When I looked up the word ‘busy,’ the dictionary provided me with three definitions: (1) occupied; (2) full of activity; (3) not free. I went to Urban Dictionary and found a one more: attempting to seem important. I would also add my own to the mix: an all-too common answer to the question, “How are you?”
I have lived a ‘busy’ life from the perspective of all five of the above descriptions. At times, a good friend described my pace as ‘warp speed.’ I’m surprised that my children’s first words were not ‘hurry up’. We referred to the school ‘kiss and ride’ drop off zone affectionately as ‘stop, drop and roll.’ I sat at the side of the soccer field in the bowed head pose of the ‘Blackberry prayer’ while my boys ran up and down the field. Yes, I was certainly busy – occupied, full of activity, self-important and definitely not free.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I am sure that part of my fast pace had to do with a great fear of being still with my own thoughts. The quality of the activity wasn’t a priority as long as I was always in motion. If I moved fast enough, I hoped that my depression and anxiety couldn’t catch me. If I kept all the balls in the air, I would ensure that no one would see through my mask of competence. I wore my wild schedule like a badge of honour right up until it all quite literally came crashing down.
For a time, I was forced to move over to the slow lane. Initially, this was devastating to me; I felt like a failure. Much of my time was spent considering how I got to where I was. I spent many days out for walks and discovered the sights, sounds and smells that had previously gone by in a blur. I realized that I was often so fully occupied that I hardly ever appreciated the moments of my day. I remembered being at a concert that I had looked forward to for weeks, only to be overwhelmed by thoughts of everything else I needed to be doing as soon as it started. Instead of enjoying what I had looked forward to, I missed it even while I sat in the theatre seat. Just one more thing to check off my ‘to do’ list.
While I know the overwhelming nature of my own busy life was exacerbated my mental illness, I think that the current culture of more, faster, and often means that everyone has their own story of dealing with a wildly busy lifestyle. At work, there was always more to do than there was time for; the sandwich generation deals with the needs of their children and aging parents – no wonder we all get caught up in busy-ness.
Being off work for the past short while I have discovered that I am still very busy. It reminds me of when I run into people who have retired and, with a beaming smile and a face that looks ten years younger than when they were working, they tell me they don’t know how they ever fit work into their schedule. It occurs to me that the difference is all in the choice of activities and the ability to live in the moment.
While I don’t recommend the path that led me to my epiphany, I do think that everyone could benefit from moving over to the slow lane from time to time. I confess to falling into old patterns occasionally, but every day now I try to focus on being busy both doing the right things and enjoying them in the present. And while I am often ‘fully occupied,’ I am happy to say that I rarely feel like I am ‘not free.’ Now if I could just figure out how to cultivate that ‘ten years younger’ look… but that is a blog for another day.
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.