When tired feels like your theme song.

For the last several months, I’ve been in a season where tired feels like my theme song.  There have been some medical factors and some other factors, but the long and short is I have not had a lot of energy. You may have noticed I haven’t been writing…  This season began after a brief time overseas.  I thought initially it was just re-entry shock.  And then it continued:  I kept thinking, tomorrow I will feel better…  I kept justifying…it’s just been a busy season.  But at a certain point when 7pm seemed like my desired bed time I realized…maybe there’s more going on.

I’ve been learning again how to do life when tired feels like my theme song.  How I ended up here is a bit nebulous.  Maybe traveling overseas triggered something on an emotional level.  Maybe it’s because my body’s internal chemistry somehow got off kilter.  Maybe it’s because life was busy for a sustained period, and I’ve not left enough time for rest.  Maybe it’s because I keep getting sick.  I kept asking why, and at a certain point decided…maybe it doesn’t matter so much why.  But even during weeks when I was being super disciplined about eating, sleep, and, doing what the doctor says…tired is the place I found myself.  And now as I feel myself coming to the end of this fog…I’ve been reminded that nothing lasts forever, but for a season my body just had less energy than I wished it did.

This season has taken me back…back to my initial season of re-entry.  Back to the days when tired really was my theme song.  I recently re-read my journal from my first year back in the US.  Looking back, there is one word I’d use to describe the girl writing there:  TIRED {and feeling angry and guilty about being tired}.  Complete and total exhaustion.  I was struggling to muster energy.  Energy for friendships.  Energy for decision making.  Energy for processing what happened on the field.

Here are my thoughts for the seasons when tired is our theme song….written to me in my first year of re-entry and written to me now:

1)  Sometimes our bodies have less energy.  Ruthie, it’s OK to face and embrace that fact.  It’s not necessarily because you did anything wrong.  Sometimes no amount of wishing, caffeine, or sleeping can make the fog of exhaustion lift overnight.  Sometimes there are factors out of our control that affect our finite bodies.  I know sometimes it feels easier to live in denial {drink more caffeine…and push on through}.  Please don’t do this.  It won’t help.

2)  Please stop feeling guilty because you don’t have as much energy as you’d like.  I give you permission to feel grief…because you’d like to do stuff and some days have to say no. Because sometimes you feel like you’re missing out.  But say no to shame and guilt…it just adds to the exhaustion.  Be realistic and give yourself grace.

3)  Ruthie, I know you’d like to just keep going full speed ahead in life, but the reality is right now you just can’t.  Sorry, you’re aren’t superwoman {even if you feel like others expect you to be}.  You are human.  This means you have limitations.  I know limitations are hard.  They mean we can’t always do whatever we want.  Limitations mean that when we are under prolonged stress {or have negative coping strategies} it can affect our physical health.

4)  Go to the doctor.  I know it’s easy to say…I’m just tired…not much can be done.  But it’s worth addressing the medical component.  There may not be something major going on, but sometimes minor things can affect us in big ways.  And you won’t know unless you ask.         

I am not a medical doctor.  I am not going to try to explain how stress and cortisol and prolonged periods of living on adrenaline can affect your health…but experts seem to say it can.   I know it’s easy to believe the myth that if you are working in ministry, you should be able to do anything.  {He doesn’t give us what we can’t handle right?}.  But it’s OK to accept the reality that your physical health has been affected from living under high stress situation for an extended time oversees.  It doesn’t make you more or less spiritual.  It just is the reality.

Ruthie, please embrace wise people who can educate you and help you to know how to restore your physical and emotional health.  Embrace the wisdom of doctors or counselors or people who know about these things.  Do use your energy to educate yourself.  Call and make the appointment.  Ask questions.   Follow the wisdom they give you about what are wise choices for this season of life.

5)  This is not your season to save the world.  Or take on big projects at work.  Or try to resolve all the family drama that has existed from before the time you were born.  This is your season to do the routine well.   I know routine is not always exciting.  I know your efforts at routine are not always recognized by others.  I know routine is not on your bucket list, but routine done well right now is what’s best for you!

6)  Lack of energy is not an excuse for lack of self-care.  Ruthie, I know it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the energy to take care of yourself.  But please use the energy you have for those things that are most nourishing.  You can’t do everything right now…but please do what is energy building.  Do take time to figure out what those things are life giving and what is not.  Be intentional about building life in such a way that it involves good self care.

7)  Caring for your physical health is a spiritual act.  I made a list {thanks to the wisdom of my spiritual director} of things that made me more able to connect with God and love those around me and things that made me feel further from God and less loving.  I was shocked to realize how many of these things were choices towards self care.  Things like getting enough sleep and eating wisely really did affect how I felt and how I was able to connect with God and give love to others.  Please accept God’s invitation to draw closer to Him by caring for yourself.

8)  Please don’t use this as an excuse to forgo friendship.  I know you and your introverted tendencies sometimes find that people drain you.  But…please invest in those friendships that are life giving.

9)  There are seasons of life where the best ministry we can have is modeling good self care.  In the midst of our driven culture, sometimes it’s a gift to those around us to model what having good margins and self care can look like.  It can be counter cultural to say no.  It can be a-typical to be honest about what we feel like can handle …and make choices based on what we need right now in this season of life.  But giving our friends and family permission to have good self care themselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

10)  This season is not forever!  Even now you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  As you look back, filter this season through lenses to notice things that can only be learned in seasons of exhaustion.  You may just find nuggets of thankfulness and hope.

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Ruthie formerly served cross culturally in Central America. She had her own rocky reentry back to the USA about eight years ago. She currently lives in the Midwest where she enjoys volunteering with refugee families, shopping international grocery stores, and drinking cups of coffee with friends.

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It took you eight years to get to this point? Oh my goodness that’s daunting for me (a returnee of just 7 months). But you have written so kindly to yourself (and me) – I guess however long it takes it’s all life, all learning.

    • Maggie, Hang in there…everyone’s story is unique. Sometimes it takes longer then we might like…but it’s also different for everyone.

  • Coming over from Velvet Ashes, and I feel like this could be written for me. But seriously, I had to laugh a lot because I AM Ruth (and Ruthie to my family) so it really IS like it was written for me! Thank you for the reminder of all these truths I need to hear right now!

  • Wow, this was so strange because I really felt like you were writing to me specifically because my name is Ruthie and everything was hitting home. Then I realized you were addressing yourself. 🙂 I’ve been home for two months after almost two years away and my ambitious restless personality wants to throw my heart and energy into some big project again but I know I need to “do the routine well” as dull as that may sound. Self care is a self discipline I’ve decided. At least for some people. Thank you for a great post.

  • Dear Ruthie. I am a TCP (Third culture parent) and also involved full time in Member Care to cross-cultural workers, including their kids.
    Your article impacted me personally and is perhaps the best I have ever read. Thank you for sharing so personally and wisely.
    I will forward this on to my daughter who has and is still learning to live with much of what you have experienced.
    May you know and experience the loving presence of the God of the journey.

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