I was taking a break at work, sitting in my chair and mindlessly flipping between email accounts on my phone so I could feel like I got something done (clean out my email inboxes) without needing to really do much (all I really get are ads these days), because I was too exhausted to engage with even something as simple as a sudoku puzzle. After I ran out of inboxes to clean, I decided to text a friend a simple complaint about being exhausted and not knowing why, given that I’ve actually been getting decent sleep this week. As we talked and I went from that general statement to considering the specifics of my past few days, I realized that I should actually be very proud of myself for only being this exhausted. All of the stress of the last two months hasn’t actually gone away, I’ve just adjusted to carrying it and started getting enough sleep that I’m not so tired in the morning that I need to spend two hours convincing myself to get out of bed.
I’ve mentioned before (who knows when, though) that I frequently lose my sense of scale when it comes to my own stress and activity. After everything I’ve gone through, as a both a child and then the past two years (the greater burden easily being my childhood given that I haven’t been doing that poorly, objectively speaking, during the pandemic), I can adapt to pretty much anything given enough time. The downside is that I tend to expect too much of myself when this stuff eventually stabalizes because I forget how much I’m dealing with and expect myself to be able to handle all that and then whatever new things come up after I’ve adjusted. It’s really not healthy, but it’s difficult to avoid given that my only option besides adjusting to my levels of stress is to collapse under the weight of them and I’m not sure I’d survive such a collapse.
Which is why I’m trying to remind myself today that it is totally fine to feel this exhausted, that I should be congratulating on getting so much stuff done and still sleeping six hours a night, and that I should be focusing on simplifying my days so I can hopefully start feeling more rested. Doing stuff is good, and active effort is the only way to make the changes I want to see in my life, but I can’t push myself too hard when I’m also struggle with a bunch of other (hopefully temporary) problems and sources of stress. I need to remind myself of everything I’m doing and come up with a way to pace myself so I can continue making the changes I need without burning myself out completely. Easier said than done, of course, but it should be achieveable now that I’ve finally recongized what is going on.
It can be difficult to extend the grace to be exhausted to yourself. When progress is measured in millimeters and it feels like change is happening at a glacial pace, it is incredibly easy to push yourself to do more. After all, maybe all things need is a little more effort and then, finally, change will happen. Something will be noticeably different. Life doesn’t usually work out that way, unfortunately, so learning how to give yourself a break is paramount to any kind of long-term, high-stress situation like a pandemic mixed with personal growth and change.
Even after a lifetime of working at it, I still find myself struggling to extend myself the forgiveness and compassion I need when I’ve had a rough several months/years/decades/unending-pandemics. I’m going to take a break tonight, try to find something I genuinely enjoy that is genuinely rewarding (as opposed to my recent passtimes that are merely all-consuming or modestly interesting), and see if I can go to bed early enough to sleep more but late enough that I don’t wake up at my usual bedtime and be unable to get back to sleep again.
Wish me luck.