Saturday, February 6, 2021

"Tetrising": Facing My Addiction to Busy

I do this thing. Sometimes I completely lose sight of myself as a human being with limits to things like how many hours I can reasonably stay awake or how often I might need to eat or the fact that I may benefit from just chilling out for a few hours. 

I don't do this thing all the time, but I do this thing repeatedly. In fact, it's on a pretty predictable cycle at this point. 

I call it "tetrising," and I think it's time I face it down. 

What is Tetrising? 

"Tetrising" is my term for the state of mind I get into when I get satisfaction — delight even — from cramming as many things I can into a short window of time. 

an hourglass with white sand falling

Why, yes, I can write your last-minute blog post within 12 hours (I've got a ghostwriting gig). Yes, I can lead a book discussion and create the written materials for it. Yes, I can teach another class. Yes, I can make five meals to last us through the week and also clean the bathroom that's been neglected because of all the other "yes I can's" I said earlier. 

I can do all those things, but when I'm tetrising, I do not stop to ask myself if I should, and I never, ever stop to ask myself if I want to do them. 

So You're a Pushover, Then?

Before you start thinking you've got me figured out, that I'm clearly someone who has no boundaries, a people-pleaser who just can't say no, I have to stop you. That's not it. 

I do have a tendency to stay stuck in commitments long after they're probably good for me out of a sense of "must see it through," but that's a different topic

Tetrising isn't even about the other people asking me to do things, and most of the requests are perfectly reasonable — even kind, considerate, and meaningful — on their own. This is not a case of people taking advantage of me or me not being able to say "no." 

It's that I truly get a rush from making it all fit and getting it all done. There's a certain addiction to filling up my schedule until it should be impossible and then getting it all done anyway. 

It's like only having a single line left on Tetris and getting that much-needed long piece to flip and land just right. The relief of watching it all clear is euphoric, and I seek out that rush of endorphins. 

Why Don't You Stop Doing That?

I've vowed to stop tetrising in the past. 

As much as I love the rush, I know that it has negative impacts. During the height of the window in which I've packed in way too many things, I'm irritated and grumpy, and I have people I love who don't deserve to deal with me at my worst when my worst was brought out by my own bad decisions. 

It also seems boundless. Sometimes I think I'm trying to find the limit. How much is too much? At what point will I not be able to get it done? Sometimes I tell myself that once I find the limit, it will stop — this is all just about seeking knowledge, understanding my own abilities. 

But that's not really true, either. I carefully take on tasks that I know, deep down inside, will get completed. I will never find the limit. 

Especially right now — when I'm self-employed and we've been almost completely locked down because of the pandemic and everything happens from home — it can be really hard to see the boundaries between work, home, play, school, rest, fun, etc. It all blurs, and blurry worlds allow for a lot more tetrising. 

I have no boss or job description that defines what is "enough" work. I have no shift between settings that tells me when I've left a work space and gone into a different one. I have no break in day-to-day activities that provides much needed definition. 

handheld game consoled with a Tetris game cartridge

The question for whether or not something went on the calendar became simply "Can I physically complete this task or not?" That's no way to live. 

What are You Going to Do About It?

I was talking to my counselor about this, finally. I had it on my list to bring up for at least four sessions (and we only meet every 6 weeks or so, so it was a long time), but I knew that if I said out loud what I was doing to myself, I would have to stop doing it, and I didn't want to lose my rush. 

She helped me come up with a plan that works with who I am. I got to make some guidelines about what was or was not an acceptable task to accept. 

Image of five scheduling rules taped to the side of a computer monitor

They're now taped to the side of my computer monitor, right where I have to click to open up my Google calendar when I'm scheduling something new. 

It made me so uncomfortable to make these guidelines. I could hear my inner voice: but what if. . .? couldn't we sometimes make an exception for . . .? that might mean saying no to . . .? 

But I stayed firm. These are reasonable expectations, and I — the real person who has to actually complete all those tasks to make the tetrising happen — deserve them.