It's Okay To Be Exhausted

Today, I would like to talk about exhaustion. 

I have a feeling, echoed in what I read in some of your comments to our posts here on Steady and elsewhere, that many of you, many of us, many here in this country and around the world, are exhausted. 

Now the trevails of life are often exhausting. Illness, sadness, work, or the loss of work, strained relationships, all the stuff you need to do but have put off, these are but a few of the many prompts for exhaustion.  And many of you are undoubtedly dealing with at least a few of these, or other ordeals. 

But hanging over all of what would be the “normal” course of life, if there is ever such a thing, are some pretty existential wellsprings of exhaustion. 

Covid, and our response to it, is exhausting. 

The threats to our democracy are exhausting. 

The former president and his allies are exhausting. 

Vitriol is exhausting. 

Our climate crisis is exhausting. 

False equivalence is exhausting. 

Injustice is exhausting. 

Systemic racism is exhausting. 

Income inequality is exhausting. 

The fact that this list could go on and on (and on and on) is exhausting. 

Now adding to all of this is the fact that we live in a media landscape where there is no limit to the size of the wave of information you can surf down into the depths of despair. You can doom scroll for hours, finding reasons for why you should be on edge, should give up hope, should be outraged with no seeming outlet to fix the outrage, which is even more cause for outrage. And after hours of this, days on end, well, you probably can see where I’m going. It’s exhausting. 

It perhaps provides little solace to understand that exhaustion is not unique to our times. In fact, much of life, for most people, and most of history, was far more physically exhausting than what many of us are privileged to face. Ours is more a collective mental exhaustion - inputs and checklists of the mind that we can never fully contend with or complete. 

We get to a point where the exhaustion is itself exhausting. And I firmly believe that the forces who seek to undermine our society, who seek to pit us against each other for their cynical gain, see exhaustion as a potent weapon at their disposal. The more exhausted people who care about solving difficult challenges become, the more uncertain success in these endeavors becomes. And I suspect many of you sense this as well. And find it exhausting. 

There is a belief, and for good reason, that vigilance is necessary. But vigilance cannot be borne by any one individual alone. It is impossible to always be on the go. Remember even star athletes need a day off. Soldiers need R&R. Where would we be without a weekend? 

Over the course of my career I have covered many protest movements that have ultimately proved successful. And I have found one of the hallmarks for that success is that they are collective actions where members of the group step up to help others when they get exhausted. 

So not only is it okay to be exhausted, it’s okay, in fact necessary, to take a break. Step away from your screen or your newspaper and step outside for a walk. Talk to friends and family about topics other than politics or current events. Read for fun, or watch something escapist on television. None of this will solve the problems of the world. There is a place for action of course, and commitment. But resilience is a perspective that requires rest as well as determination. 

We must acknowledge that not everyone can step back from exhaustion. To be able to take a break is its own form of privilege. There are people whose life circumstances never provide respite. But there is also a reason so many of the world’s religions have days of rest and reflection built into the calendar. The human body and mind cannot always be working, or it will cease to work well. 

I say all of this not to diminish the challenges we face, quite the opposite. The world needs sustained effort and exertion.  But effort and exertion requires energy. And energy requires us to acknowledge, attend to, and forgive our exhaustion. 

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