What do we do when we are too exhausted to engage? We don’t engage.
The past year I was too exhausted and too overwhelmed to engage, so I retreated, dissociated, and I disconnected. And I hoped my mojo would come back one day.
Exhausted from the pandemic and still trying to find my footing after my husband’s stroke, we decided to sell the family home last year. The thought of lawn care, gutters, snow removal, sump pumps, aging windows, and even those fucking woodpeckers that seem to follow us from house to house drained my emotional reserves. Our youngest was heading off to college. We’d have four kids in four states.
Bouncing back from the pandemic wasn’t as easy as I expected it to be. Growing quite fond of the slow and quiet pace of the pandemic, I shamed myself because I was not ‘getting back to normal’ fast enough. I get exhausted from too much peopling now. My energy drains when I overcommit, process too many details, or endure too much noise.
We buried a dear friend a year ago. And then another. And yet another. Another was diagnosed with cancer. Addiction was catching up with a few more. But there were engagements, graduations, and birthdays that made my heart swell.
My reactions to everyday life were disproportionately emotional. My voice often caught on sharp emotions too close to the surface. I constantly felt on the verge of tears. Something had to give.
So, yeah. Why not put the house up for sale and move?
Without sentimentality, I purged a lifetime of stuff. I was on a mission, donating or giving away a literal lifetime of stuff. What I lacked in nostalgia, I made up for in resentment.
Resentment spilled like oil throughout the dark, shadowy part of my soul I like to hide from others. I looked normal on the outside (if being in constant pain and riddled with worry is normal), but on the inside, I felt gooey, mean-spirited, and alarmingly short on hope.
My mid-life wasn’t turning out as I had planned. The joy, security, and breezy life I had been expecting wasn’t sitting in my lap. It pissed me off.
For all these reasons and more, we sold the house and moved into a rental house.
Renting for a year would calm our frayed nerves, we figured. We hoped simplifying would help us make smart and deliberate decisions about where and how we wanted to live. We needed a break from the drag of owning a home.
Also, we were holding out hope that my husband’s job would continue to be fully remote. Secretly I daydreamed about moving to a beach someplace where my skin would dry rot so slowly that I’d hardly notice. I envisioned kind people commenting to me that living in a remote and kinda dodgy Central American country suited me. I was secretly hoping we’d live happily ever after picking exotic fruit off trees, delighting in spotty internet, and being lulled to sleep by the sound of bickering drug cartels in the distance.
Long story short, we didn’t move to an exotic, far-flung third-world country that specializes in fifteen-dollar facelifts as I had hoped. Instead, we bought a condo in the same town we’ve lived in for years. We moved out of our rental house and into a condo six months before the lease was supposed to end. If you are keeping score, that meant two major moves in six months.
I gave away more stuff, hired a contractor to knock down a wall, and I got to work settling into our new digs.
Here is what I discovered in my year of dissociation:
- You don’t owe anyone anything. Giving yourself the grace to focus only on yourself and your family is not selfish. I straight up said ‘no’ to almost everything. ‘No’ without explanation. Just ‘no.’ The people closest to me did not take offense. I haven’t noticed if other people took offense and shut me out of their lives. How others perceive me is their business. Being true to myself is mine. I needed this flatness, this sadness, to pass as quickly as possible. I didn’t need to get caught in the weeds of worrying about everyone else’s feelings.
- It is crucial to keep your nose above water. I did the minimum. I hardly wrote, didn’t post, and just focused on the things that gave me joy. My circle got real tight. So did my jeans. But I reached out to people, had meaningful conversations, and made time for myself. I enforced personal boundaries. I ate vegetables and became a regular at my town’s little hole-in-the-wall reflexology massage spa. I focused on the things I’d thank myself for later.
- I kept asking myself, ‘What am I making this mean?’. Anytime I felt a stab of injustice, I asked myself, ‘What am I making that mean?’. When I catastrophized, when I felt afraid, when my feelings were hurt, I’d check in with my gut, ‘What am I making that mean?’ With time and practice, I realized I was making everything that pinged with pain mean that I didn’t matter. In my head, of course, I knew I mattered; nonetheless, this limiting belief was large and in charge in my oil-spilled soul, slick with resentment. Like the man behind the curtain who uses fear to control, once exposed, this limiting belief no longer controlled me. Poof! Lightness replaced the heavy boulder-like feeling that had lodged in my chest. The knot in my stomach eased. My emotions stabilized. Hope reappeared. My mojo returned.
As we move forward, remember that we are still recovering from a global pandemic.
It is okay not to be okay. Also, please do yourself a favor and remember that fatigue is real. Overwhelm is real, too. Focus on you and what works for your family. Take a break from the news, from busyness, from meaningless obligations. Forget what you think you ‘should’ be doing. Don’t compare yourself to other people. They are trying to survive, too. It isn’t an easy time for anyone.
Give yourself some grace.