Is the Root of Your Exhaustion Completely Unrelated to Food and Sleep?
For the last 8 months I've been exhausted. Tired from the moment I wake up to the moment I go back to bed.
At first it was a subtle frustration for me, one that felt really familiar. I've spent a lot of my life tired. In high school I was constantly exhausted because I snuck out of the house at night to canoodle with my boyfriends. Then I'd get home as the sun came up, go to school and sports and do all the rest of the things high school students do. It was obvious to me why I was tired but I didn't care — there was no way I was going to give up those late nights.
In college I didn't sleep well either, likely due to a combo of eating poorly, drinking habitually and treating my bed as a dual desk (where I wrote papers late into the night) and movie theatre (where I marathon-ed TV shows in a horizontal position that I only left for the bathroom or kitchen). No matter how late I went to sleep I woke up before everyone else. Late nights paired with early mornings seemed like an obvious recipe for being tired, and that made sense to me.
After college I spent a couple years working really hard and also learning to co-habitate (ie share a bed with someone all the way through the night). For many reasons this meant that I didn't sleep a ton and I was tired a lot. Again, it was an explicable result to me.
But when I considered my current situation I had a hard time justifying this persistent feeling of being tired. I tried to attribute it to how I might not be eating, sleeping or fueling right, but that didn't stack up. In the past two years I've completely changed the way I live. My health is, aside from this incessant sleepiness, better than it's been in at least a decade. I am eating well and exercising regularly. Through yoga, I've learned to fall asleep easily and wake up at a normal hour. I teach at nights and I rarely have to be out of the house early, so I'm able to enjoy a really peaceful morning routine. It's one of the major joys in my life and I feel as though I'm getting ample rest and rejuvenation. I don't use my phone or computer in bed, and at the moment I don't have to contend for real estate in my bed with anyone else. I take time to be still. I listen to my body. From a birds' eye view I am checking all the boxes for being well-rested.
Why, then, if I'm doing everything right does it feel like I'm doing everything wrong? Why, when I'm fueling my body so much better than I ever have, do I feel so depleted?
About two months ago I decided to sit down and figure it out. I thought through every change to my diet, lifestyle and schedule I'd made in the last year. I couldn't seem to find any connection that made sense.
It was only when I'd exhausted all options related to how I feed my body that I began to think about other changes in my day to day. I slowly recalled the last time I had great energy, and what was happening in my life. This brought me back to a magical moment in 2016 that changed my life forever.
OPENING THE CHANNEL
In January 2016 I sat down to write one morning, and it was as though the universe sent the words through my fingers onto my screen. Had you asked me what it was like to write that day I would have told you that it was one of the easiest things I've ever done. It required little thinking or muscle or exertion to get those words out.
I didn't realize at the time that this was a pivotal moment, or that a "channel" had opened or that it would have any impact on my life after that day. It just felt good.
In the year that followed the channel remained open. I had a pretty consistent inner roundtable of ideas I was curious about at all times. I'd ponder these ideas in my head and I'd also think about how I might articulate them if the time came to write them down. Mostly the excitement about an idea would peter and I'd soon be mulling something else. But every month or so I'd feel an urgency around one thought.
This idea would brew to the point that, to release it from my mind, I'd have to sit down and write it out. I remember a few times in particular where I changed my plans and literally ran to a coffee shop to get on my computer and type. Have you ever felt an inexplicable, relentless need to do something like that?
As these months passed I also felt a deep connection to my journal. The way I write in my journal is far different than the way I write elsewhere, but it seems that the desire in general to write (whether I'm writing to share or not) comes through the same channel.
At some point along the way I identified sharing my experiences through writing as something I am meant to do. I always thought I was a decent writer but I never considered that writing might be my path to finding fulfillment. Deeper than that, for most of my life I didn't believe there are things any of us are necessarily supposed to do. I thought you find something you enjoy and you work to excel at it, and that's how people end up spending their time and their lives. I didn't think much about the idea of a "calling". If I did have beliefs about it, what I believed was that I personally wasn't fortunate to have one.
During the months this channel was open, I took for granted those intense urges to write. I didn't challenge myself to spend time writing regularly, as I knew a day would come when the words would simply spill out of me. Instead of actively keeping the current of ideas strong, I allowed it to lull and wane and every so often, explode. I didn't want to force any of it, I remained passive in allowing this process to happen to me.
And so I didn't realize immediately when the inner dialogue of exciting ideas to write about quieted. I figured I was busier with work than I'd been before. I misunderstood my lack of inspiration to write creatively to be a product of being busy with other thoughts.
But then I began to notice I'd go days without writing in my journal. I witnessed my overall mood shift, and not in a positive way. I started feeling fatigued all the time.
I realized that my constant tiredness began right around the same time I stopped writing.
From deep within me I started to feel like a channel of life force, or energy, was blocked. That something in my life was wrong to the point that it resulted in disrupting the free flow of energy through this channel. I began to understand this channel to be fueling for my body, just like other more obvious channels of nourishment — food, sleep, etc.
And I realized that allowing this channel to slowly close might be the answer to why I was feeling so exhausted all the time. Without the creative energy that writing brings into my life, I'm lacking a vital source of nutrients.
INTANGIBLE ENERGY SOURCES
So I forced myself to open up my notebook regularly again. I began to write everyday even if I didn't feel like it, even if I didn't really have anything to say. I chose to open the channel back up. I acknowledged that just like every other writer who is fueled by the practice of writing, I am responsible for working at this craft. It's a gift to recognize something as having purpose in our lives, and when we find those things we better do everything in our power to keep them.
And as I've reintroduced consistent writing, I've begun to feel energized later in to the day. More often than not I arrive at my evening classes with energy to spare. Just a month ago I'd have to call upon everything in me to make it through.
And so I ask those of you who may struggle with similar feelings of exhaustion, what are your channels? What are the things that you're meant to do, that fuel your body and your being with energy? Have you ever considered these intangible forms of energy, and how their presence or lack may contribute to your vitality and energy on a day to day basis?
We all must have them, I think. Our task is to find out what these sources of energy are and then to use them to make our lives complete and vibrant.
If you're feeling inexplicably drained or uninspired, is the root physical or might there be an element of your soul that isn't being nourished? Are there channels of purpose in your life that could use tending and opening?
Before exploring it personally I never would have considered that not doing something might manifest as physical exhaustion. But as I've played with the idea more, the connection between writing (and invariably keeping a channel of energy open) and having energy seems to get stronger. I write this today as a means of bringing more energy into my own life, as well as offering you a similar exploration. Could you be tired because a channel that's meant to be open in your life is blocked?