Zero Kelvins, Or The Difference Between Can’t and Won’t.

Zero.  Zilch. The big donut.  This is today’s blog topic.  Why?  Because I fucking hate spoons and so we’re gonna make a logical argument that makes sense.  I don’t care if that’s what the kids are doing today or if some one is comforted by a metaphor that falls incredibly short of what it actually means to be living with one or more chronic illnesses that literally leave you unable to move, mutter or moan.

In my house, we talk about Kelvins.  According to quantum mechanics, absolute zero (defined as zero Kelvins), is the point where matter has its lowest internal energy.  All those little particles stop booping around for a while and just sorta chill.  Because ABSOLUTE zero.

More importantly, how is this at all related to this blog?  Well, fuckers, it came up as a topic of discussion in one of my favorite Facebook groups and, yaknow, being as how I’ve not been able to keep this blog going lately, I figured why not.  So today, bitches, we’re talking about Kelvins.  Fuck yer spoons.

The Difference Between Can’t and Won’t

Anyone who has worked with me anytime ever knows that I’m very bad about working myself to a point where most people fear to tread.  I’ll miss sleep, I’ll write for 24 hours straight (remember that one, hotel description team?  Good times…..), I’ll miss meals, I’ll miss out on real life.  This is a very bad habit to develop.  It means you have no room for anything else in life.

Well, when I got sick, I had to really learn how to sit on myself.  I learned the true meaning of “can’t.”  When most people say they don’t have the bandwidth or that they just can’t take on another project right now, they’re safeguarding their time.  What they really mean is that they won’t.  And it’s ok to refuse to do a thing so you can do other things.  You don’t need to spend a week in a mental ward to learn this lesson the way I did.  It’s ok to say no, in whatever polite terms you choose…. or even the not-so-polite ones, Precious Little Snowflake.  Fuck those social niceties.

But for most people, they say “can’t” when they mean “won’t.”  And this is an important distinction to make, I think.  I think it’s ok to say you won’t.  No, I won’t do the thing.  The thing is too time consuming, it’s too obnoxious, it’s too much pondering life’s deepest questions, it’s too existential dread.  The thing is a no.  And that’s the end of it.  Now I’m going to go to my intramural crochet kickboxing class.

“Can’t” is another animal.  You can’t because you literally have another thing blocking your ability to do the thing.  I can’t because I have to care for my elderly parent.  I can’t because my dog was just hit by a car and my brain is coming unglued.  I can’t because I woke up totally flatlined from tomorrow (aka. zero Kelvins).  I can’t means there’s no way whatsoever that in any possible configuration of reality you’re able to do the thing.

And “can’t” is a constant when you have zero Kelvins.  Especially when having zero Kelvins is a new thing, or you’re trying very hard to make headway in other areas and them Kelvins keep nose-divin’.  When you have a chronic illness, or a host of them, “I can’t” might happen because you had a sandwich for lunch instead of another liquid meal.  It might happen because you sat out in the sun one minute too long and now have a sunburn that is literally taking all your energy to heal.  It happens for things that don’t make sense to anyone else, and it’s often things you can’t predict. (See, proper use of “can’t”)

Avoiding Zero Kelvin for Writers and Other Home-Based Workers

Zero Kelvin is a bad place to be, especially if you’re a freelancer who took that route instead of filing for disability.  There are a lot of us, and we’re a blessed in a lot of ways.  I mean, really.  If your primary skill is digging ditches and you lose a limb — BAM — no choice but to file.  If your job is to speak in front of people all the time and you develop agoraphobia, that’s just it.

But if you write or draw or whatever, it’s a solitary thing with a set finish point.  You don’t need to be in an office, or even in pants, in order to mission accomplish.  Sure, you might be a bit slower than you were before you got sick, but you still possess that skill that can happen behind the scenes.  You can hide movement disorders behind carefully composed emails, cover mood disorders with a digital veil, you can literally do the thing without anyone being any wiser.

Not that I advocate for hiding your disability from your adoring public, but that’s an option you will always have.  As a good friend of mine wrote on social media yesterday:  “Unfortunately peopling online is different than peopling in person and I’m definitely not good at the peopling with the people in person. People.”

I think that pretty much sums it up.  Sometimes — online — you can be a whole person.  A whole person with a good job and feelings of accomplishment and whatnot.  But, in order to keep up this charade, you have to know how to avoid hitting zero Kelvin.  So, as per pretty much always, I’ve got a few tips to make your life much more betterer.

1. Focus on Work.  Working from home can be a gauntlet of temptation.  You want to take that phone call, you want to do the laundry, the dishes call you from the kitchen.  You can’t succumb to temptation.  Work time is work time, not doing chore time, not free from the kids time, not sleeping until noon time (well, sometimes it’s that, too).  So work.  Don’t do other shit.

2. Prioritize Your Workload.  Deadlines are great, they let you know which things are the most overdue so you can focus on those first.  (Seriously, don’t do that.)  When you live with chronic illness, it can be stressful to keep going.  It can be a total cry-fest in order to just move from one moment to the next.  So, prioritize things and do them in order.  First, do your blogs that are due tomorrow, then onboard that new client.  Or first research for your upcoming interview, then write about the best taco trucks in America.  Whatever.  But have a list and stick to it.  Anything that’s low priority today can be high priority tomorrow if you don’t find the bottom.

3.  Automate all you can.  I know a lot of you are still hesitant to invest in things like Buffer, HootSuite and the like in order to make your lives easier.  They’re a scam, you say.  I can post the thing when it’s time.  I say you’re a fool and you’re deceiving yourself.  Those tools are wildly popular because they make it easier and faster to do the work you’re doing by hand.  For example, I have two tools I use for social media: Feedly and Buffer.  These two together make it simple to aggregate news, schedule posts, re-schedule posts and I can do it when I’m having downtime (read that “in the bathroom”) or when I feel a little perkier.  It lets me shift my energy around, which is really all we can do to survive this life.

Look, living with a chronic illness is no fucking picnic.  I’m not gonna lie.  You’ll have to make tough decisions about when you “won’t” so that you don’t reach that wall where you simply “can’t.”  The trick is to stop before you hit zero Kelvins, even if you’re just on the brink.  That last step is a doozy and requires climbing gear to come back from — and you’re already way too fucking spent for that sort of shit.  Turning a can’t into a won’t means you live to fight another day.