I have a confession to make: lately, I’ve been struggling to keep myself together. I miss deadlines, forget to text people back. Turn things in exactly at 11:59pm. Call it the mid-semester reckoning, or midterm season, or simply being burnt out, but I (and I’m sure many of you) do not know how to manage it lately. Work is boring, I wake up more tired than when I went to sleep. I can’t find inspiration for anything. Add to this the disheartening process of applying to summer jobs and internships, where you put a lot of work into the application only for it to go wholly unrecognized unless the company is interested in you. Suffice to say, I’m (we’re) tired.
Call it the mid-semester reckoning, or midterm season, or simply being burnt out, but I (and I’m sure many of you) do not know how to manage it lately.
For me, the hardest part of reaching this point in the semester or year is that it paradoxes you. You are exhausted, so you don’t want to do anything. No amount of rest you take is restorative enough to motivate you to truly reengage. But the problem is, of course, that this is the time when all of your obligations require you to be the most focused, the most “locked in.” Deadlines zip by, assignments and applications are always due. So you’re in a paradox, or you become one.
And how to handle this? Unfortunately, you check out even more. Not fight or flight. Freezing. You stop doing any work at all because it won’t be sufficient or good enough. And this, naturally, makes it even harder to fulfill your responsibilities. You get more and more stuck. Worry about all of the things you’re avoiding while also feeling numb about them. You feel guilty. Like an imposter. You look at everyone around you and wonder how they do it, how they seem so calm and on top of everything. You want to give in. Give up.
So what can you do? To avoid all of this, to prevent or escape the paradox? What’s hard is a lot of it seems beyond our control. We are still in a pandemic. We live in a capitalist society that exploits us and our work. One that is also racist, sexist, homphobic, ableist, and more. It is no wonder we feel like this. The system was designed this way, and it is out of our control.
You look at everyone around you and wonder how they do it, how they seem so calm and on top of everything. You want to give in. Give up.
I grappled with this realization for the longest time when I first came to it. How can you ever get better, feel better, if “the system” seems designed to make you feel this way? The same feelings and paradoxes will arise until it is dismantled. And that, can, quite honestly, feel crushing. Having to accept that despite all the hard work and organizing of activists and community members and everyone in between, we’re likely not going to see the world we dream of embodied in our lifetime. There is so much valuable and amazing work being done and progress being made, and all of that should be celebrated, but there is also space to feel frustrated about this being the world we are in.
We still find a way to get through each day. To reclaim our agency and connection to each other. These keep us going: ourselves and each other.
Something else that is hard to believe or accept is that sometimes, when people say that exercising or meditating or spending time with friends will make you feel better, they’re right. These things are generative. It’s hard because they don’t cure the large, omnipresent, overwhelming societal issues that make us feel this way. So it can feel like there’s no point in engaging in activities to treat the symptoms.
But I think the point is practicing these kinds of things without seeing them as the end-all be-all. Living in this world is like treading water: it’s exhausting. And practicing restorative activities doesn’t take you out of the water or get rid of the water all together. It just gives you a floatie or a kickboard. Something to rest your head on. The problem isn’t fixed, but it feels nice to rest, even for a second.
Practicing restorative activities doesn’t take you out of the water or get rid of the water all together. It just gives you a floatie or a kickboard. Something to rest your head on.
This duality can feel crushing to accept. That things can be all at once okay and so far from it. But it also restores your sense of self; you are not the problem or the reason for it. You are doing your best in a system designed to fail you. You (we) are tired, and trying not to be, and that’s enough.