Ever since I've gotten back from school, I have been exhausted. Not the kind of exhausted that can be fixed with a warm bath and twelve hours of sleep, but an exhaustion that comes from not living up to our own expectations. A fatigue that is born when who we want to be is not in line with who we are; who we were made to be right now in this moment. I used to think that “tired” was defined by how many hours of sleep I got, and how many cups of coffee I downed, but it wasn’t until I started trying to be someone I wasn’t that I learned the true meaning of exhaustion.
If I'm being honest, the exhaustion that I feel has probably been there for much longer than a week. It’s been these past few days without club meetings, classes, to-do lists, and essays to write that I have finally been able to rest and rediscover what it feels like to listen to the natural rhythm of my body. I’ve slept in late and made matcha green tea lattes and eaten cumin, garlicy, avocado spread on warm seven grain bread and worn my pajamas all day. I have taken my dog on long walks along the lakefront and went to yoga and stayed up late reading my favorite books by lamplight. I’ve slowed waaaay down from the pace of Vanderbilt, and in the stillness I have found that my body has been screaming at me. It’s been trying to get my attention for much too long. It wants to tell me something I don’t want to hear, something I have tried to drown out with productivity and large soy lattes with double shots of espresso, and runs in Centennial Park. It’s been trying to tell me something that I want to deny, something that I believe will make me weak, something that Vandy culture tells you to never acknowledge. My body has been yelling and whispering and working so hard to relay a vital message: Please, slow down. I am exhausted.
For me, admitting exhaustion is the most terrifying thing in the world. Exhaustion is like getting up in front of a big crowd and telling everyone I am not enough. Not smart enough, not skinny enough, not organized enough, not motivated enough, just plain and simple not enough to get the job done right. Admitting exhaustion feels like showing up to a group project and not doing any of your job. Admitting exhaustion is like getting called on in class to talk about the reading when you didn’t even look at a single word on the page. When I think of the word exhausted, some other synonyms that pop up next to it in the dictionary-of-Shan’s-brain are weak, unworthy, unmotivated, and lazy. Maybe it’s the Vanderbilt culture, or maybe it’s the competition I felt at my high school, but somewhere along the way I learned that exhaustion just isn’t an option. There must have been a moment I officially learned it, but some academic setting somewhere in my past taught me that there are two options when it comes to being tired:
1. Don’t be.
2. If you are, you better be dang good at hiding it.
So, that’s the way I’ve lived lately. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel the same way too. I did such a good job as hiding my exhaustion that I didn’t even see it myself. It wasn’t until I was back in the comfort of my home that I let my guard down enough to realize the depth of my exhaustion. This week has felt like peeling back a band aid to find what you thought was just a tiny papercut is really a deep slice wound: something that’s more than just skin deep, something that needs more than a little Neosporin and a band aid.
The first few days at home I dismissed it as caffeine withdrawal or lack of sleep, but as my sleep schedule normalized and the exhaustion became more profound, I began to realize it was something more than just a lack of coffee. I had to do the scary work of admitting I was tired on a spiritual level to actually get to the root of what was causing my exhaustion.
After tears, and conversations with mom, and journaling, and more tears, I’ve realized that I have been living out of a space of expectation for too long. I am pushing myself to be someone that I am not, someone I will never be. I am chasing after the version of “me” that I expect other people to want. I tell myself that I am already behind, and I have ground to make up. Its like I'm running on a treadmill and each day I need to run a little faster to reach my goal. Each moment is vital if I want to be who my ego tells me I must be. I believe the voice of the enemy that whispers saying, “who you are is not enough, and you really ought to do something about it."
My exhaustion is the direct product of resisting who I am. I made this realization today while sitting at my kitchen table reading the most fitting book by my favorite author in the world, Shauna Niequist. She was comparing her inability to accept change to learning to swim in the ocean:
Every wave presents us with a choice to make, and quite often, unfortunately, I have stood, both resolute and terrified, staring down a wave. I have been smacked straight on with the force of the water, tumbled disoriented, gasping for breath and my swimsuit bottoms, and spit onto shore, embarrassed and sand-burned, standing up only to get knocked down again, refusing to float on the surface and surrender to the sea.
That’s the way I feel most days: disoriented and too proud to let go of who I want to be that I stand stubbornly and face the wrath of resistance, only to be smacked in the face repeatedly by the tide. There’s a simpler way to swim, and I know it. If I could just surrender to the flow of the waves and accept that who I am today- with all my flaws and imperfections- is who God created me to be, I would spend a lot less time gasping for air. If I chose each day to wake up and be all of who I am instead of using my energy to insist that my plan is better than God’s, I would feel less exhaustion, and a lot more peace.
There is a whole life to be lived full of joy and creativity that I am missing by trying to calculate each day in order to fit within my expectation of what life should look like. So, this post is my personal permission slip. I’m excused from living a life of self-improvement. I am done trying to change who I am. With this blog post, I am giving myself permission to surrender to the waves of who God wants me to be, and I am letting go of the resistance that comes with my desire to control. I am giving myself permission to admit that I am exhausted, to find out what is causing it, and to make a change. If the exhaustion I am describing sounds familiar to you, I hope you can write yourself a permission slip as well. Let’s accept our exhaustion, own it, and give ourselves the grace to change. We’re in this together.