The universe is at it again. This time in the form of an out-of-the-blue call from a former colleague I haven’t spoken with in more than a year. He and another former coworker were in town on business and wanted to see if I might be able to get together for a drink or dinner.
It was a last-minute request, and my schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Still, we chatted for about 20 minutes, and it felt great to catch up. We’d survived some difficult work challenges together over the years, and I realized how much I’ve missed the insightful conversations we used to have about work and also about life. But as is the case with friendships that exist solely within the office environment, once I moved across the country, we’d lost touch.
I went to bed last night disappointed I couldn’t meet up. Soon my mind wandered back to my previous life in Denver. Memory always wears rose-colored glasses, and although I know things weren’t rosy back then, soon I was missing my former coworkers and that missing turned into something more. I was missing my former self.
I’ve gained a great deal from our move to Milwaukee. In my heart, I know I couldn’t have made the life changes I needed to make without that move. Yet, when I dig deeper, I recognize I lost a lot, too. I lost an amazing support network, and I lost a piece of who I was. I saw a glimpse of her last night and missing her filled me with unrest.
It’s the same sadness I felt after a dear friend from California visited for a week in June. Despite a scary car-jacking incident (a story for another time), her visit was full of deep conversations you can only have with someone you’ve known a long time.
It’s the same sense of loss I felt after my best friend from Colorado visited over Labor Day. The time flew by as we tried to cram in six months of catching up since we’d last seen each other.
After each of those visits, the house felt empty and so did I.
In both instances I threw myself into work as I’ve been doing all my life. When I went back to work in an office environment, I told myself it was because I missed the collaboration and interaction of office life.
I was missing those things certainly, but in hindsight, I can see that what I was really missing was connection. Going back to work seemed like an easy way to fill the void, but it hasn’t worked and it may have made things worse.
Recently I read an article in Mindful magazine by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter about action addiction, essentially a chemical imbalance linked to our need for dopamine. Busyness releases dopamine, which feels really good, but we get caught in a vicious cycle of needing the kick. Hmmm, that sounded a bit like the Addicted to Stress book I read a few years ago.
What really struck me, though, was this statement, “Action addiction is an advanced sort of lazyness...We keep ourselves occupied with tasks, important or not, to avoid facing life. We keep a safe and comfortable distance to the issues that are sometimes hard to look at.”
Gulp. When I jumped back into full-time work was I really just avoiding the loneliness I felt last winter after the excitement of another move and buying a house died down?
It wouldn’t be the first time. After all, I started working as a teen when my family was imploding and my parents were on the verge of divorce. When I was going through a tough time in my own marriage, instead of stepping back to fix things, I threw myself into work and a whole bunch of other unimportant distractions.
After I created a life out of control with activity and stress, I convinced myself the only way out was to flee. Like any addict on her way to recovery, I felt I had to remove myself from all temptation so I quit my job and moved across the country.
I essentially threw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet I didn’t really solve the problem. The problem has always been not wanting to deal with unwanted emotions like loneliness and a sense of disconnectedness.
Ever since my friend’s June visit, I’ve been battling mild depression. I call it a funk because that sounds better, but it’s more than a funk. As work heated up these past few months, it increased my stress levels, but it also distracted me from my sadness.
Work hasn’t solved my problems. In fact, it’s made me crabby around my family, and it’s become more challenging to connect with the handful of friends I’ve made here or to form new friendships. My life has been busy, but it hasn’t been full, and there’s a big difference.
Once again, I’ve been distracted by the shiny object, the place that gives me instant gratification, instead of focusing on my long-term happiness.
The timing of last night’s call seems serendipitous. It came after a number of weeks in which I’ve been trying to determine work changes I should make to restore balance. It came after weeks during which my husband has repeatedly expressed concerns that I’m once again putting work before family. It came just days after I received an email for a free month-long online mindfulness summit (which I immediately signed up for and then hoped I would “have time for”). It came two days after my dad went into the hospital with a health scare that fortunately was nothing, but that has served as a reminder that life is short.
My parents might say this call was God’s way of speaking to me. My friend who believes strongly in astrology might say it is the universe speaking to me. Or it’s all just coincidence and my own subconscious giving meaning to what would have otherwise been a random chat.
I do know that because of the timing and all of the things swirling in my brain these days, this was a wakeup call. Blasts from the past often throw me for a loop. There’s something about the past colliding with the present that jars, but it can be disruptive in a good way, too.
I could easily lose myself in nostalgia for a job and friends who are no longer part of my daily life. Like busyness, nostalgia is a powerful distraction. But I didn’t uproot my life only to sink into old habits again. So, I guess it’s time to face the emotions I don’t want to face, and to do the work necessary to fix the problem. To start, instead of diving into work, I’ve written this post and tonight, I'll call a few friends.