Cereal with Hand-Poured Milk
Updated: Jan 17
I sat down to write today and realized something: I. Am. Tired.
In fact, I'm beyond tired. I'm exhausted - and wholly, completely and totally uninspired.
And I know I’m not alone in this. The calls and email and unraveled conversations are coming more frequently and more desperately and from people who have never, EVER experienced the level of “exhaustion and apathy” (and all kinds of other bewildered, enraged and sweary descriptions) they’re feeling.
Some of the hardest hit right now are those who everyone else typically rely on when things get tough. They are the leaders. Physicians and nurses. Teachers. Administrators. CEOs. HaveItAllTogetherParents (yes, that’s an official title I’ve long, secretly used to describe a type of parent I envy).
Everyone is tired.
My grandad used to say, “When you don’t know what to do, do the work in front of you - at least your chores get done.”
I’ve leaned into that bit of wisdom more times than I can count. The *work in front of me* has carried me through 90-hour weeks and consoled me in moments of overwhelm. It is a nice bit of wisdom for the stresses and pressures of everyday life, and even worked through some of the storms. "Just the work in front of me" was a mantra when my eldest son was diagnosed with leukemia and I struggled to remember which direction was up.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t stress. This isn’t a passing storm.
This is the relentless trauma of these times. And we've got to name it.
Trauma is fundamentally different from stress, and it is important to know and acknowledge that they exist together on a continuum. While most of us think of trauma as a single, horrific event or moment in time, trauma also results from the prolonged, relentless exposure to a toxic environment, particularly when there is real or perceived loss of control and when it fundamentally shifts or shakes our worldview.
Right now, we are all the proverbial frog in the pot. And no matter how big your pot may have been or how much water you started out with, the water is getting damn hot. And it is taking a toll.
Our natural reactions to trauma (fight, flight, freeze, submit) are protective adaptations that keep us safe from the hypothetical bear we encounter in the woods. Trauma also unleashes a biological cascade that, while very helpful when facing down an actual bear, is incredibly harmful when sustained, unrelentingly, for weeks, months or years at a time.
Sustained exposure to unrelenting caustic stress and trauma morphs this natural protective response into something maladaptive and harmful. It can lead us to behave in ways that are uncharacteristic, unhealthy or destructive. It also exhausts our physical, emotional and psychological reserves and, if left unaddressed, embeds itself in our bodies in ways that are physically harmful.
We have been going. And going. And going. I’m tired. You’re tired. Everyone is tired and even the most stoic and grounded and well-resourced among us are feeling and showing signs of strain. This isn’t the type of tired we can mitigate with extra sleep or self-care. It requires something more.
Naming it without shame.
Listening without fixing.
And (sorry grandad!) figuring out what we can half-ass without harm.
Exhaustion carries a weightiness that can’t be remedied with a little extra sleep or a moment of rest and reflection. Exhaustion settles into the bones, and left untended will weaken the matrix. If you think you’re alone, you aren’t. I promise you aren’t. Exhaustion demands we examine all we're carrying, ask ourselves what really is critical, then lay some things down and let some things go.
What can you half-ass without harm?
What can you lay down and leave?
What doesn’t need your attention today?
Where can you say, “No. That doesn’t work for me.”
What really *isn't* an emergency (in this time when everything *is*)?
Where can you say “YES” to you?
If you’ve been the competent one. The resilient leader. The one who shouldered it and soldiered on. The one who remained calm and made it ok for others. The one who said yes and yes and yes and yes to the needs and requests and demands of everyone around you while duct-taping the mouth of your voice and needs: I see you.
You count, too.
You’ve done beautifully. And we still have a long road ahead. The work in front of you will still be there tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Today, I shall model half-assery in the hope that it gives you permission to do so, too. Dinner shall be cereal with hand-poured milk. Projects will be sidelined for hugs. Work ignored in favor of connection. The kid's dirty clothes definitely have another day of wear, and homework...well, I never much cared about that anyway.
And this blog – which by all standards should have greater depth, explanation, exploration and aspiration – will end here with my favorite reminders:
We can grow in and through these times, my friends. Take care of each other and vaccinate as soon as you can. We can fix anything but dead.