We will soon be at the anniversary of the beginning of the first COVID-19 lockdown, which began with Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on the 23rd March 2020.
A year on, and still in the third lockdown, every day seems the same; many of us are feeling a weariness, an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. It seems to be affecting everyone, but I know from first-hand experience how hard it is for families of children with additional needs and disabilities. It has got me thinking a bit about exhaustion over the past couple of days, and so I thought I would share my ‘thinking out loud’ in case it is of help to anyone else who is feeling a bit like this at the moment…
‘Types’ of exhaustion
The first thing that I thought of is that there are different kinds of exhaustion and that some can be more positive than others:
Physical exhaustion – this can come through lots of hard physical work, or maybe through exercise or sport. It can have positives as it builds strength and stamina, can be good for our health, can help us to sleep etc.
Mental exhaustion – this might be through hard work too, lots of problem solving or learning, exercising our brains. It can have positives in that it can leave us tired and make it easier for us to sleep or can keep our brains sharp and ready for more.
Emotional exhaustion – this can be much harder, linked to feelings of stress and anxiety, the overwhelming worries that we might be carrying, the uncertainty about the future. It’s more difficult to see positives here, no obvious ‘plus side’ to emotional exhaustion. It’s this kind of exhaustion that many are experiencing at this time.
Subconscious exhaustion – I wonder if there is a kind of underlying ‘subconscious exhaustion’ that is made up of the suppressed feelings that we have. There has been a big increase in people having unusual dreams over the last year and this has been attributed to people’s subconscious minds trying to make sense of a world that seems to have no answers at the moment.
What can we do about exhaustion?
There might be other kinds of exhaustion, I’m not a medical professional so these are just my own thoughts, but even if we focus on these four types of exhaustion, are there some things that we can do to help ourselves and each other here:
If there are types of exhaustion that can be positive, and types of exhaustion that are mostly negative, I wonder if there is any link between them that can be helpful. For example, if our emotional exhaustion is making it hard for us to sleep, could exercise to make us more physically tired help us out? If mentally focussing on our challenges and clearly thinking through any problems we are trying to deal with helps us to not carry those problems into our sleep, so that we don’t have dreams (or nightmares) about them, maybe that can help our subconscious exhaustion.
Old wisdom, but true
But what if the issues we’re struggling with, especially as parents of children with additional needs, just seem too big? What if we can’t solve them by thinking them through? What if we are just too exhausted, in every sense, to even try?
Well I think we all know that doing nothing about it is just going to make it worse. The worries will get bigger, the exhaustion will grow stronger, and we will become less and less able to do anything about it until eventually, possibly sooner than we think, we collapse or have a breakdown. And then we are no use to anyone.
There are a number of things that we can do though. Things that can help us to start to make things a bit better; to start to push back against the feelings that are overwhelming us. Here’s two bits of old wisdom that come to mind for me:
1. Name it and shame it
So often, what our darkest fears and worries are saying to us is what we believe. Our thoughts go to the worst, darkest place; the most awful outcome possible, even though the actual likelihood of that outcome in reality is miniscule. There are plenty of alternative outcomes possible, some are still hard but maybe better than the worst; some are OK and manageable, some might even end up to be positives.
Name the worst thing that could happen and shame it, stare it down. Tell yourself that this worst outcome is highly unlikely, it isn’t the outcome that you are going to allow to happen, and focus on the better options. What do you need to do to make those better outcomes happen? What help might you need and where are you going to get it from? Make a plan and take back control.
2. Tell someone you trust
Part of making a plan and taking back control is telling someone you trust about it. It might be a friend or family member, it might be a professional, but whoever it is tell them what is eating you up emotionally and subconsciously and tell them about what you are going to do about it. Share your plan with them.
Sharing with someone else does several things. Firstly, it gets it off your chest; it’s amazing how therapeutic it is to share something that’s been a burden to you for so long. It instantly feels better. You might be ‘a bit ranty’ as you share, but if you’ve picked the right person then they will understand. Secondly, you are now accountable to someone to get your plan done; there’s no going back now. Thirdly, they can bring wisdom and shaping to your plan, helping it to be even better. Especially if you are exhausted, your plan might need a little help and so you can work on it together.
I’m reminded of that line in the film Crocodile Dundee, where the central character is asked what he does when he has a problem. Does he go to a Psychiatrist? “Nah; – back there, if you got a problem, you tell Wally. And he tells everyone in town — brings it out in the open — no more problem.”
Maybe that’s a bit extreme, we might not want everyone to know, but having a trusted person that we can share with certainly helps; bringing it out into the open a little is positive!
For those of us with a faith, we might be reminded of these words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are tired and are carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. Serving me is easy, and my load is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Sharing our load with God helps; seeking his peace is good for our souls. Ask God who to share your plan with and ask him to help you shape that plan together.
A friend recently reminded me of these words from Isaiah, which may be a help to you too as you give your heavy load to God; “He will not break a bent twig. He will not put out a dimly burning flame. He will be faithful and make everything right. He will not grow weak or lose hope. He will not give up until he brings justice to the earth.” Isaiah 42:3-4a
If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, know that you are not alone. But do something about it before you reach that point of collapse and breakdown. We are no use to anyone, no use to ourselves, no use to our children, then. Name it and shame it, make a plan and share it with someone you trust, pray about it. Don’t put it off to tomorrow, do it today, you’ll immediately feel more like your old self and will look forward to a more peaceful night’s sleep tonight!
Text and image © Mark Arnold
New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
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