Qualities of weariness

It’s worth noting that our bodies are set up to handle physical exhaustion, and have nothing like the same mechanisms for responding to mental fatigue. One, we evolved for, the other we didn’t, and it’s the one we are not equipped to deal with that has come to dominate modern living. Not one of our better plans, that.

First up we have the lovely endorphins, the body’s natural pain relief. Bounce around being active, and you’ll kick of a chemical reward system designed to leave you feeling satisfied. You’ll also get shot of your stress chemicals, so even if you are wiped by the end of the excitement, you’ll feel good about it – satisfied and relaxed. Mental exhaustion does not deliver any chemical rewards. It just leaves a person feeling depleted and flat.

If I have a day of intense physical activity, that can leave me in pain. This is a good thing, because the next day I have a fair idea of what I won’t get away with. Mental exhaustion is not as self announcing, and shows up in apathy and reluctance at first – all things it is easy to feel obliged to overcome. If I keep pushing, so long as I am eating and sleeping well, my body will adapt and toughen up over time. You can keep pushing against mental exhaustion until you have a nervous breakdown. My body, I have observed, is much more willing and able to toughen up in response to a challenge than my mind is.

Certain kinds of thinking are more problematic than others. I can use my mind a lot and be fine if I can go at my own pace. Time pressure and stress create issues. Time pressure and stress is how we build our workplaces and careers. They are the most reliable raw ingredients in the mix. If I can think about things when my head is in the right place, I do a better job and suffer less. Again, most conventional jobs don’t allow this. I do better with interesting challenges to chew on, but what many jobs give us is work that requires effort and energy, stress, focus and thinking, but not problem solving or anything that produces a sense of achievement. Just churning it out, endlessly.

But then, ‘work’ as a social construct does not exist to improve the human condition. We don’t do it to solve the problems of our tribe, or take care of our home. We don’t do it for the glory of achievement, most of us. It’s not about some heroic outcome, but about making money, usually for someone else. Most of western human life revolves to an alarming degree around work. Work that leaves people exhausted, apathetic, demoralised, with no feel good factors. As systems go, it’s a shoddy one, and it is well worth wondering if we might come up with something better that could deliver a better quality of life to the vast majority of us. Not the absence of work, (because that depends on exploiting someone else) but work that has value enough to cheer us, and patterns that don’t make us sick.

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

7 responses to “Qualities of weariness

  • biahelvetti

    All very true – have you read ‘Why Zebras don’t get ulcers’ ? if not I’d think you’d like it 🙂

  • Aurora J Stone

    Very good words here and ones with which I agree with wholeheartedly. Thank you for speaking and sharing your wisdom, experiences and story so openly.

  • Argenta

    Just what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Unfortunately, the trail of my thoughts usually ends up wondering why my mind is so weak that it can’t take a little bit of stress and purposelessness.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s not you. It is the whole situation facing us all, and I know that’s entirely at odds with current ‘wisdom’ around depressive illness and anxiety, but nonetheless, there are too many of us in crisis for the same reasons, it is not a coincidence.

  • Erin Lund Johnson

    It is the bane of a capital-based economy, which revolves around accumulating capital in order to trade it for the things we actually need, rather than working to attain them directly, in which case we’d be able to pursue them in more natural rhythms, and while hard, the work would be both satisfying and meaningful, and have a direct impact on our well-being, and the well-being of our community, with which we’d be working, to raise food, build homes, care for young, make food, and create art, song, music, and beautiful objects for daily living. This is what living and working used to look like. We were fooled into thinking life would be better if we jettisoned this backward way of living. We’ve been fools. We need to find ways of meeting our real needs, communally with each other, in order to wean ourselves off of the systems which intend to trap us, and which are actually destroying us, body and soul. We need to do it now.

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