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.
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.