Busy Is a Sickness

Busy is a Sickness Article

Busy is a Sickness Article

I read a brilliant article on HuffPost Parents this morning called Busy Is a Sickness.

The article discusses how everyone seems to be busy these days, but that – when we scratch beneath the surface – that business is often self-inflicted. That we seem to be afraid to be still and be ourselves, so we fill our lives with doing.

The article’s author, Scott Dannemiller, says, “I wear busyness like a badge of honor. Only there’s no honor to be had.”

He explains how he became resentful when someone listened to him describe a crazy day ahead and said, “Sounds like a full day, have fun!”

I laughed out loud when I read that part, because I recognised myself so fully in the statement.

I have a friend who has said something similar to me, and I felt equally resentful. Don’t you know how hard my life is? I wanted to say. Don’t you know how busy I am, how hard I find it remembering all the details and running round after my kids. Cooking meals, washing laundry, walking the dog, all while finding time to write and spend time with my children? Pity me.

Lately, though, I’ve come to see all those things as blessings in my life. I am blessed to have a family who need me, a dog who loves being walked and who makes me get outside every day, rain or shine. I am blessed to have time to write and to live in a beautiful (messy) house. I am blessed to be able to pick my children up from school every day and be home with them in the holidays. I am blessed to have a husband who doesn’t mind the mess and random meals.

It’s hard to remember those blessings all the time, though. Most of the time my internal dialogue reverts back to the ‘woe is me, I’m so busy’ script.

I’ve been learning about Transactional Analysis in the writing course I am doing at the moment, particularly about life scripts. The website Changingminds.org describes life scripts like this:

We create stories about our lives, what they have been and what they will be. This starts in childhood where we weave our perceptions of our selves and of the world around us into a narrative about what we can and will do.

These life scripts then continue to have a deep and unconscious effect on how we live our lives. They affect the decision we make. They control what we think we could easily do and could never do. They shape our self-image. And yet we seldom realize where they come from or even do not know that they exist at all.

Our life scripts are often encouraged and shaped by parents and other family members, whose life scripts were shaped by their parents and so on. In this way, we become a product of our family’s history. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces.

Life scripts are not all the same as they may also be significantly affected by individual events, such as being criticized by a teacher or bullied by other children. They also are constrained by inherited characteristics. For example it would be unusual (but not impossible) for a shorter person to include being a basketball player in their life script.

There are often overall shapes to life scripts that can be expressed very simply, for example ‘I am a loser’ or ‘I must help save the world’. Life scripts can be very detailed and they can be very vague. They can be very empowering, yet they can also severely limit our lives.

I am starting to realise that my life script features phrases like, “woe is me,” or “I’m never good enough,” or “everyone expects me to help them,” or “pity me.”

I deliberately place myself into positions where I am put upon, unappreciated, stressed or busy, and that reinforces my script. Being busy is part of that. A busy person is a useful person. A person who isn’t busy is lazy. These are things I have inside me.

When I first met my husband he was really good at just sitting and being. I saw it as laziness and it drove me crazy. I thought he should be fixing something, cleaning something or doing something useful. I probably drove him to be more busy and less happy. I regret that. Especially now I appreciate the true benefits of stillness. We need to just be. We don’t need to be busy all the time.

This is the quote from the HuffPost article that really resonated with me (from Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital.)

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

One of the things that makes me most stressed/unhappy/irritable is when my brain is full. There are two dozen things that need doing right away and my brain is processing them all.

I am learning (slowly) to prioritise. To accept my house will never be fully clean. I practice Mindfulness and tell those thoughts to just clear off for a while. It’s very liberating. But to the outside world I probably look lazy and, being an HSP, I care what the world thinks.

When I chose to be a stay-at-home-mum/writer I felt I had to be busy all the time, or people would think less of me. That I was more important or a better person when I worked 12-hour days to meet crazy deadlines.

I felt I had to drive myself to fill every minute and rush rush rush. I had to rush the kids to school, even though I didn’t have to get to work on time. I made excuses, I never stopped.

Then I broke.

I had suicidal thoughts. I came to believe the world would be better without me because I was so rubbish, so lazy, so incapable of being as good and busy and productive as all my doctor, nurse, teacher friends who were making a real difference in the world.

It was a dark time and it took medication and a good doctor and the support of a loving family to come through it. But, most of all, I had to learn to be kind to myself and forgive myself for not being everything I wanted to be or thought I should be.

I learned to nap when I need it, to leave early to pick up the kids so I’m not rushing. I learned it’s okay to read a book, knowing I made my choices.

Do I feel guilty that some people are the ‘have to be busy to make ends meet’ sort because they have bills to pay? Yes, I do. But sometimes I think even that is about choices for some (not all, most definitely). How often are we working for the next car, house, holiday when we wouldn’t need those things if we were happier in ourselves?

Do I still care what the world thinks and have to justify my actions? Of course; that’s why I’m writing this post after all. I still have ‘pity me’ moments. I still want the world’s sympathy. Want my life, my worries, to be more important than everyone else’s. But I see those thoughts for the intruders they are. They aren’t my thoughts, they’re learnt and inherited. I can choose to ignore them.

I share this prayer with Scott:

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.


19 thoughts on “Busy Is a Sickness

  1. Thank you!
    This post came at such a perfect time for me today.
    Thank you for giving me permission to enjoy the moment I am in, and to stop fretting about whether I am doing enough.
    I am already ‘enough.’ 🙂

  2. I am absolutely right there with you on this one. I feel busy all the time, even when the things that I’m stressing out over are things that could easily wait. And when I genuinely have nothing that needs doing, I stress myself out over all the things that I SHOULD be doing because dammit, I SHOULD be doing something! I definitely find it extremely difficult to relax, and even when I’m doing things that normal people would consider to be relaxing, I manage to convince myself that I’m still working. (“I have to finish this level in my video game because little missy will be home from school soon and I can’t play with her around, and if I don’t finish those last few episodes of Castle I’m not going to get another chance until the next time I’m on my days off from work, etc etc etc”.) I feel like a complete lunatic for thinking this way, but it always seems to happen, and the constant self-inflicted stress is all kinds of badness. I think I need one of those retreats where you have no contact to the outside world while you hang out on a sunny beach miles from civilization. lol

    • Heehee you’re describing my life. I’ve recently started playing computer games again (I try to avoid them because I get so addicted) and they feel like my job. I have to check my city, get my people working, conquer new lands. Ditto Castle – hubby is watching 2 episodes a night (while I snooze after having the kids all day) and I keep getting behind on the story. I feel I MUST catch up. Sometimes it’s good though: I can curl up with a book and call it working, when I’m completely relaxed, because it’s research!

      • Lord, I just realized I never replied to this. See, this is why I need a vacation; I’m so addle-brained that I can’t even remember to reply to comments after I read them. lol

        I’m totally with you on the computer games! I have a bunch of games on my phone that I let my daughter play when we’re driving long distances and one day I made the mistake of opening her My Little Pony game and clicking around. I ended up devoting half of my life to it for a few weeks before I convinced myself that I had to go cold turkey to get myself back together. lol

      • Hahahaha I actually spat my tea out when I read this. I lost most of December to Farmville, which at least stopped me worrying about Christmas, but it did mean I didn’t send any Christmas cards, despite buying them and the stamps… I’ve gone cold turkey on Farmville, but mostly only because the ipad keeps crashing when I play it! Better stick to writing…

  3. I am the same. When my in-laws ask me how much work I’ve got, I always say busy. I don’t want her to think that I am sitting doing nothing. That’s the problem when you work from home, especially in an often non-measurable quantity like writing. And I guess being busy makes me feel like I am worthwhile. I am also eternally busy at home, with writing, my blog, kids – it just never stops, but I know most of it is certainly self-inflicted. BTW – we talked a bit on my other blog, Setting The World to Rights, which I’ve abandoned for the time being!

      • I think it’s far less stressful just to be yourself on line. I can’t imagine trying to ‘keep up’ with a persona. I also know a blogger who thought she was anonymous but it turned out her neighbours etc knew of her blog and it all got a bit sticky.

      • You’re kidding?! I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe in horror! I have one about Sweden which is fairly anonymous, but I am still quite careful about what I say about the in-laws in case they somehow manage to read it!

  4. Fab post. It is so easy to get lost in what we do so we forget who we are. The Protestant work ethic has a lot to answer for. Very wise words and I like the idea of a script. It makes a lot of sense.



  5. Hi Amanda, I found your blog while I was looking at reviews for DeliciouslyElla. And then this post on business came along. How true, it resonates with me so much. I think we need a new paradigm to answer the daily questions: “how are you?” (What else can we say apart from: I am tired?), “how was your weekend?” (what else apart from: busy?), “what do you do in your time off work?” (how to reply without listing hundred of things that make ourselves look busy-good?). I try sometimes to answer things like: I am lucky, thanks, I live a privileged life, today I feel blessed. Or: I spent most of the weekend searching and trying a new vegan recipe which the kids actually ate. Or: This week I haven’t achieved much on my days off work, and this is a good result!
    However I find that these answers don’t sound too exciting; the “Doing”, the “achieving”, the “getting things done” is very female and my number 1 addiction. We congratulate each other amongst female friends, based on the number of things we actually manage to grind!
    So this is what I am working on right now: I am trying to work on the “helping” concept. I still feel good only when I work a lot, but instead of focusing on how much more I could do to be “right”, I am trying to see that I am helping, here and there. Helping the family cycle, to eat better, to explore creativity, helping the husband to rest, helping the manager at work to do more interesting things while I take care of many gaps, etc. Feeling that “I am helping” gives at least a sweeter colour to the perception of myself, and perhaps it might allow to focus more on people’s emotions rather than objectives reached. What do you think? Could it be a new trap?

    • Thank you for your great comment. I’ve always been a helper because I like feeling useful and needed. But it’s become a trap for me, especially with the kids, because these days I feel mostly used and under-appreciated! Even if someone didn’t ask for help I get grumpy if they’re not grateful! Not good. But I definitely agree it’s a much better purpose than being busy. ‘Remember what peace there may be in silence’ as the desiderata says. Maybe we just have to learn to be still and think of it as restoring balance to a frantic universe. Gosh now I sound like mystic meg. Sorry, it’s been a long day with lots of kids and I’m rambling!

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