I’m writing this while crying in an airplane seat. The tears aren’t from sorrow or pain. I’m tired. The overwhelming sensations of never stopping all catch up when I quit moving. That’s probably why I never stop. My bones are balsa wood— fragile, feeble, aching. Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m always breaking. Everyone saw this coming. I never slept in high school. I spread myself over thirteen activities without adequate rest. In college, my time strained across three jobs, two majors, eleven activities. Again, I never slept. Now is like that but different. Reflecting on those years, I understand that I overexerted myself because so many of those activities were meaningful to me. I am currently overcommitted. My yes is a sprinter who jolts before the gun fires. My schedule is elastic that I stretch until I snap. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to rest despite my body, my soul, begging me to be still.
This is the exhaustion made over twenty-five years. It isn’t one thing. It’s the weight of everything. The exhaustion douses all things tied to me. My car is a mess. My apartment reels in disarray. There are 57 unanswered text messages on my phone, and ten tasks I need to knock out in 2 days. These are all the ways I’m failing to show up for myself because I’m trying to stay present in all these other ways. My lack of energy prompts the functioning of someone much older. My bandwidth is minimal. This isn’t me because when I’m on, when I’m rested, my wattage powers whole cities. I struggle to fuel a single lightbulb these days.
Recently, my body has taken it upon itself to regulate my negligence and demand better care. In high school, my eyes would twitch, but otherwise, I could trudge along with relative functionality. In this year, one where I held down two jobs for 8/12 months, I developed walking pneumonia, migraines, fever, nausea, and strep throat where my exhaustion was a culprit. Obviously, there are other factors. But when I rested for a day with those symptoms, they vanished. My body no longer needed to be a siren. It could just be my body again. Right now, I inhale, and it feels like icy hot along my ribs and spine. My ears are ringing. I need to sleep but don’t want to volunteer the time. I know I’m not the only person like this. Most people are overworked. Most people are overextended. That’s capitalism at work. When I confess these things, I do it from my experience– not as the exception but the norm.
I cannot be the caretaker, and you can feel it. This exhaustion is an earthquake— felt even when silent. I’m embarrassed. Mortified, really. Because I want to be there for you, bandage you. I only know how to exist when I am helping, when I am holding everyone else together. Only now, I’m falling apart. There is not enough coffee and scotch tape and Elmer’s glue to keep me in tact. My mouth has run dry from too many yeses. You come to me with open arms and I can’t open them back. You hold me hard and won’t let go. When I say “you” I mean my loved ones. When I say “you” I mean everyone who forces my hands off of everything I grasp too tightly. I am grateful for you.
My whole life, I’ve overcompensated: For growing up poor-ish, for not being thin, my lack of pedigree and social status, the shame of where I come from and all the things I can’t talk about— even here, for not being anything enough and yet always too much myself. I habitually apologize for what I do have to offer: my intellect, my athleticism, my affection, my heart. I grow awkward about my talents and accomplishments— shrinking in the light of admiration. It’s too great a burden to wage wars inside my head. Most of my thought patterns are landmines I try to avoid and yet collapse into—detonating on impact. My mind is more incinerator than headspace. This is hard.
I think I spend so much time processing my struggles to avoid actually grieving for them, mourning what I deserved and never got, healing. What I have done is secured a PhD on my experience while shielding myself from the actual work of it. That excessive processing contributes to the exhaustion. It is an avoidance of letting things be. My overactive brain is always on guard. My whole body is trying to protect me. My whole body is saying “not again”. But I don’t think I need the same degree of protection anymore. I want to believe I don’t have to be my own support system—even if it’s been like that for most of my life. I don’t think I have to try as hard as I do. Then again, an effort less than 150% seems impossible to me. Adequate is the dirtiest of words.
Some wiser part of my brain says, “it doesn’t have to be this hard”. Because I am young, and life is long, and most things work out. Most gravity is of our own making—I make the boulders I’m lugging around. And if, somewhere between struggle and survival, this has become my fault, it is my responsibility to revive myself. I need to say no more. I need to rest and offer myself patience. If my heart is as big as I say it is, then I had better be able to make room for myself in it.
I’m still me, somewhere. Even if I can’t figure out that place, the reunion is inevitable. My energy will meet me where I belong, even if I do not know where that is quite yet. I am hopeful. The brilliant Hannah Gadsby said “I identify as tired”. I’m announcing who I am right here, right now: tired. That’s not who I’ll always be. I’m trying to be something different. I don’t know what that feels like, but I’ll know it when I get there.