Everything Is Tender: Emotional Fatigue and Holding on to Hope
Being on alert all the time is exhausting, and even when I’m not conscious of it, the anxiety is there.
When my fellow highly-sensitive, gentle friend posts on Facebook asking how we are all doing, I barely hesitate. Not well, I reply, my mind and body are having trouble adjusting to the new frequency of things. This is my truth, which I struggle to articulate.
10 months in, my feet are unsteady underneath me, and much of the time I just feel like I have no control over my emotional-physical well-being. I thought surviving a global pandemic and that grief as an empath was hard, but then came social uprisings and politics and suddenly a bunch of assholes in Trump hats were storming the Capital like, hey coronavirus, hold my beer.
An undercurrent of fear and unsureness and conflict weaves through every single day.
As much as I was unprepared to handle the realities of a global pandemic, if it had been only that, maybe the stress levels wouldn’t be so high. But it’s like the frequency at which the whole world vibrates has changed. An undercurrent of fear and unsureness and conflict weaves through every single day.
Being on high alert all the time is exhausting. How close is that person? Are they wearing their mask correctly? What did I touch in that store? Do we really need milk tonight or can it wait for our pickup grocery order? When, if ever, is it worth it to take my kids into a store? Logically, I know that being in a grocery store with commercial ventilation and social distancing is not the cause of outbreaks, but in my heart I wonder if there is such a thing as being too careful.
After being out in public for a cumulative total of 2 hours and visiting 2 stores and one drive-through, I am exhausted. It takes so much more energy than it used to just to move through time. Even when I’m not conscious of it, the anxiety is there.
I seem to have been doubly unprepared to handle the final boiling over of the recognition of systemic racism in the country I call home. I have worked hard over the past few years to understand but I’m the first to admit that the work has come in fits and starts. Yes, I have struggled with my own racism and whiteness and how being aware of it all just makes it all more apparent.
Now I hesitate to take breaks because it’s such a privilege. Where I lowered my expectations of myself in the face of emotionally regulating during a pandemic, I don’t feel that’s an option in the face of supporting a movement based on basic human rights. I can’t look away from news about police shootings and protests and systemic oppression.
I watch hundreds of people surround the pinnacle of our democracy, I watch them break in and mindlessly vandalize it, I watch one black cop try to hold his ground then run. Can you imagine the terror of being a black cop chased by a group of racist white supremacist terrorists? It makes me shudder. And they all survive, because they are white. No arrests are made that day.
A week later, the FBI has released information that armed protests are planned at all 50 state capitals, as well as Washington D.C., for Inauguration Day. I am uncertain and frightened.
Some days, like today, I am so tired that I can’t concentrate. It’s not that I didn’t sleep well, it’s just that sleep doesn’t cure the emotional exhaustion in my heart. It doesn’t answer these questions with no answers. What is going to happen on the 20th? How many people will not survive, because it’s definitely going to be more than zero? When will I be able to get myself and my kids vaccinated?
My relationship is suffering. Being a stay at home step-parent is not easy in the best of times, but when you’re also trapped in one place 24/7 and taking on the role of managing schooling, it’s even harder. In the last few weeks, we’ve both expressed the feeling that we’re out of sync. We normally fit together like puzzle pieces, moving through life like whirling dervishes connected by an invisible string. Now, we are like ships passing in the night.
In the last few weeks, we’ve both expressed the feeling that we’re out of sync.
So much of our free time used to involve enjoying activities together, going to the movies, out to eat, to parks. Now, we stay indoors most of the time, and nothing seems very fun anymore. If I were alone, I would spend my weekends watching TV and painting and probably napping a lot. I want desperately to have some time for myself, but also want desperately to rekindle our connection. I know we’ll make it through it all, but it’s still hard in these moments, hours, days, and weeks.
At night, I put my son to bed then I just sit on the couch, not feeling like doing anything. On the weekends, I don’t get anything done, then I feel guilty about it. There’s a lot of guilt.
I feel guilty for wanting to do my own thing during the hours when our kids are away, that precious time we usually connect during. I feel guilty for the increasing number of days that going home after work and parenting just feels like too much. I feel guilty for how I feel like I want to escape, to leave on a solo-weekend where I don’t think about anyone or anything. I feel guilty for knowing that they’re going to bring my son’s peers back to school soon and I’m 95% sure I just can’t let him do it. I feel guilty for the fact that he’ll go a full year without seeing any friends in person, but I would feel worse if he was unable to see his Grandma, who’s basically a parent to him.
I’m struggling, but I don’t know if it’s again or still, and I worry that if I keep saying it out loud everyone will just be tired of hearing it.
Everything is tender. I’m struggling, but I don’t know if it’s again or still, and I worry that if I keep saying it out loud everyone will just be tired of hearing it. I’m not used to not knowing what it is that I need, not used to feeling like there isn’t anything that will really make me feel better. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time, I’ve told myself it’s okay if that’s all I can manage. But I’m starting to feel like that method of coping is growing tired and I need to do more. As we approach a full year under lockdown, a full year since my kids have had a playdate or gone down the street to a friends, a full year since things felt normal.
I’m sad all the time, and I’m also so angry at all the people who have no human compassion and no care for other human beings, they just want to be RIGHT all the time. They just want to do what they want, from not wearing a mask to having parties. It is their fault that hundreds of thousands of people have died alone, that multiples of that have had to grieve without final goodbyes or funerals. Everything is breaking my heart and I can’t regulate it, and I feel like I just have to ride it out.
2020 felt like a Ninja Warrior course for emotional regulation, and we only made it 6 days into 2021 before it revealed itself not to be much better. I felt a surge of hope around the end of December, but in January everything is once again so unstable, so unsure, so full of uncertainty. At work, we talk about whether we should be doing extra grocery orders and stockpiling toilet paper and bread so we don’t have to go out next week.
I wish there was some clean way for me to wrap all of this up. In reality, I feel like I could write for days and still not be finished trying to bleed these feelings from my soul. I may be down in the dumps, but I have not lost all of my hope. There are glimmers here and there, moments when I am still sure that better days are coming, that we’ve made it this far, and we will make it into the light. They don’t always make the days going by easier, but dreams of hope keep me going. It’s just that I don’t have much extra to offer, or know how to reassure anyone when we are all experiencing so much collective grief.
In the words of my girlfriend, you can only be where you are. And we are still here.
Most of all, I think the flip side of my empath heart helps me stay afloat. I feel pain and grief so deeply, but I also feel love in such an all-encompassing and compassionate way. I do what I can to help my friends who need it right now. I remember to tell people how much I love them, I send hand-painted Christmas cards and random gifts and giving that love makes me feel grounded. I write and I think of all of you, out there reading, and I hope somehow it helps you feel less alone. In the words of my girlfriend, you can only be where you are. And we are still here.
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