Why busy is making us sick

I came across a blog post by Anne Thériault over at The Belle Jar where she addresses our society’s glorification of busy. She writes:

We live in a culture that praises “busy” as the best thing a person can be – both in terms of employment and personal life. We’re encouraged to cram as many experiences and events and accomplishments into a 24 hour period as possible […]. Even when you’re relaxing or having fun, you’re still often tapping into that busy mindset. “Am I sufficiently relaxed? Should I be having more fun? What can I do to optimize this experience? If I’m not feeling good, is that because I’m just not trying hard enough?”

Her words resonated with something that I have always struggled with, but am finding even more difficult since I started my sick leave. Am I busy enough? What did I accomplish today? Will I be embarrassed if someone asks me, “What did you do this weekend?”

It’s not that I don’t want to lounge on my couch all weekend binge-watching Downton Abbey, but I fear the judgement, both self-imposed and external. I’m a driven, high achieving perfectionist and the farthest thing from lazy. So, for someone to think I’m lazy because I wasn’t “busy enough” over the weekend – well that’s pretty much the worst thing ever.

971f2a7939de28527f1e24e04e24a87bNow that I’m not at work, I am struggling with the cringe-worthy question, “What do you do all day? Aren’t you bored?” To be perfectly honest, I’m not bored at all. Most days I wake up late because the increase of my medication has me in a comatose/zombie-like state in the morning. And since I’m still struggling with anxiety, I can’t have a coffee to snap me out of it.

When I do finally manage to drag myself out of bed, I’ll surf the internet and maybe schedule some tweets. If I’m lucky, the desire to write will strike me, but more often than not it doesn’t, since stringing words together has become nearly impossible. If the weather is nice, then I’ll pressure myself into going outside for a  long walk (exercising is a good achievement, right?). If not, I’ll guilt myself into going to the gym (did you know cardio increases serotonin? Plus, the side effect of this medication is weight gain so I have to watch what I eat and exercise regularly).

But is this productive enough? I feel like since I’m home all day, I should be “keeping house.” That means, cleaning, doing laundry, groceries, cooking or other things that households need to operate. But there are only so many times that you can clean the bathroom before your partner starts to look at you funny. So I fill my afternoons with drawing, reading or watching movies. But who watches a movie at 3 p.m. in the afternoon? What’s the use of drawing or reading? It doesn’t fulfill a demand of something that needs to get done. It isn’t an accomplishment about which I can say at the end of the day, “Well, at least I did this.”

But why do I need to feel productive while on a sick leave?  Because our society values busy. If you’re not overworked, stressed out and completely on edge, you’re not doing it right. I actually asked my therapist if she thought I was “busy enough” and she looked at me in confusion.

“What do you mean busy enough?”

“Well, like am I doing enough to stave off a depressive episode. The weather’s changing and I’m really nervous about falling into a depression. I can already feel it coming. Am I doing enough to manage my anxiety? What else could I be doing to help support this process and get back to work faster?”

“You do realize it doesn’t work like that, right?” It was my turn to look like a confused puppy, my head cocked to the side. “You’re on leave because you’re sick – not because you aren’t trying hard enough. It’s a convalescence for your mind. So the fact that you’re worried about being busy is problematic.”

I’m sick, not lazy. My body may be fully functional, but my brain isn’t. This is the problem with mental health. It’s a mind-body tug of war that I always feel like I’m on the losing end of. I’m trying to regain a healthy lifestyle and limit stress. I’m on the precarious journey of balancing my medication. So sometimes, if all I do is watch a House Hunters marathon, that’s okay.

I’m not going to say that Theriault’s blog post or my therapist have stopped stopped the nagging voice that calls me lazy. However, what has changed is the fact that I now tell it to shut up because, to quote Thériault, “Fuck busy.”

This post originally appeared on Healthy Minds Canada.

One thought on “Why busy is making us sick

  1. Pingback: Working with a mental illness | Mad girl's lament

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