Tag Archives: Burnout

Why I’m so tired (all the time): Part Two

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.

Why I’m so tired (all the time)

During the shut downs and restrictions of COVID-19, some people learned to bake bread or took up embroidery or learned a new language or started playing cards. I’ve added a new hobby, developed a new skill during this time too: snoring. Apparently I’ve now become a person who snores. It’s not that loud or consistent, but my husband has certainly noticed. His strategy to get me to stop, as practiced by spouses of snorers throughout history, is to nudge me enough to get me to change positions and stop. The other night, I woke up to the palm of his hand pushing into my forehead. I asked him about it in the morning, inquired why he’d punched me in the face while I was sleeping, and he said, “I can’t always tell which part of you I’m touching when I’m reaching out in the dark.”

The other morning, he reported that I hadn’t snored the night before, or at least he hadn’t noticed. We talked again, as we have been, about how weird it is that I never really snored before and now suddenly I am. I have no idea what may have triggered it. The night before that, I had slept terribly – he had eaten leftover pizza for dinner, which gave him heartburn and made him really thirsty, so he’d gotten up three times in the night, which I almost never sleep through, wonder what he’s doing and if he’s okay and how much longer I should wait before going to check on him, (I had an uncle who died under similar circumstances, got up to use the bathroom in the night and collapsed and was found later by his wife, and I’m nothing if not pessimistic), and Eric had shook me awake at least two other times that I remember, so I woke up tired, struggled to make it through the rest of the day. Eric suggested that maybe I have sleep apnea; maybe that’s why I’m snoring, why I don’t sleep that great and am “tired all the time.”

There are plenty of other reasons that I might be “tired all the time.” It’s a compound issue with a lot of moving parts, with the conditions and causes constantly shifting.

I have an auto-immune disorder. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, to be exact. This can be caused by various things and aggravated by others, but for me it’s a hereditary condition, meaning upon being born there was really no way I could have avoided it. It impacts my body’s natural hormone levels, especially those related to my energy levels. I can trick my body into leaving my thyroid mostly alone by supplementing with synthetic hormones to replicate a functioning thyroid, but it’s not a cure. Some people claim you can “heal” the disorder, cure yourself through the right mix of diet and supplements and lifestyle changes, but my lived experience shows that even with the optimal treatment and attention, I am constantly at risk for low energy and fatigue no matter how hard I try to control it.

I have been perimenopausal for 11 years now. Every year, my doctor claims this is the year I’ll go fully menopausal, but my girl stuff just keeps on humming. And yet, I still get to enjoy all the consequences, including hot flashes and sleep problems. Again, this issue is directly related to hormone levels, causing fluctuations that can cause mood swings and fatigue.

I have complex-ptsd. In particular, the hypervigilence or hyperarousal related to this condition keeps me on-alert, which can make it hard to concentrate, hard to rest, to relax or sleep. For me, this gets especially difficult after dark, with the worst being after I go to bed. I can have a really hard time falling asleep and I startle easily, wake up because of sound or lights others would sleep through, and then I have a hard time falling back asleep. If my anxiety brain decides to join the party, sleep becomes almost impossible.

I am living with burnout. The longer I’m retired, the more I realize that it wasn’t just the final couple of years at my CSU job that I was burnt out. Most likely I was for the entire 19 years. That’s not something that goes away quickly. In her book The Joy of Burnout, Dr. Dina Glouberman gives the classic signs of burnout, saying that, “Of these, exhaustion is the most defining characteristic.” She also says that for her, it took SEVEN years to get her full energy back after she burnt out. It takes time and patience to recover. I’m trying to give myself both.

I’m a highly sensitive introvert. This is like being an introvert on steroids. My nervous system is a super processor. Sensory input can be overwhelming (sounds, smells, etc.), and moving around the world, adulting and doing what needs to be done, engaging with other humans and their stuff, leads to chronic stress which leads to fatigue. In particular, I am affected deeply by the suffering of others – human, animal, and environment. And it doesn’t have to even be real. It could be on TV or in a book. This is complicated by the constant access we have to information about what harm is being done, the hurt experienced. I want to fix it, make it better, and even if I don’t know what to do, I can’t stop thinking about it, feeling all the grief and rage it triggers, the weight of it. It’s exhausting.

I live with chronic stress and pain. There are many causes, tangled up and interacting, a sticky web. It wears me down during the day and makes it difficult to get good quality sleep at night.

I have lived with depression and anxiety my whole life. Primary symptoms of these states of being? Loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, fatigue.

I have experienced some MAJOR life changes in the past few years. I lost my Buddhist sangha. I retired. I lost my teaching gig. Sam and Angela died. Every single one of these could be classified as a major life event, a major source of stress that has the potential to negatively impact my overall health and well-being, to make me TIRED ALL THE TIME.

We are currently living through a global pandemic, environmental crisis, white supremacy, and the lingering impacts of the last administration. I feel like I don’t even have to explain this to you. In this regard, I’m guessing you are as tired as I am, kind and gentle reader.

Any one of these causes or conditions have the capacity to wear me down, but combining the way they do can be crushing. I’d argue that the better question, better than “why am I so tired all the time”, is how do I even manage to get out of bed every morning?

Even with all this, I’m not giving up. I’m cultivating patience, honoring what I need, staying tender and keeping my heart open. I’m not giving up, but I might need to take a nap — every damn day.