The cult of busy

How many times a week do you find yourself responding to the question “How are you?” with “Good! Busy, but good!”

For me, it’s almost every single time I’m asked the question. And it’s not that it’s my automatic, rote response. I am being sincere when I exclaim (or sometimes just state, matter-of-factly), that I am, indeed, a very busy person.

But, what does that mean exactly? Busy compared to what? Or whom? Isn’t it all kind of relative anyway? I wonder if the feeling of being busy is actually just a symptom of poor time management. I also wonder if we, as a culture, conflate activity and productivity? If we’re constantly doing things, filling our time with doing, even if we’re not accomplishing anything, can we call that busy?

busy

Here’s the thing; somewhere along the way (I’m not sure when or how, but it’s been a progressive evolution), people have gradually lost time in their days. Days aren’t shorter, the last time I checked, there’s still 24 hours in each one. I think the loss, or feeling loss of time is partly that we work longer hours, we have longer commutes, we drive our kids everywhere, and go further afield as we navigate urban sprawl to get places. We pack our kids’ weeks with lessons and classes and play dates and birthday parties (which all, inexplicably to me, must be chaperoned by a parent), and spend an inordinate amount of time in the car, shuffling children to and fro.

For singles, especially in a big metropolis with lots to offer, we fill our time with work, undoubtedly, which often bleeds into our social lives – I have so many work friends! We log volunteer hours (which is a worthy use of time, in my opinion) and go on dates (for some of us, that takes up the time of – and feels as arduous as – a second job). And more to the point, we join groups, we chair committees, we write blogs (ha!), we plan weekend getaways with friends, and we go to events.

The point is, my friends, not that we fill our time with these wonderful, varied and worthy things which amount to us being busy, but that somewhere along the way, being busy itself became an accomplishment, a badge of honour, a bragging right, something of which to be proud, and to which to aspire.

That’s the thing I’m interested in – I don’t really care how you fill your time outside of your core life responsibilities, I just hope everyone is happy exploring the things and endeavors which sustain them and bring them joy. I’m interested in the psychology behind why we, as a whole, seem compelled to let everyone know how busy we are. It’s become a stick by which to measure our worthiness, I think. It’s subtle, and mostly subconscious, but it’s pervasive. It’s like we’ve all collectively agreed that we’re in a competition and whoever is the busiest gets the prize.

And I’m certainly guilty of it. Maybe it comes from a deep, dark place where my insecurities live, and I imbue all the things I do, the ways in which I like to keep busy, with (perhaps) undue importance, to subconsciously compensate for the fact that I don’t have a family (of my own) to keep me busy. I’ve never really thought about it in those terms before. Hmmm, methinks I might be on to something…

Or not. I mean, I’ve always been this way. I’ve always been a joiner, a doer. I like being a part of things, I like exploring parts of myself through social interactions, volunteering and educational pursuits, and I’m not particularly fond of routine. My mom always tells me “you’d be bored if you weren’t busy” and she’s probably right. And boredom, for me, as it turns out is perilous to my mental health. I know that now. My mom is always worried that I’m burning the candle at both ends though, and she signs off almost every conversation we have on the phone by telling me to eat something, go to bed early and not to work too hard. I love it, it’s endearing, because what she’s really saying is “I love you,” so I always answer, “yes mom, I will, you’re right I should, and I’ll try not to.”

I don’t think I’m going to stop keeping myself busy. It’s just who I am, and what fuels me and brings me joy. I think I will, however, try to be a bit more conscious of how much of my worth I’m gleaning from how busy I am. When people ask me how I am, I’m going to start answering the question a bit more genuinely, and resist the urge to declare with pride all the things I have going on in my life, because that’s not really an answer, is it?

I’m off to New York City tomorrow for a few days to sing at Carnegie Hall with my choir. I’m very excited. A few of my best friends are coming along for the trip (and to support me, of course), and we have some touristy things planned. But, I’m going to focus on enjoying myself, being in the moment, and relishing this once in a lifetime opportunity to sing on that stage under the baton of John Rutter. I’m going to slow down, take it all in, and not for one second, worry about how many things I can pack into the days I’ll be there. I don’t want this trip to be a whirlwind, I want to savour it, and for once in my life, not be busy.

Back from the dead

Of course, I wasn’t actually dead. I just felt like I was. Which seems quite hyperbolic as I write it now, but if we’re being metaphorical, (and we are because obviously I don’t know what it feels like to be dead) because I’ve never been dead before (or have I? Who knows!?!), I would liken what I’ve been experiencing lately to what I imagine feels like coming back from the dead.

Depression is no joke. We talk all the time about working to erase the stigma of mental illness, and I suppose that’s what my underlying intention is here, because this certainly isn’t easy for me to share. But it’s necessary, I think. The truth is, guys, that I’ve been struggling lately. A lot. In a way that I’ve never struggled before, which is saying a lot, because I’ve been through some shit.

I’m not sure when this all started, but I suspect that it’s been lying in wait for quite some time. My doctor suggests that it was actually a series of triggers that for whatever reason, as I experienced them in succession, resulted in severe depression. I’ve also learned that my depression is exacerbated by my newly-discovered Hypothyroidism. Or it was the Hypothyroidism that incited the depression. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, really, and I don’t think we’ll ever really know for certain. So, there’s a lot going on, a lot to unpack, and it’s really just the beginning.

6157935293_5318232873_zYou know that saying “you must know the darkness before you can appreciate the light” (or something like that)? That’s the kind of…awakening I’ve been experiencing lately. Now that I’m taking medication and seeing a therapist and working on my self-care, I’m beginning to feel much better. But, the surprising thing is that I didn’t know how crappy I was feeling until I started to feel better. I was buried so deeply in the darkness that I didn’t even realize it until I started to see some light trickle in. That’s the thing about depression, it sneaks up on you.

I can feel a boost in my energy, although I’m still struggling with fatigue and exhaustion. But, it’s getting better. I’ve noticed that my legs and feet don’t hurt as much as they used to, I’m not as stiff and inflexible as I was, and it doesn’t hurt as much to go up and down stairs. I’m laughing more, I’m not canceling plans as often as I was to just stay home on my couch. I’m slowly becoming more engaged with my life again. I can feel that I’m able to focus more, my memory is better, I’m less distracted. It’s like I’ve been living in a fog for the last couple of years (if I’m being honest) but had no idea. Depression just seeped into my life, like the insidious disruptor that it is, and I was oblivious. Until I wasn’t.

I’m lucky though. I’m lucky that I had a specific incident that made me realize something was really wrong. If that hadn’t happened, who knows how much longer I would have continued to numbly stumble through my life, thinking everything was my fault and shortcoming, until something very terrible happened?

I’m lucky that I’m a grown woman with well-developed and solid life skills to manage myself through this. Once I realized that something was very wrong with me, I made an appointment with my doctor and sought counseling. If I was younger, or perhaps just a different, less experienced person, I’m not sure I would have made those decisions so quickly and easily. If I was a person who was caught up in the stigma of mental illness, I might have tried to hide what I was experiencing. And if I hadn’t gone to the doctor and suggested to her that I get blood work done just to rule anything out, I would never have known that my Thyroid was practically non-functioning and making me ill.

I’m lucky that I work for a company with excellent benefits across the board, but particularly for mental health. Whether I could afford medication or therapy didn’t even cross my mind. All I had to worry about was getting the help I need.

And I’m lucky because I have wonderful friends. I mean really, truly the best. If I have ever doubted for even a second (which I thankfully never have) that my friends love me and want the best for me, this ordeal has only cemented for me the knowledge that I have surrounded myself with the most caring, loving and supportive friends a girl could ask for. And ditto for my family, boss and colleagues.

I’m clawing my way out of this. I want to feel better, I don’t want to live in a foggy, hazy world where everything is distorted through a grim, hopeless lens. I want to emerge from the dark and not only find the light again, I want to be the light again. I was, once. I think I can get back there. I just have to continue to ask for help, focus on self-care and health, and remember that there are others who aren’t as lucky as I am. There are lots of people who live in darkness every day, struggling to let the light trickle in.

Be kind to one another, be the light.