During the pandemic I took control of my finances, stayed home, and got used to being alone with my own company. I felt my world shrink but thought in the after times, things would be better. I haven’t got my pre-plague times capacity back yet. After work I’m exhausted, and trying to make life changes (career and dating) feels overwhelming. I exercise twice a week and eat well and my sleep schedule is OK. How am I supposed to go forward if I’m still low on capacity?
A.T. / Somerville
“Dear Miss Conduct, I got run over by a truck. But the truck isn’t on top of me anymore, so why am I just lying here in the road, not improving my life?”
Because you got run over by a truck, that’s why. People aren’t Warner Bros. cartoon characters, springing back into full form and capabilities with a rubbery sound effect after falling off a cliff. That’s as true of our brains as of the rest of our bodies. We’ve been through two years of COVID-related disruption and strain, having to learn whole new sets of habits for nearly every aspect of daily life and then, sometimes, unlearn or modify said habits as the virus became better understood. While our lives are less restricted now, there’s still the constant burden of risk assessment and logistical planning. Life is more difficult than it was. And that’s only the cognitive burden that COVID has imposed; there’s been an emotional toll as well. Your brain is still sorting through all of that, figuring out what lessons and habits and memories to keep and which to discard. Don’t expect the computer to be running at top speed while the software is being updated, you know? And aside from all that learning and unlearning, you’re simply out of practice at socializing, and being out and about all day. Of course it wears you out now, it’s like the first week of school after summer vacation.
You survived intact, physically and mentally and financially. You did it! This fatigue you are feeling is not failure. Be gentle with your tired mind. If you had been run over by a truck, your body would need rest. It would need external supports like casts and crutches. It would need to be gently reconditioned and trained back into strength and wholeness. It would need time. Your brain needs the same.
What this means in practice differs for everyone, but it boils down to how much you can streamline your life down to the absolute must-dos, and the activities and relationships that truly give you joy. What expectations and obligations can you jettison, what standards can you reasonably lower? Can you hire a cleaner, get grocery delivery, outsource any other labor? And what’s fun? Not what will get you to the next step in life, but what’s fun right now? The tired brain can get motivated by Must and Want, almost never by Should. I wish you the best.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.