When busyness and happiness coexist.
I’m a busy person. For a long time I thought that was a bad thing: am I busy like the cult-of-busyness-busy, wearing my busyness as a badge of honour, a symbol of my commitment to productivity under late stage capitalism? Or am I busy in an avoidant way, frantically filling my days so I never have any time alone with my thoughts, lest I have to actually do some self reflection? Either of these reasons would be legitimate — it is the sad but true system we live in, after all, that we do have to hustle under capitalism, and most of us have suffered traumas in our lives that we’d rather paste over and cover up with work. But neither of these are the reasons I’m so busy, and I am saying this so that people will stop remarking on my busyness, either with admiration or scorn, both of which often happen. I’m busy because finally, I can be.
I have struggled for so long. Holding down a job was a daily struggle for years because of my mental health. I couldn’t finish my undergraduate degree, finally dropping out after dragging it out for seven years. I didn’t have energy for hobbies, friends, or socialising. All those great plans I once had, my ambitions and desires, were hidden under layers of trauma, devastation and neglect. Even on the odd occasions when I did rediscover a spark of interest, it was quickly crushed by another bad relationship, caring role, act of violence. For so long I thought I would forever be mediocre, barely able to hold my head above water, and certainly never destined to achieve anything of note.
Until a few years ago, I never understood the people who went on about how remarkable architecture was. Or flowers in spring time. Or ice-cream. I had more pressing things weighing me down — survival, for instance. There was no space in my head to see beauty, or even to see pain that wasn’t my own. It’s why I gave up being vegan — I no longer had the head space to think about factory farming, or animal suffering, or alternative sources of protein. I needed my life to be as simple as possible in order get myself out of bed each morning and keep functioning.
I moved through the world like it was mud.
Psychologists call this ‘constriction’, where you reduce your perceptual field in order to deal with more pressing needs. Collapsing into a depression where you avoid the world is better than having to deal with not only sensory overload, but having to choose between competing needs. Alongside this constriction, I was the opposite of busy. I moved through the world like it was mud, and I a person who could neither walk nor swim.
About four years ago things started to change for me. I left an abusive relationship and entered into a positive, healthy one for the first time in my life. I started seeing a new therapist who really pushed me to mine the depths of my trauma, and I finally started processing it. I went back to study, happily graduated earlier this year, and will be starting a research degree next year. And I started doing burlesque, which gave me a sense of self confidence, worth and power I’d never felt before. None of these things happened at once, but over the years they have all worked to help me become a much happier, healthier — and yes, busier — person.
Now that I finally have the capacity, it is a privilege to be busy.
Now, you see, I have the capacity to be busy. I can run my business, do postgraduate study, do my consulting work, train and perform my burlesque, undertake a performing arts residency with burlesque (woohoo!), and have a functioning relationship because I have the head space for it. It is a privilege to be this busy. Now I no longer have old traumas pushing intrusively into my day, derailing me for days or weeks at a time, I can devote that time to other things. Now I don’t have to constantly be afraid for my safety, I can spend that energy on things that bring me joy. And nothing brings me more joy than dancing, studying, and coming home to a wife who loves and supports me.
I’m no longer buying into the idea that being busy is bad, or at least, that all types of busyness are bad. Sure, we all need to carve out down time, and make space for self-care. But I’m not talking about busy to the point of burn out — I’m talking about busy to the point of happiness. My life is finally fulfilling. I don’t know if this clarity, free from trauma and ill health, will last forever, and so I’m making the most of it while I can. And if I do get sick again, at least I will know that I did what I could, while I could. For now, though, I will do all the things that make me happy, and I will see the beauty in the flowers in spring.