Skip to main content

Guest post by:  Jennifer MacQueen

Posted: December 7, 2023

Word, concept, feeling.  I’ve been working on understanding my relationship with exhaustion for several weeks.  I am reaching the end of something.  I think exhaustion has set in, and I am wrestling with acceptance.  It has a way of creeping in.  As I am recognizing it, I have questions about it.  Exhaustion gets in the way of my mojo- my pride in staying the course, not giving in, pushing past.  I have come to a few conclusions.

Woman sleeping in bed with covers pulled up

Exhaustion enters on its own when the universe is desperate to bring clarity to a situation.  It says, “You’ve reached the end, darling”.  You must look at it with clear eyes that only exhaustion can give.  It says there is no choice but to see clearly and take the path that is revealed.  

Exhaustion leads to clarity.  It is a depletion.  The energy can return, but only after recovery and a clear decision about what is next.

The exhausted feeling shows up when there is nothing more to give physically or mentally.  It could be the result of a conflict, a physical endeavor, or just life piling on.  The ONLY move is to reach for what can be controlled, because exhaustion leaves you with no other choice.  It drives you to reach for the “off” switch, but that is when the questions come:

Can I try a different way?

Can I pull energy from somewhere else?

Why don’t I have the strength to push past this?

And the self-bashing begins.

Exhaustion has tried to gently nudge you to rest, and you keep trying to fight it.

The physical version of exhaustion should feel good – like a release.  The yoga practice of asana is a flow of a series of physical poses that is designed to bring on exhaustion so that the mind can be free of the physical for the time needed to recover.  The final resting pose is called Shavasana.  It is delicious.

Mental exhaustion is not usually brought on intentionally.  It requires the ability to recognize when it is happening.  A break is needed in order to continue the process.  The break is what brings clarity:  sleep, meditation, a walk.  Clearing the mind is the only choice that mental exhaustion reveals and it will lead back to the ability to think clearly and productively with fresh thoughts.

Surrendering to exhaustion is a choice.  The struggle is in the tendency to see the surrender as a weakness.  A key principle of training- both physical and mental – is to reach limits and methodically work to push past them.  It must be a measured, gated effort, and it helps improve the capacity to reach a goal.  Studying hard in pursuit of the mastery of a subject or training for a physical event are examples.  In both cases, exhaustion, and the recovery it demands, is necessary for forward progress.  Find the limit.  Push on it a little.  Reach unfiltered exhaustion.  Accept it and rest.  Reach some clarity and new energy.

I am ready to test this recipe.  I have ignored exhaustion and pushed way past the limits with little to no recovery.  I have been in some kind of hurry to stay on a path to reach goals I set for myself years ago:  Success at all costs.  I paid little attention to the exhausted feeling that came from moving my family across the country, breast cancer, divorce, moving alone back across the country, severe heart break, the return of cancer, and my mother’s serious decline in mental health.  That is a long string of big challenges with little to no rest and recovery.  My self talk was counterproductive to what the exhaustion was trying to tell me.  My words to myself included:

“Life is hard – rise to the occasion.”

“Keep going.”

“Rest is for the weak.”

“Shit happens.  Deal with it.”

I was pushing hard for my manufactured version of a finish line that I felt I deserved and literally killing myself to cross it.  I would have the career climb, fit body, appearance of graceful aging, and all of the good times I had wanted for myself for so long.  I was pushing really hard for all of it.  

I reached exhaustion in my marriage.  I pushed past that point for 10 more years until I broke.  I reached exhaustion with a post-divorce love affair, and pushed on to a heart break that I am afraid shaded out the part of my heart that trusts.  The cancer that I thought I crushed years ago came back with a vengeance.  I endured so much the first time, but I never rested and recovered after treatment ended.  This time it has brought me to my knees – next level exhaustion.  She’s not messing around this time.

It is time to rest, reflect, and recharge.  Duh!!  I should have taken the rest that exhaustion offered so   many times along the way.  It simply cannot be denied now.  I will surrender and trust that the rest will re-energize parts of me that have faded.  I will see the exhaustion for the gift that it is – a solid signal that it is time to take and enjoy the bench for a bit and the time it will afford to get back to the game with renewed strength.

Do you have a trick you use to help decrease your exhaustion? What have you discovered on your own journey of healing which helped you really heal on a bad day? Share it with us at:   

We envision a world where survivors can recognize their own power as they heal. Plus, we know that sharing your story lessens the shame and silence for any person who reads it. We stand as architects of change, amplifying the voices of survivors by addressing the intricate web of new ideas and healing resources to create a new life. Our values encompass a sanctuary where feelings find validation, where emotions find expression, and where healing begins. Join us! Take our hand and let’s go change the world!