calling it laziness. The next thing we can do is to ask each other the questions that matter, seek to understand, and reach out to people that are struggling. Especially, the lazy ones.