Hyper-busy & Quiet in 23 Years

Originally posted on the Cult of Busy site, reposted here given it is my original work:

Busy was my trademark of the first 22 years of my life. Think of any activity imaginable in elementary, high school, and university and I did it. Academic achievement coupled with clubs, causes, sports, music/theatre, and student government—quite literally everything. And I loved it. There was probably only one wavering moment towards the end of those 22 years where I realized I was kind of doing a lot, though I still can’t quite bring myself to say too much. My long-standing high level of involvement shaped me for the better. I learned a great deal about others, myself, and how the two interact.

The spring I turned 22 I also graduated from my undergrad. I lost a lot that spring all to gain one uniquely sized piece of paper with special fonts, pantones, signatures, and stamps. I lost my status as a student. I lost my titles, my positions, and my prized activities. Everything I did was in effect, done. Done? It was over? That’s it? I felt almost unsatisfied, dare I say disgruntled. But this was my everything. I lived for what I did. I was who my titles said I was. I was Melissa, President of my faculty. I was Melissa, Residence Don. I was Melissa, who was known for being busy.

People would excuse my ultimately selfish, paradoxically antisocial, and really quite rude behaviour on account of “that’s just Melissa, she’s just busy.” Some people would remark with reverence and praise while others would reprimand with justified anger and disappointment. I probably let down each of the very special people I call friends to this day – many, many times in the limited window of time we had together.

I am not sure if or when I burnt out but all I knew was I needed to stop. So I did. That same spring I turned 22 and graduated I stopped everything: volunteering, leading, interacting, socializing even, and studying intensely (despite the fact that I enrolled in a Master’s program for that fall—oops). The people who praised my over-involvement were often amazed at “how I did it all,” but for me stopping was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Harder than any exam, any course, leadership position, or any problem I tried to solve.

I have been on each end of the spectrum. I kept a schedule from 8am-3am for months at a time and I have sat at home in utter silence for weeks on end without a responsibility in the world—or so it seemed. Given the broad range of my experience with busy, I have a hypothesis and despite that I may be supporting it here with anecdotal personal evidence (an academic faux pas), indulge me for just a moment.

I busied myself into blind oblivion for just shy of 10 years all for the sake of not stopping. It was as if in the back of my mind I knew that stopping would allow me to think. And who knows where thinking can lead! As it was with the blurry race that was my life I somehow managed to think a great deal. Some of that thinking lead to quite painful realizations or acknowledgements that were far better left unknown in my opinion—especially given my incapacity to deal with them at the time.

One of those things has to do with my father. December 2004 was the last time I ever saw or heard from my father again. Strange how you can be in the same home as someone for 14 years and then they disappear to go on living an entirely different life, as if they never once created your life. I spent a solid six years in denial that anything that occurred had even affected me. Besides, absence is better than abuse I would justify as I pushed the pain into the deepest vault of my mind. Simultaneously I took on every task, project, cause, and endeavor imaginable so as not to think about the possibility that maybe it did affect me. At the end of those six years, a mere 20, I finally acknowledged that perhaps it had affected me yet I still maintained quite the schedule and even spiraled into a more hectic lifestyle as the years went on. It wasn’t until I stopped, that spring I turned 22, that I actually reflected and maybe tried to start dealing with all the feelings. All I can say so far is in that year long journey I found myself to be deeply affected by what happened but not limited—which has since become my mantra of the ordeal.

Time makes us vulnerable. We have no choice but to yield to it. It tells us when we eat, sleep, even defecate. It dictates when we grow taller, breasts, or rounder. Time is acutely attuned to our individual expiry dates unbeknownst to us. There is a vulnerability in time. There is an opportunity for your mind to wander into its depths; caverns usually far off the beaten trail of “getting things done” as haphazardly as possible.

Quiet—it is a very simple word. It seems almost nice, friendly, or inviting even. But I think quiet is a word that can cause people to shudder more than some of the most offensive, intrusive, and aggressive words in our language.

Our society is bred to go. Bred to move. We are told all our lives we are human beings but we are defined by our doings and shoved into doing daily. Quiet is stopping. Quiet is reflecting. Quiet is vulnerability. I think we are tremendously afraid of openness and vulnerability even to ourselves. I believe that we as a society are afraid of what our minds will reveal in that stillness. I know I was and largely still am.

Furthermore, when we are busy we neglect our relationships. You can try to defend this saying that you are “there when it matters” or that you “show up for the important things.” But, is a relationship merely built upon “the important things?” What are these alleged important things? Is it not important to go for walks and strolls or even just lie in stillness with those you hold dear to let your minds wander independently together?

In the first 22 years of my life I had a personal policy to I ensure I attended at least one “major” event per friend each year. Looking back, that was a pathetic and impersonal policy. I reflect fondly on the times that I did stop with my friends, if only for a moment. I wish there were more memories to hold while I have the capacity to remember them. From hyper busy to evaporated responsibility, I have learned that “work-life balance” is a lifelong negotiation, not a day-to-day tightrope walk. There should always be a time to dive deep into your dreams without looking back or sideways. But we as a society need to stop being so afraid of the moments in which we rest, choose to stop, and be quiet. When you open yourself up to the vulnerability of the new things you might learn when your mind is free to think deeply, it helps make you more complete.