The disease of "busyness"

If it is a rebellious act to stop and be still in a world driven by busyness,

then indeed you can call me a rebel.

The latest victim of this pandemic: (not the coronavirus one, thank god!) "the disease of busyness", is my grandmother.

Yes, she is a self-proclaimed busy woman.

I sent my grandmother a tablet as a Mother’s Day gift this year. As I am living abroad, I am not able to see her frequently and miss seeing her. A lot...

She always tells me how much she misses me as well, how nice it would be to see me... So, as a practical fixer/solver persona, I thought wouldn't it be nice to gift her a tablet so that we can do regular video calls.

Sounds great, right? Hold on.

We ordered the tablet from an online website with my husband with joy, imagining how she will react when she receives it and finally being able to see her...

Well, not so joyful story...

The package finally arrived at her house after a week. I called her excitedly - hoping to hear some excitement on her end as well. She was surprised to receive a package and didn't know what it was initially. After consulting my mother, she understood it was a tablet for her. And she was somehow convinced that this was coming from my uncle. I proudly claimed my present but the thing is she did not sound happy with this present at all! She sounded even upset! I tried to talk her up, saying how nice this would be, that we can see each other now, still hoped that she will be happy about this.

No luck.

Still trying my luck, I asked her if she could consult a neighbor for the name of the internet provider in the building so that I can assist her in setting up the internet at home and able to see her virtually (after 3 years..) She insisted that I should send this back, that it is not needed and to top it all, that she is extremely busy dealing with this right now!

A big sigh here...


I don't know which one of her actions I would choose to get offended first.

Not having a simple appreciation for my gift and getting a face slap for a very expensive present?

or getting disappointed that after all this effort I can not still see her because she is not willing to cooperate?

After I was over my disappointment (and that, took a while as you can imagine), I kept thinking about what really overwhelmed her. The task I was asking was literally picking up the phone and calling the neighbor. I mean, how busy you can be not to have time for that?

My grandmother is an 80 years old homemaker, sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic. No children, no job, or no active involvement with the outside world except her shopping trips and TV.

No offense but, how busy she can be, really?

I think it was clear that my grandmother, a self-proclaimed busy woman - has fallen victim to this "busyness" epidemic. Let me explain what I mean by that.

I do realize that we all are busy in our own ways, have our groove. I call it a busyness epidemic for being busy in a way that you don't have time for "certain things" and using this busyness as a common excuse for those things that we really don't want to do.

We live in a busy world. We all throw away phrases like “I am so busy these days”, “I am so swamped right now” , "I need a vacation" and brag/resent about getting stuck in a zoom meeting for 6 hours (!) Usually, the expectation is that you will be as respected as busy you are and hopefully left alone with your thing, your usual business.

Busyness means no time for nonsense basically.

For my grandmother, the nonsense was helping me to set up her internet, which would eventually lead to seeing each other regularly.

For another person, it can be attending a social event outside work,

or watching a movie that is not work-related,

or doing something, anything that really doesn't contribute to their career goals.

And it doesn't have to be all work-related.

You can be busy after work as well, have no time because you are stressed and you need to do chores, grocery, laundry.

you need to do this, do that... the list goes on and on. The list even gets longer if you have a child.

You can be busy with anything basically.

And don't get me wrong, I understand being really busy, we have our roles and responsibilities. That's not what I mean by busyness.

We carry our “busyness” as a badge of honor nowadays. This disease of being busy is contagious and cultural norms are at full force on them. I feel like if you are not running from here to there, meeting to meeting, (zoom or in-person) home to work, work to the grocery store, in a way that spins your head around, makes you feel like fainting – you must be doing something terribly wrong.

The message is clear that if you are not busy to the extent that you don't even sleep, you must be failing in your life. It is the culture of busy (and important) people.

Don’t get me wrong I am charged as guilty as anyone else. I used to work until 8pm (and beyond!) in a lab during my PhD and during my postdoctoral training to finish that one experiment, complete that one graph or check up on another article. I was busy indeed. I felt there was never enough time, for, well anything.

It was not a never-ending to-do list with articles to be read, experiments to be done, data to be analyzed… the list goes on and on. Work filled up my time (or more like sucked me in like quicksand). I always felt proud to be so busy.

I didn't have time for "nonsense". The nonsense depended on the day. Sometimes it was seeing some people ( that I really didn't want to see), sometimes it was stopping and taking a break. I didn't have time for a vacation. I didn't have time for self-care. I just didn't have time... for anything and living.

I was busy. I was exhausted. I was lost.

For a long time.

My question is,

Can anyone be that busy that they don't have time for themselves or a loved one? Isn't it called priorities?

Isn't the busyness just an excuse for us not to confront our unpleasant feelings? or addressing uncomfortable situations?

Are we running away from someone? ourselves maybe?

What if we stop being so busy and THINK, really think, and then FEEL, whatever we are trying to avoid feeling by being so busy?

What would happen? if we stop, think, and feel.

I wish I was able to ask these questions for my grandmother...

I don't know her to answer obviously, but my understanding of busyness has changed drastically lately.

And the things that I have on my plate are nothing less than before. Even so, now I have a full-time job, chasing a one-year-old toddler with no childcare and in the middle of a global pandemic while planning our move to Canada.

Head spinning busy, right?