The Deception of Keeping Busy

Creative Commons Photo by Maria Shanina

Creative Commons Photo by Maria Shanina

I’ve spent the past two days in bed- dizzy, nauseous, feverish, and angry that I can’t work.  I’ve had these symptoms since Saturday night when I woke up at 2am in a sweat about a specific bill I had forgotten about.  I had class and a great family event the next day, so I chose to ignore the waves of exhaustion and the way the room spun when I stood up, and journeyed on in spite of it all.  By Sunday night I was asking Ben if he ever felt like his bones didn’t fit together properly, and he rightly suggested I stay home from work.

So I took a day off.  For my mind, right?  I’m not really sick!  I’m invincible!  And clearly due to my lack of auditioning and lack of blog writing, I couldn’t possibly be doing enough.  So I should probably do things all day.  Which I did, and so I got sicker.  I woke up Monday night with a higher fever, more nausea, and the determination to make it subside before work in the morning.  So I went in and lasted a whole two hours.  I finally got the hint and planted myself, against my urge to “make the most of my time,” and binge-watched Rectify until the sun went down.  Ben magically appeared with an array of soups that evening, and I started to make the climb toward health.

The room still spins but I’m back at my desk.  I couldn’t stay home again, I was losing my marbles.  I haven’t had that much time without structure since the freelancing days.  And I know what you might be thinking, “I would LOVE time off like that!” But it’s a funny thing –when you’re moving along with this many projects, and you suddenly are suddenly rendered incapable of focusing on ANY of them, where does your mind go?  I felt so out of it I could barely read, so that cuts out pretty much all of my usual activities.

What remained were the very basic tasks I flock toward when I am not keeping my ducks in a line:  Netflix, exercising and….social media.  Exercising was out of the question and watching too much Rectify makes you super sad, so that left Facebook.  It turns out, that in between tasks, my hand goes right for my phone to scroll through the various news feeds until I am ready to move on to something else.  So in these two days, I learned two things:

  1. I have forgotten how to completely shut off.
  2. Too much Facebook/twitter/instagram scrolling changes the story in my mind.

And by the “story”, I mean the voice that fills us in on where we think we stand in life.  When I get up and go to work, go to class, learn my lines, read a book, or even watch a tv show, the “story” is supportive, it’s active and positive.  When I get scrolling, it’s passive and often negative.  I start comparing, judging, and projecting.  Or better yet, I put something out there, and wait for something to come back.  I act and I expect an answer.  I don’t hate social media, not in the least, and I know there is a way to use without going into this dark headspace.  And yet when social media is all that fills the “in-between” spaces, who do I become?  The option for every moment of the day becomes: DO something, or passively react to what your friends are doing.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of why I burn out every several months.  Some months I really get writing and submitting for shows, I truly get on a roll.  Suddenly, I face plant into a wall of “I hate writing and theatre and cooking and everything ever good night.”  I sleep it off, write a blog post about what I learned, and start the cycle over.  But why does this happen?  And where is it getting me?

This time around, now that I am coming out of a recent burnout, I am going to focus on the space in between.  Where does my mind and energy go when I am not in the middle of a task?  Do I fill in the time with frustration and judgement?  Or do I fill it in with silence and rest?  Also, do I feel the need to receive something in return for these moments-  such as likes, views, or comments.

I always find it hilarious when people make comments about artists being lazy or trying to get out of the “real life responsibilities.”  I have never met a group of people less likely to give themselves the gift of mental space.  It’s the gift to do something with no outcome- maybe you are literally sitting and watching the leaves blow.  You have no tangible reward, project, paycheck, resume line, article topic, or Facebook post to contribute that moment to- you’re simply just sitting and watching the damn leaves blow.  But it’s hard when you know that you are in a business deeply effected by personal growth.  If you learn something by watching the leaves blow, you want to latch on to it and share it with the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but then, are we watching the leaves blow simply to find something to contribute?  Ah!  We’ll drive ourselves insane.

So my challenge for myself, and for you if you relate, is to choose a “non-activity” with no outcome.  Something unplanned, for five minutes (amount really doesn’t matter), just to do something without expectation, judgement, or the need to share it online.  Go for a walk (without your fitbit), eat some chocolate, have some tea, pet a cat!  The irony is that taking these moments and adding them up may actually improve your mental health in the long run, but thinking about that may defeat the purpose of the exercise.  So I’m putting down my phone, going for a walk, and I am not going to return with pictures or a post about how it went.  I’m just going to go watch the damn leaves blow.

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