Ignoring Grief- The Downside of Staying Busy

I know you’re gonna recognize this.

“How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m fine, just keeping busy.”

That is not an answer. They asked how you’re doing, not what you’re doing. Busy is not a feeling, busy is not a state of mind! Or… have we turned it into one?

I’m going to be honest: I am the Queen of staying busy. To be fair, I always have been. I don’t exactly know how to sit still, and I’m the daughter of the biggest busybody I know. I excel at giving myself tasks and projects and goals and chores.

But do you know what happens when you exist at a full-on sprint for too long? Well, I’ll tell you.

My last month has been some twenty-something-nightmarishly-insane-bullshit. The one bright spot is that I’ve been prepping my blog for the past two months and finally got it up and running, which has been just as terrifying and uncomfortable as it has been triumphant and awe-inspiring. I’ve also been searching, applying, interviewing for, and beginning a new job I’m not sure is going to pay enough to cover my bills and which I may not even like. I’ve been phasing out of a job that became increasingly dramatic and exploitative. I’ve been hunting for a new place to live (unsuccessfully) while budgeting and prepping for the move itself, in hopes that it would actually happen. Add on Mother’s Day and my mom’s upcoming birthday, and I’m doing… so well.

It’s been a whirlwind. The fragile life I’ve crafted for myself here in Nashville has been picked up and tossed around. So when I got two days off in a row this week, where I had nothing planned or scheduled, I had no idea what to do. All this open time stretched out in front of me.

I thought, “I’m gonna set myself up for success! For the next busy stretch!”


I started day one by anxiously pacing my apartment, wondering how I was going to handle the responsibility of crafting my own day. How was I going to make it as productive as possible? How was I gonna get the most out of it? (Should I go to yoga? Or should I do some strength training? OR should I just scrap the idea of a class and take Huck to the park instead?) I started to have a literal anxiety attack about what kind of workout I should do. I don’t even want to tell you what happened when I tried to decide which time to go.

The idea of choosing what to do and in what order made my heart start to race and feel like it was rising into my throat. I thought “holy shit what is wrong with me?!” Why couldn’t I just see two days of a blissful empty schedule as a really awesome opportunity to do whatever I wanted and take care of myself?

Why? Because I was so afraid of what would happen if I wasn’t busy. Because if I didn’t have every hour of my day filled, I could start to actually worry about all these things I’d been successfully breaking down into the minutiae of tasks and lists, because I hadn’t allowed myself to look up and see the looming picture.

I couldn’t confront the fact that I was truly scared I would fail. I couldn’t confront the fact that I desperately wanted to call my mom and ask her if I was making the right decisions. I couldn’t confront the fact that I was physically aching for her to tell me it was going to be okay- that she was proud of me for taking risks and that she would never allow me to fall. Like she used to.

I always used to know without question she would be there to catch me.

To make a long story short, my second day ended in a major meltdown and a literal sleepless night. It was 11 PM and I was still sobbing, knowing full well my alarm was set for 3:30 am for work. So yeah, i reallllly succeeded in that whole “setting myself up for success” thing.

I still have so much work to do on giving myself the permission to lie still and just allow myself to be. But you know what that really means?

I still have so much work to do on my ability to be brave enough to lie still and accept whatever thoughts and feelings may come to me in the absence of distraction.

When all is quiet, and my mind finally has a chance to stop focusing on the next task at hand, I start to go into a really scary headspace. Because keeping busy is also keeping distracted.

The feeling is like watching a water droplet hanging from a leaf. At first, it’s small and still. Perfectly balanced on the very edge. But then the swelling of the droplet that was once imperceptible is now becoming obvious. The droplet is growing. The weight of the extra water starts to pull it down. In a moment, it breaks off from the leaf and plummets to the ground.

By the end of day two, by the end of frantically trying to stave off my grief and anxiety, all those realizations of how much I need my mom came popping up. I started to question all of the decisions I made so hurriedly, from the job, to the apartment, to my writing, to my relationships, to my finances… every detail of my month was under the microscope. Or rather, blown out of proportion. The imperceptibly growing weight of all those things on my heart suddenly became too much to bear. And I broke.

Here’s the problem, though. We are in that age where we have just got to be hustling. There isn’t another option. I couldn’t not find a new job. I couldn’t just decide to not look for an apartment. I couldn’t put off the blog- because I had told people I was going to do it. It won’t always be full speed ahead, but sometimes it has to be.

So how do we balance the busy nature of being a twenty something with the absolute need to not ignore what’s going on in the deeper layers of our thoughts?

My advice, to you and to myself, is to not let that buildup become so powerful that you get this point. I have learned the hard way. Check in with yourself frequently. Set aside just ten minutes at the end of every day to journal. Or call someone who helps you think these things through. Or meditate. Just allow yourself to be thoughtful. Allow yourself to sit still. Zoom out and get the big picture view. It doesn’t have to be for long. Some amazing advice I’ve gotten is to set a timer. Grab your phone, set the time to 10 minutes, and let yourself to do nothing for those precious minutes besides breathing, taking stock of your mental state, and letting yourself settle back into your mind.

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