I’m not sure when the exhaustion started. It began settling in as the days kept rolling, nesting in between my bones and capturing the muscles in my legs. At first it was a distant hum I chose to ignore, as I dragged myself from my desk to a dance class to a meeting to the kitchen to cook.
I put in the hours. I had dutifully cultivated a routine over the past months that helped me ensure I’d get things done. I could shift around what I wanted to do based on how I felt, always having a minimum baseline for ensuring nothing fell through the cracks. But the occasional “bare-minimum” days became more frequent, accumulating one after the other, and I no longer saw much point in getting up early in the morning.
It was only about a week ago I began to acknowledge that I was always tired. As soon as I woke up, I couldn’t wait for the day to finish. The thing I most looked forward to, the highlight of my day, was its end, when I could finally sit on the couch, sip some wine and watch something easily digestible.
As a freelance translator moonlighting as a dance instructor I have gotten used to energetic sacrifices, to pushing myself even when I don’t feel like it. I am by now used to the push and pull, to showing up and performing even when all I want to do is lay in bed and watch videos. Feeling tired was just not an option. You push and do the work whenever there is work, make the most of the times there isn’t any. I used to tell myself I just needed a short vacation to simply do nothing and sleep in, but I’ve had that, and I am still tired.
Strangely, weirdly, ironically, I have not been this organized and productive for a very long time. I am used to putting in the hours, to pushing forth, but I have not always been strategic about it. I am now doing the things I had been wanting to do for many years: writing regularly, making YouTube videos, teaching class, creating choreography, starting a new job. I live within my passions, holding it all together with routines, and now all I want to do is sleep.
Like many people, I have had a huge loss of income this past year, and yet, the moments of incredible doubt interspersed by another hopeful and optimistic push to conquer the next challenge fueled me in the earlier months of the pandemic. There was a fiery sense of struggle and survival that peppered my days back then. My cycles of anxiety were bookended by cathartic weeping sessions as I came to grips with what was hurting from long ago. I would come out of the pits of despair renewed, more insightful, knowing myself better.
As the pandemic rolled on, I made plans. I undertook new ventures, and boldly forged ahead with projects that had been stalling for seemingly centuries. What it feels like is as if my mind had separated from my body completely, and kept moving forward as my body lags far behind, praying for the next break so it can catch its breath. What it feels like is that after all the previous stages of anxiety, questioning, investigating, feeding algorithms and creating new things, I am simply spent.
The exhaustion sometimes comes as a kink on my right hip, or soreness on any number of resentful muscles. Sometimes it manifests as a dry throat and a general malaise, and I begin to suspect coronavirus has finally come. I massage, I stretch, I ice and do all of the good things. I drink water, I drink coffee, I sit in contemplation. I do my best to read sometimes, though it gets harder and harder to keep my focus. Today I sit here, truly wondering what strange glue is keeping me together.
When I dance, I don’t feel any of that, I simply do the work, whatever that is, until it is done. It feels good, and I am sure without it I would be doing far, far worse. It is what keeps me going, giving me energy to create social media content to promote classes, develop new ideas, create new choreographies, do research, even when I don’t feel I have the energy.
And then I collapse. My body plops on the couch, enjoying its brief endorphin rush, and relishing the moment of rest. I am not entirely sure what my body wants right now. To sleep in? To not feel like it’s in a rush? Respite from anxiety and worrying? More protein? More leafy greens? More liquids? More vitamins? More sun? More human contact? A resolution?
I suspect it has more to do with the constant bracing, the effects of being in perpetual stasis, teeth gritted and fists tight, ever preparing for a fight that never comes. If I don’t know when the punch is going to come, or where it’s coming from, I might do well to remain in a continuous state of preparation. Perhaps this low-grade fight or flight mode has finally wreaked havoc on my system, and I am just about to short-circuit.
I think, deep down, what hurts about this pandemic is that there is no punch. It simply strips away, one thin layer at a time, and by the time you notice the skin is gone, the pain has become unbearable. What hurts is the lack of resolution, the continuous hurtling towards an uncertain nothingness, like walking in a desert, with no end in sight.