Monday, June 02, 2014

"I just have too much to do"

A common way to avoid facing problems is to stay very busy. I have friends who keep themselves booked so solidly that they don't have time to think about if they're really happy or what they can do about their job situation or why a relationship isn't working, etc. Spread thinly across vocation, home and hobbies, they can tell themselves they're too busy to see a doctor about that pain, have a heart-to-heart with their partner, or call their mother. Busy, busy, busy. It's an effective way to avoid things.

I don't do this. My defense mechanism is to keep everything at bay, limit my commitments, not get too involved, and not bite off more than I can chew. I cannot tolerate feeling overwhelmed, so the coping tactic of staying busy to avoid problems doesn't work for me. I have carefully created a life with plenty of free time.

With all this empty space in my daily life, how do I avoid thinking about my problems? My escape mechanisms are things like sleeping and reading and watching shows on Hulu. I occupy my mind and squeeze out anything unpleasant by focusing on the emptiness of made-up narrative. I also like naps.

But Americans like to fill up our days and nights with activity, so our coping mechanisms tend to go towards being constantly on the run and not so much constantly sacked out on the sofa. At least, these are the coping mechanisms we talk about. To us it feels virtuous to fill all our time doing things: driving kids around, working too many hours, running errands, exercising, seeing extended family, volunteering, trying to finish a novel we can't stand, starting another home improvement project, catching up on TiVo-ed shows, squeezing in time with friends (or not), and in the moments of standing still, glaring at our tiny, pocket computers and screens. Of course we can't make an appointment with the dentist or stop to figure out why we can't sleep. There's no time.

Naturally, I hear friends complain about how tired they are and how they wish they weren't so busy. I  don't know what to say to this. This too-busy kind of life is just what Americans do. In fact, I'd say having plenty of time and energy to focus on what's uncomfortable about one's life is un-American. If we even give ourselves time to think about a problem, we want a quick fix, we don't want to take hours out of every week to make a major course change.

So we're chronically tired. There aren't enough hours in the day. Many of us are genuinely miserable with the lives we've created. And we do this to ourselves to pull focus away from what's going on inside our heads or underneath the radar of our daily lives. I wonder if Americans will learn to slow down before the human race goes extinct. I'm not being facetious. Our species hasn't been around long in the overall existence of the planet, but we've been around as long as other species that have gone extinct. We won't be here forever.

And that's another prospect that we're keeping busy in order to avoid facing: that we have a limited time to live. Americans hate death. The idea of not existing is so intolerable to us that we compromise the quality of our lives just to avoid considering it. That's American logic for you: we're willing to make our lives unpleasant if it keeps us from thinking about death.

It used to be popular to answer "How's life?" with "Better than the alternative." But you won't convince me of that.


Cat said...

I'm fascinated that you don't think some people are busy *because* they're dealing with their problems.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Thank you, Cat. Being fascinating is kind of effortless for me.

I'm talking about problems with relationships, the limiting fears we carry around and other kinds of inner pain. Those aren't solved by running faster, but by stopping and standing still.