Google has P A G E S of hits when you search for grief and exhaustion. I know this because every couple of months I kind of go, “huh, why am I so tired all the time?” (as if this is the first time in the last fifteen months that I’ve been tired) and then I get reminded that, oh, yeah. Grief. Exhaustion. Fatigue. It’s normal. It’s just… a lot. For a long time. Usually I’m only this bone weary when I’m sick. But I don’t have a fever, I don’t have a cough, I don’t have a — oh, wait! Grief! Right!
And here’s the funny thing… well, “funny,” in air quotes… the tiredness seems to hit me upside the head more after I have a couple of really good days. I figure it’s one of two things… (1) my brain saying “fuck you, how dare you have a good time, here, have some shitty feelings and zero energy to fight them off with!” or (2) my brain saying “okay, your body is a little more healed right now because you’ve had a good couple of days, so I’m going to let go of a little more of the feelings I haven’t been making you feel, since I know you can handle them a little better right now.”
Everyone sort of knows, from watching TV and movies, that grief makes you sad. Grief makes you cry. Grief messes with your emotions. And that’s all true, but moreso than just what you’ll see on TV. As slow as your brain may feel during the grieving process, it’s actually taking up a LOT of space in your head. There’s worry. There’s regret. There’s fear. There’s sadness. There’s irritation. There’s guilt. There’s anger. There’s hopelessness. There’s hypervigilance; hyper-alertness to danger, constant worry about safety (your own, or your loved ones). And it’s all happening all at once, all the time. Your brain never stops. The harder it works the foggier it gets, sometimes. And then you’re thinking through fog and forgetfulness as well? That’s exhausting; we’re meant to rest and rest is hard.
Rest is hard because we don’t live in a culture that values rest, that supports down-time and relaxation. Even with as tired as we feel, while grieving, we tell ourselves that we’re not doing enough and we need to try harder, because we see ourselves dropping the ball on things and it shames us. Again with the brains and all those pesky human emotions!
Grief also has an entire unwanted and unexpected host of physical problems. Elevated cortisol. Elevated epinephrine (adrenaline). Elevated blood pressure. Interrupted sleep patterns. Lack of hunger so you don’t eat enough, or well. Feeling hungry all the time, so you eat too much, and don’t make good food choices. Headaches. Stomach aches or intestinal difficulties. All-over body aches. Inflammation is high and immunity is low – you might feel sick when you’re not but you also might get sick a lot easier. All of this puts stress on the body, and that’s exhausting.
It’s almost like everything is connected!
So. There’s physical exhaustion, for which physical rest and recovery is needed. There’s mental exhaustion, for which time out, less external input, and calming practices are needed. Then there’s generalized, overall exhaustion, which can feel like you have no energy and/or no motivation — this third camp is where I, personally, tend to land more often. You might land somewhere else. We’re all different.
I just have to remember to tell myself the same thing I’d tell a loved one who was coming to me with “hey every time I think I’m doing better I get hit in the head again” — that’s unfortunately normal. It’s normal to have good days and bad days. It’s normal to be fine but then one person says one thing and it just sends your brain off into a spiral. It sucks, but it’s normal. Just be as kind to yourself as you can. I need to be as kind to myself as I can. Take naps if I’m tired. Snuggle my puppies. Eat my favorite vegetables. And keep riding the fucked up wave of this, up and down, rough and smooth, for as long as it takes. Even if that’s forever. The waves may even out for longer and longer times…. just ride them.