Your Boredom Is Masking Your Anxiety

Hello Interwebs, it’s good to see you again. Forgive me addressing you directly, but this article requires a different tone. Even though most of it’s just a reflection on the topic of boredom, this article includes a genuine investigation into my own mind and I have no idea what that’ll mean to you. See you on the other side – for better or worse.

After reading Brianna Wiest’s article on the importance of stillness in our lives, I found myself reflecting on how hard it is just to sit and do nothing. And I mean actually nothing. Not dozing, not reading, not meditating, not listening to music, not going for a drive – actually nothing. Just sitting, alone with our thoughts and feelings.

Honestly, the thought that comes to mind is, “that sounds really boring.” And when I remember those times when I’ve had nothing to do (or don’t know what I want to do), it has been boring.

And there it is. Boredom. I close my eyes and think of having nothing to do, alone in my apartment and I get that blerg feeling.

Some people say they never get bored – and I’m sure they do actually have something to keep them entertained all the time. But the question is, if you imagine yourself without anything to do, then what happens? Even if it’s just a thought experiment – if you had nothing left to do, what happens?

When I drill down into that “boredom” thing, what’s going on is actually a combination of thoughts, feelings and expectations. When I find myself sitting there, alone, in relative silence – these are the thoughts that come to mind:

“Okay – what can I do? Is there anything that needs doing? What do I feel like doing? What would I enjoy?”

And somewhere in there I find something to do and the feeling goes away.

But if I go back a step, pause and drill down further to try and get to the feelings underneath those thoughts, I find something very interesting. What I find is a kind of uncomfortableness. An anxiety of sorts. That’s weird, isn’t it? Why would having nothing to do make me anxious?

The only answer that I can seem to validate is that there must be something I don’t like about being alone with my own thoughts and feelings. There must be something in there that I’m scared of. But to really access what that is, I need to stop thinking about this intellectually and actually be in that uncomfortable space.

So now, if I’m to progress this in earnest, I have to go into that rabbit hole and be alone with myself. Now I have to start walking along the path instead of looking at a map. So that’s what I’m going to do and I’d like to invite you to come with me.

[I stopped typing here and got on with other work. I got home later on, changed into a t-shirt and shorts and was thinking about what I wanted to do. I was just about to open a bottle of wine and turn on the TV, when I realised… I was only doing that because I was a bit bored. So instead of doing that, I chose to just try and sit, alone. Bored. This is what happened, typed the next day after a bit of reflection.]

First, thoughts. “Okay mind, do your worst… What is it that I could actually be afraid of? … Is this a waste of time… What am I trying to prove?… What am I even trying to accomplish? This is a waste of time. Couldn’t I just imagine this and write about it, instead of missing out on relaxation time?”

And that was a really good point. And I didn’t want to miss out on relaxation time. So I got up to get that bottle of wine.

But I stopped. Literally, mid stride. Somehow I’d just convinced myself not to investigate what I had wanted to investigate. All my thoughts in that minute or so had apparently connived into getting me to stop being alone with my thoughts and feelings.

This just got interesting.

I sat back down to re-engage and let the process continue. What happened next goes beyond words. I had a continuing battle with my thoughts, where I’d consistently try and convince myself that I should stop. Already suspicious of my mind, I thought that all this thinking might also be a way it’s trying to stop me being alone with myself. And throughout this battle, it became more and more obvious that I wasn’t bored at all – I was anxious.

And this was the initial ethos behind the investigation – trying to figure out what made me anxious about having nothing to do. So I asked myself, what would make me anxious about being with myself? There must be something I’m afraid of there – something I don’t like about myself. What is it that don’t like about myself?

Be careful asking a question if you’re not ready for the answer.

I dislike… feeling like a fraud. That I’m not actually special and I’ll never do anything meaningful. I don’t like that I waste so much time and squander my potential. I dislike the me that drinks too much and the me that isn’t disciplined enough to exercise. I dislike the thought that I’m getting more unattractive each day.

There it is. There’s the stuff that sits underneath the surface, like mould under wallpaper.

I don’t like doing this anymore and I’m sad. It was easy talking and thinking about, but walking this path is sad and lonely.

So is this where boredom sits? Is it our minds telling us we’re in danger of having to experience this mouldy self-loathing? For me, at the very least, that’s what it represents: it’s an uncomfortable feeling created by the ever-present potential that I’ll have to experience my own self-loathing.

At home, by this point, I felt like I’d accomplished what I set out to do: I’d actually gone down the rabbit hole myself. Looking at the future now, I can’t imagine being bored will ever be the same. I know now that there’s something under the boredom – that it’s just a mask. More to the point, I now see why I do all those things to keep me from getting bored.

My first article on TC was about all of us being addicts in some way. And for a long time, I’ve had the knowledge that people use substances and routines to help them escape something. But now, because of this tiny investigation, I have a personal awareness, and experience of, part of what it is that I’m escaping.

Some of you might say that doing this investigation wasn’t a very good idea: it made me sad when I could have just carried on with my regular routine. In thinking about a response to justify why I think this was a good idea, I went back into that sad place again. In going down this rabbit hole, I realize how clever my mind is. Just when my sadness was increasing, my mind managed to convince me that I’d got what I needed from this investigation and to stop it.

I don’t know what deeper issues there are underneath my insecurities, but I do know that I’m no longer worried about sitting alone with my thoughts as much. I know some of the reason why I avoid boredom now, but more importantly, I know that my mind can do an amazing job of stopping me from falling too far down the rabbit hole. TC mark

image – Basheer Tome

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