When I wrote a post about being tired all the time, I thought I’d made the full list, a complete accounting of the causes and conditions that led to my current and ongoing state of fatigue and burnout. However, hardly any time had passed before I thought of two important categories I’d left out: cultural expectations and choices I make.
Cultural expectations is a big one. And incredibly difficult to escape. Most of these expectations are so deeply embedded in our being that we no longer recognize them as “other” and even when we do, lifelong habits are difficult to break, especially when the pressure to comply continues in full force. The expectations don’t disappear just because we no longer accept them and once we manage to stop acting on them, it can be really lonely to live outside and away from what is considered “normal.”
After years of working in particular with my history of disordered eating and the trauma of various abuses, I started to understand the depth of programming and indoctrination I had experienced from outside sources — family, friends, community, church, school, media, etc. My primary directive from all of them was that their expectations and my ability to fulfill them were what it would take for me to be loved, protected, cared for, or in other words what it would take for me to survive.
I was socialized to not to take up space, to be quiet and small and supportive and pleasing to look at. To be a thing, an object rather that an actual person. The message was clear: my personhood, my truth, my power is too messy, too wild, untrustworthy and unreliable, and I need to control it, hide it, smash it to bits if necessary. I was conditioned to accept all the ways I’m not enough, can’t be trusted, need to be controlled, and it has kept me frozen in shame and unworthiness and silence, limiting my action, my creativity, my innate wisdom.
I wrote a post on “being good.” In it, I said,
What’s weird is even when we start to wake up, become more aware, that performance of goodness stays with us. That pattern we learned is so deep that we continue to react and behave that way. Our response to our new awareness of things like white supremacy, patriarchy, diet culture, etc. is exactly the same: to be frozen by shame and unworthiness, to perform and fawn while inside smashing ourselves to bits. In this way, we still serve the status quo because we remain trapped, unable to act according to our deepest truths, our fundamental wisdom, our real power. I realized recently, with the help of therapy, that the two core beliefs I was taught were: I cannot be trusted AND I’m responsible. Let me tell you, this is a real mindfuck. If I can’t be trusted, how can I possibly be responsible? If I am supposed to figure things out, fix them, make things right, how can I do that if I can’t trust myself? This confusion is further fed by the need to be “good,” the need to be liked. It’s a mess, keeps me frozen in inaction, anxiety and despair.
It also makes me so so so tired. In the past two years, after retiring from 19 years at CSU and realizing I was in the midst of serious burnout, and then everything that came last year, I’ve realized the violent nature of capitalism in particular, felt it in my body, recognized it in the ways I criticized and pushed. Even if you aren’t working, don’t have a job, capitalism insists that everything you do has a purpose and a product, that you have to earn the right to rest and joy, that your career and financial success are the most important measures of your worth, that your only value is what you produce and consume.
I can’t conclude any discussion of why I’m so tired all the time without acknowledging the choices I make. Yes, there are causes and conditions and cultural expectations that I can’t change, but there are plenty of things I choose that aren’t helping. I spend too much time on my phone. I stay up too late. I keep pushing myself to do more even when I’ve reached my healthy limit and my wisest self knows I should stop. I prioritize the well-being of others over my own. I don’t move my body in the ways I know will make me feel so much better. I don’t ask for help. I say “yes” when really I need to say “no.” I get overwhelmed by the suffering of others but won’t allow myself to take a break from it. I do things that others want or expect because I don’t want to disappoint them, want them to like me, want to be “good,” even though it doesn’t make me feel good, even when it drains me. I don’t drink enough water. I eat things that make me feel bad. I deny myself things I love because I don’t think I deserve them. I don’t rest when I’m tired, or I rest but I feel guilty about it which isn’t very restful. I try to power through my own suffering rather than loving myself, being gentle and asking for support. Every effort I make I try to determine how it benefits others or how to make it marketable, rather than just letting myself be.
Sure, I used to be so much worse, but I’ve still got a long way to go. And I also am holding space for if nothing changes, for that to be okay too. The only thing I can say with any amount of certainty, kind and gentle reader, is that I’m going to keep trying, keep my heart open and my mind calm, stay on the path and keep practicing.