When Exhaustion Is Transformative
I have been tired many times in my life. But this time was different.
Last October, I had distressing dream with a funny feeling in my chest. I got up from bed and showered but I noticed that it hurt to breathe in and out deeply. I thought that perhaps I had COVID again since it felt like, to a certain degree, how my chest felt when I was in the thick of the illness. But this pain was different. It came in waves, receding and then crashing upon the shore. I tried to ignore it and continue on with my day by meeting with a friend of mines for breakfast in the Upper West Side. But as soon as we parted ways, the pain overtook me again. I was not sick. At least not in the way that I thought.
I was walking back to the train station when I saw that I was approaching an Urgent Care. I texted a friend to see if I should go and my friend promptly responded, “I wouldn’t play with lung stuff.” So I went inside.
What happened next was a blur. I was tested to see if I had any blood clots, and then the doctor prescribed me an inhaler. But they urged me not to go home just yet. They encouraged me to go to the ER. And that I did. I sat in a back room by myself while hooked up to an IV for the first time in my life. I was sad. Alone. Almost shivering.
Then the friendly doctor came back to my room with my results while I cried the entire time: Everything was fine. My stats could not have been any better. The IV came out of my arm. I got a cute band-aid and I was free to go. I should’ve been relieved but I wasn’t.
Later on that evening, I broke down in tears in a support group for people recovering from past heartbreak. Then a few days later, my therapist told me that what I had was a panic attack. I broke down in tears again. I had been trying so hard to rebuild my life after a traumatic breakup and cross-country move and I felt like my body was giving up on me.
And though I’m learning that pain should not be the litmus test for growth (shout-out to my friend Nneka Okona), I have been changed on a cellular level in the aftermath of my hospitalization.
Throughout my entire life, I have been my own worst enemy. I have burnt out many times than I can count. I vividly remember, one time in my 20s, where I wrote an op-ed for Rolling Stone by midnight, by 10 am, it went viral, and then a day or two later, I was on CNN. That same night, I had to moderate a conversation. The next day, I was so tired I thought I should’ve gone to the hospital. I didn’t. I kept plugging along.
I wrote my first book proposal in less than two months. Same goes for my first book. I did the last round of book edits on my novel, Caul Baby, within about a month and some change. I found success at a young age not only because I was ambitious and talented and persistent, but also because I wasn’t very kind to myself.
Whenever I was tired, I put myself on a trial in my mind as to what I did to even warrant exhaustion. I couldn’t just be. Meanwhile, anxiety kept my brain on fire as the bylines and book deals and speaking opportunities continued to grow and grow and grow. What’s even worse? I’m still processing big wins that happened in my twenties because I never sat myself down to actually enjoy them. I felt like I had to move on or else I’d peak.
But 2022 changed me, y’all. Sometimes I sit on my couch and feel like my molecules are shape-shifting. Because at the base level, I never felt like I was good enough. And last year, with all of my professional and personal life changes, I was forced to sit down and remain so much in body for the sake of my life and my sanity that I realized that I wasn’t good enough at all. I was more than enough. I always was. And I finally could see what my loved ones saw in me all along.
I had no other choice. I had to slow down and speak to myself differently because my heart depended on it.
Nowadays, I feel strange, you know? It’s not growing pains, necessarily. It’s like I’m walking through a wide terrain and I’m like, what is all of this?
If I’m tired, I’m tired, and I refuse to fight with myself. Work does not need to get done immediately. Emails do not need to be responded to within a minute. My mind, miraculously, does not have the capacity to think about what-ifs when it comes to my trajectory. I know I do what I need to do because the record shows it. But perhaps where I’m going in the future, I needed to change right here and now. It wasn’t sustainable.
In January, I went on vacation to Cape Town by myself. The day before I left, there were massive layoffs in tech and journalism. When I landed in Newark, there was a mass shooting. Just yesterday, the video of Tyre Nichols’s death by the hands of police officers were released. I didn’t watch it. Instead, I went out to dinner with friends, ate a bunch of spinach croquettes, drank a good deal of wine and sangria, then went home with enough energy just to clean off my make-up.
It’s not that I don’t care about any of the aforementioned events. I do. But I can’t doomscroll the same. I can’t catastrophize the same. I cannot get stuck in the same psychological tornado as before. Because my health is the biggest priority.
So far, I’m taken aback by how much quieter my life feels. Yes, I’m doing my work but I feel more sensitive to the world around me. I fantasize more of the cheesiest and warmest of intimacies. I sleep like a baby, literally in the fetal position, and I liken it to perhaps me working on my inner child. I’m intentional with everything I do. I am more present.
I feel both familiar and unfamiliar within this new phase of my life. But it sure does feel good to be here.
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Thank you for sharing. So glad to hear you are taking care. :)