Busyness as Anesthesia

It started with a TED Talk someone posted on Facebook:

Then I learned this brilliant woman wrote a couple of books, one of which (The Gifts of Imperfection) came highly recommended by a high school pal of mine. I loaded it onto my Kindle app and dove in.

This woman must’ve read my mail. Or my journal. Or my mind. The journey I began last year and am still navigating was encapsulated in ten little “guideposts.” She took thoughts and vague ideas floating around in my consciousness and arranged them like puzzle pieces into a coherent whole. I could write dozens of posts based on her book (and I can’t promise that won’t happen), but I experienced a particular lightbulb moment reading this weekend that is the focus of this particular post.

Within my sphere of influence, I’m probably famous for a few things: my singing, my hair, and my busy schedule. The first two I gladly embrace; the latter I recently began to intentionally combat. For much of the past decade or so, I prided myself on how much I could fit into my calendar. The pace I kept was borderline insane and as each season reached its inevitable climax I’d say to myself (and often, others), “After this is finished, things should slow down.” But they never did; I didn’t allow them to. I was aware enough to know I was keeping such a pace intentionally, but I assumed I did so because deep down I really enjoyed it. Why else would I do that to myself?

Then last year, without really knowing why, I felt like I needed to learn to be okay not having every waking moment scheduled. Maybe it was Dr. Colbert telling me my adrenal glands were in horrible shape and he was surprised I wasn’t sick. Maybe all those sermons on the importance of rest and Sabbath finally got through. Maybe the Holy Spirit was prompting. Whatever the reason, I started by forcing myself to spend chunks of time not doing or producing, but just being. I’d read a book, go for a walk, take a nap…things that fed my soul but I’d avoided because they made me feel guilty. I started saying no when I needed to. I became more purposeful with where I invested my time. Eventually, the feelings of guilt began to dissipate and I started to enjoy the benefits of living life with a sustainable schedule.

Saturday morning I was practicing one of these “just being” moments, reading more of Dr. Brown’s book. I got to a chapter entitled “Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness.” Feeling like a bit of an expert on numbing (heck, I already wrote about that myself!), I figured this chapter wouldn’t provide a whole lot of revelation for me. Then I got to a list of activities people use to anesthetize themselves: “alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, staying busy, affairs, chaos…”

Wait. Whaaaa? Lemme read that again.

“…caretaking, gambling, staying busy…?

There’s the lightbulb. In a second, I figured out why I’d kept the schedule I kept for ten years. Not only did overbooking myself afford me the opportunity to feel needed by lots of people, to produce a lot, to show off my overachiever-ness, it also left no time for me to deal with any of my feelings. No matter what happened, I always had an appointment or meeting or rehearsal or church service – somewhere I had to be or something I had to do. Once I began to get emotionally healthy, I subconsciously knew this had to change.

“The men and women in my study whom I would describe as fully engaged in Wholehearted living were not immune to numbing. The primary difference seemed to be that they were aware of the dangers of numbing and had developed the ability to feel their way through high-vulnerability experiences.” -Brené Brown

If we are to feel our way through high-vulnerability experiences, we need to create space in which to do so. Whether that means saying no to a big project, guarding your day off, or postponing dinner with friends (shout to to Nick and Julie!), we must learn not to take the edge off by staying busy. The end result will be a much healthier, happier, joy-filled you!

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4 thoughts on “Busyness as Anesthesia

  1. WHAT ON EARTH?? This is eerily word-for-word something I would write. WOW. This was a total punch in the gut that I needed to hear. People in my life have commented that they do not like that they have to schedule months in advance to hang out with me. After reading this, I can completely relate to your feelings of desiring to be needed and utilizing busyness as anesthesia. I have also been told by my Naturopath that my adrenals are constantly being overused as I live day-to-day in fight or flight mode.

    Thank you again for your insight!

    • Yup…those visits to naturopathic doctors can be life-altering, can’t they?! I wish you boldness and resolve as you attempt to make changes in your scheduling habits!

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