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When "Crazy Busy" Is a Way of Avoiding Emotional Connection

Five ways to figure out what's filler and what's fulfillment.

 Nick Fewings/Unsplash
Source: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Being in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, many people are asking themselves the question, "Have I filled up my life with things that don't really matter to me?" The grim reminder that none of us are in as much control as we might think, and that an undetected virus can attack so suddenly, may be causing you to pause. And think. And perhaps even wonder where you want your life to go, or what you might be avoiding by staying "crazy busy."

What have you truly missed? Or what's been "filler" that has added very little meaning to your life?

Filler vs. Fulfillment

Let's talk about the difference.

If you look up the definition of fulfillment, it means "a happy contentment" about something you've achieved.

But let's put the word “personal” in front of fulfillment. All of a sudden curiosity, exploration, and deeper purpose enter the picture. This definition of personal fulfillment covers it well; "a lifelong process of self-exploration. The first place to start is the recognition that personal fulfillment is never a destination. It’s about constantly searching for the ways we’re invited to a deeper experience in what it means to be human." It evolves, ebbs and flows, and is ever-inviting to anyone who seeks it.

Filler is empty. Filler uses up time. But filler can help you avoid emotions you don't want to feel. It also can steal the opportunity to discover personal fulfillment.

Perfectly Hidden Depression and the Pandemic

Marianne strongly identifies with perfectly hidden depression; she's only begun trying to loosen her grip on the perfect-looking life she's created. Yet underneath the huge smiling welcome she gives everyone, she's allowing herself to slowly realize the depth of her silent sadness.

The pandemic has barely slowed any one of these folks down. Yet as everyone else's routine has changed, as children are at home 24/7, as parents try to juggle kids and work and school, perhaps the urgency and pressure with which they must fill every minute of every day has become painfully more clear.

Because with quiet comes a chance to be in the present, for emotions to be recognized, memories to emerge. And that? That's not welcome. Emotional control remains paramount—that is, until the cost gradually becomes more apparent and damaging.

In session, Marianne was wondering aloud. “Even if I do something that seems fulfilling, how do I know that I’m not simply filling up my life with one more thing 'to do'?" She laughed as she said those words, but then allowed a shadow of sadness to appear as she recognized the level of her own confusion. She had no litmus test for discerning which was which—things others expected of her that she must do (and do better than anyone else) or things that might bring her a sense of exploration and personal fulfillment.

The question is a good one. How can you tell what brings true fulfillment and what stands in as a defense against feeling less in control?

5 Ideas to Help

  1. Look for the source. Tom says frequently in session, “My dad frequently chided, 'Isn't there something you should be doing?' And boy, did I swallow that hook, line, and sinker. ... I cannot create time to just be." Maybe you're following rules that were modeled for you, but no longer work within the partnership or the life you want to build. Tom's might be, "I must always stay productive." Try writing those rules down and then ask yourself, "Is there a better rule for my life now?'
  2. Grieve how staying busy became so important. What purpose did being busy have in your childhood? Maybe it kept you away from an abusive or neglectful or alcoholic home. Maybe being highly accomplished was the only way you got any attention at all as one day you’d hoped to hear, “I’m so proud of you.” Maybe staying crazy busy was then and is now a way for you to not leave enough space in your own mind and heart for painful memories to be allowed in.
  3. Journal about your beliefs about sadness. Write out, “If I feel sad, I’ll _______.” Then fill in the blank. “Never stop.” “Have a breakdown.” “Look vulnerable.” “Feel silly.” “Not know what to do with it.” “Not look strong.” “Not be grateful enough.” It could be a myriad of answers. You can do the same exercise with anger or fear or disappointment or whatever. You have beliefs about emotions. And those beliefs are telling you that being crazy busy is far better than allowing emotion in. When you write down those beliefs and wonder, “Do I want to believe this? Is this what I want to teach my own children?” A quick heads up. You may have to confront fear or discomfort that has been around for quite a while.
  4. Figure out the filler in your life—and those things that bring you fulfillment. Make a list of, “What I've missed” and, “What I haven't” during the pandemic, from little things to bigger ones. And begin to wonder how you could ease those fillers out of your life.
  5. Visualize how to say "no." Make a list of priorities, both tangible ones and intangible ones. Begin to plan out how you'd let go of filler and risk creating more time that's not filled with tasks. You may fear that with more space in your life, emotions will emerge. Seek help if you need to remind yourself that those feelings are important, because they're yours, and honoring them and having compassion for yourself is as vital to your sense of fulfillment as anything you might accomplish or achieve.

And perhaps you can find the peace of more personal fulfillment in your life, as you risk and discover and grow.

Perhaps a strange gift from a pandemic, but a gift that has value in its clarity.

Click here for a questionnaire indicating where you might fit on the spectrum of perfectly hidden depression.

More from Margaret R Rutherford Ph.D.
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