Exhaustion, bees and depression

A total absence of energy is often taken to be a symptom of depression. Based on experience, I am inclined to think this is not a simple case of cause and effect. Exhaustion can be as much a cause of depression as a symptom of it.

Every other mammal rests. The creatures that work flat out – the busy bees and their fellows – have very short life spans. We humans have got into the idea that some of us, should be working like bees, despite the fact that our mammal bodies really don’t handle this well. We are meant to rest. If we do not rest, then eventually we fall over. Based on watching my own cycles of burnout and depression, it tends to be the case that I get depressed when I am exhausted, and not the other way round. Exhaustion is not a symptom for me, it is the root cause. There are days when it takes all the will I can muster to get up and keep doing. Continue that day after day, with no proper breaks and no respite, and body and mind alike will eventually falter.

We are sold the idea that hard work is both a virtue, and the answer to all risks of poverty. Hard working people are celebrated by politicians, while those who are not able to be working hard enough are denigrated with words like ‘scroungers’. If hard work were all it took to be successful, I would be significantly more successful than I am. If hard work were the magic answer, those years my other half spent working two jobs and only getting a few hours sleep a night, would have made him rich rather than damaging him.

I know a lot of people who work very hard, and many of them are not especially successful. There’s an influence in choice of job – if you set out in life to get a job that will pay a lot of money, you’re probably doing better than someone who answered a calling to teach, to help, to put something of beauty and innate worth into the world. Medicine seems to be an exception there. If we measured people by the value of their contributions, teachers and nurses would be a good deal better paid, and football players would not, I suspect, have quite such vast incomes.

Work hard, throw all of your energy, passion and inspiration into what you do, and one of two things will happen. Either you will see no significant benefit, or you will get somewhere. The difference in outcomes may have more to do with luck than your own efforts. To work hard and soulfully in any capacity, and see no return, is soul destroying after a while. Depression seems an entirely natural response to this. To be unvalued, not well remunerated, not going places, seems to invalidate not only the work, but the soul and effort that went into it. This is always an issue for creative people, and very often an issue for anyone who gives a damn about what they were doing.

We do not live in a meritocracy. How good you are and how hard you work often do not count for much. The loudest, angriest voice often wins the argument. The person with the most buying power pays for the result they want. The person willing to do whatever it takes to make the profit, makes the profit and never mind the exploitation along the way. We spend our school years being told to try our best, work hard, and strive, and then we get out into the real world and find those rules frequently do not apply. If you want to be successful, you’re much better off getting someone else to work hard, while you cream off the profits and sit back. That way lies respect, power, and kudos. Work hard, and all bets are off as to what may come from this.

Nothing offends those in power like poor people with no desire to work themselves to death as busy little bees, enabling someone else to make a fortune. I am not a bee. I want a culture shift.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Exhaustion, bees and depression

  • Catherine Crayton

    What great insight. I am Shure this is why I have fibromyalgia. Push push push work 2 jobs out run my mental illness until the body and mind just crashed. It told me you are not moving. Our culture is backwards. I never even got close to making enough to easily pay bills. We are human BEINGS not human doings! Chane needs to happen!

  • Linda

    Absolutely right. We need a culture shift. We need to stop buying (and selling) the bill of goods that causes too many people who care about what they are doing to work themselves into exhaustion or worse and too many others to lose their souls to the meat-grinder of the modern workplace. Respect for those whose time and energy is used to the benefit of society or the world is great (when it happens) but it doesn’t pay the bills. I shouldn’t have to have a “night job” so that I can afford to keep my “day job.”

  • Iulia Flame

    A pertinent one for me — I’ve experienced chronic fatigue for most of my life and struggle to find the balance.

  • Sighild

    Dear blogger,
    I can only say a great thank you for writing such a true article. I am on sick leave (seems I will habe to stay longer because my body cannot recover as fast as I expected) now for having stressed and not having slept tight and well for 4 months (I am in a new job and learning every day while I am teaching, how strange) and it is such a relief to read this. Now I just hope that everywhere in the world people will be aware that working hard can damage your health.
    Thanks again for posting such a clear article and I hope it will be read by many people. We do need a shift!

  • Sighild

    Reblogged this on Sighild's Lair and commented:
    This article is clear about how I am feeling (speaking about my health but also about the shift we need in our world)

  • ohnwentsya

    Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank! This is brilliant! The happiest people on Earth according to anthropologists were the Dayang (hope I spelled that right) a tribal people in the Philippines or near therewho worked about 2.5 hours per week hunting and gathering. They spent their time playing, dancing, making music, telling stories and were healthy and happy.
    unfortunately I can no longer say this is true since some multinational corporations decided to turn the forest they lived in into disposable chopsticks and plant Palm oil plantations instead:-(
    Colonization has to destroy all alternatives since no one would live like this voluntarily if they knew of another way.
    I agree we need a culture change and Mama Nature appears ready to give us one whether the oligarchy likes it or not.
    if our homosexual sapiens famed altruism that allowed us to survive ice ages and cover the planet kicks in it should be a beautiful change-if not the next turn of the spiral will surely spawn a new species to replace this one:-)

  • locksley2010

    In regards of so called ‘scroungers’, I think there is a very big difference in not being a ‘bee’ as you put it, and those who are content to simply not bother and live of everyone else. That applies to rich and poor alike.

    • Nimue Brown

      I rather think that a cost-benefit analysis would paint an interesting picture on that score. In terms of where society benefits least, those who are poor and not seen to be working, spend money, and are therefore good for the economy, while those who are wealthy and stockpiling it, represent dead ends.

  • literaryvittles

    very well put, and unfortunately very true as well.

  • Depression/Mental Health Pagan Links | The Lefthander's Path

    […] with Depression, Exhaustion, Bees and Depression by Nimue Brown This is advice for people who have depressed friends/family members in their lives- […]

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