Busyness Does Not Become Her (or serve her either)

Part of me really loves being busy. Did I say busy? I really mean compulsive. I pride myself on mowing through the day, driving myself to get one more to-do done (ta-dah!), ticking down my list. I have joked that I might add one of those acronym type credentials to my signature: Martha Buttenheim, GSD ("Gets S#@!%& Done")

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I admit that I am gratified by the resulting sense of accomplishment, the high praise from others, the self-satisfaction ...It's part of my identity, dammit, and my ego is highly invested. Yes, I tend to overdo it, wear myself out, get overly perfectionistic. And yet, and yet - it's so very satisfying. In fact, it's a comfortable and calming place for me, despite those pesky downsides aforementioned that can, in turn, ripple into a whole secondary set of problems like say, falling asleep at the wheel, or being cranky and stubborn with a loved one trying to get between me and a dirty kitchen at midnight.

Last fall, I no sooner finished up the Thanksgiving cooking mania for our (many) returning adult children, than I headed to New Jersey to spend a few days with my parents. They are 89 and 92, both wheelchair bound, and very fragile. They are also increasingly confused, particularly my mother who suffered her second mini-stroke last August. I threw myself into de-cluttering their den, decorating their apartment for Christmas, running odd errands, helping coordinate doctor appointments - I was supremely busy and therefore, happily in my comfort zone. Returning to Connecticut, I attended a lecture that Thursday evening, and drove to a conference out of town the next morning. That very night 100 neighbors came to our house for a party - I won't try to describe how and when we set up for that, except suffice it to say that sleep drew the short straw.  Saturday I shampooed red wine, squished pomegranite seeds and brownie bits out of the carpets, washed a gazillion wine glasses, bathed both dogs (this was an urgent need), and we attended a (potluck) dinner party. By Sunday we faced more post-party clean up and then hey, it's only mid-afternoon, let's go Christmas shopping!

On Monday morning, I was to be coached by a fellow coach. I started off talking about some nebulous sense of anxiety I was having, I "thought" perhaps to do with issues about whether I was being productive with my time. (Yes, I actually said that.) When my coaching partner suggested I get in touch with my body to examine this anxiety, I got very still and started to describe a giant raw cavern in my stomach - with teeth. Suddenly, I was WEEPING about my parents and their infirmities, about their slow diminishment and about my gradual and tremendous loss of them. She very kindly held space for me while I tried to allow all the complicated feelings I have about my parents to flow through.

Finally, I said, "That's just how I know how to take care of them.  I'm a machine!" A machine. I realized what I'd said right as it came out of my mouth and we both laughed. Uh, hello! Machines "mow", "drive" and "tick" and they have no feelings!  My relentless busyness had been serving as a super-efficient mask of my very real emotions. My compulsiveness was indeed comfortable and calming as I was already aware - but in the sense of numbing

So note to self, going forward: at those times when I am whipping myself into a whirling dervish of doing or when I just find myself restless about being "productive" enough, I'm learning to be on high alert. What am I avoiding feeling? My feelings will only eat me up from the inside out with those ferocious teeth if I don't give them voice and recognition.  I may just need a really good cry with a sympathetic listener.  All of our painful feelings just want to be heard and tended with gentle attention and compassion, best done in stillness, not frenzy.