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We’re home from all the Christmas festivities and, as usual, I’m exhausted. But the exhaustion feels a little different this year. It’s not really that I’m less tired or that I have so little to do that I can just focus on resting up all week.
Instead, I think the biggest change is my perspective. This year I’m not trying to deny that I’m tired. I’m not trying to figure out what I should have done differently. I didn’t spend my time with my family counting how much energy each interaction would cost me.
As an introvert, spending time with large groups of people tends to be draining for me—even when it’s my loving family. Sights and sounds sap away bits of my energy—even my favorite Christmas carols, twinkling tree lights, and laughter.
I’m glad to spend time with my family and wouldn’t want to miss a chance to get everyone together. But there is also a bit of dread as the big celebrations approach.
I know that part way through the day I’ll be too tired to carry on a meaningful conversation…and then there’s still tomorrow’s celebration with the other side of the family. I know that it’ll take me a solid week to rest up and feel back to normal and in the meantime there’s work to do and clients who need my attention…not to mention my own projects.
I feel guilty because I don’t look forward to the big celebrations as much as I want to, as much as I believe I should. I’m ashamed because that tiredness, that quick overwhelm and exhaustion, feels like a weakness.
Then my shame turns into resentment. If only our gatherings were different, if only my expectations were different, if only I were different—maybe then I could join in the celebration with energy and enthusiasm.
For the past couple years I’ve tried to make a plan for managing my energy. If I could just find the magic combination of restful, revitalizing things, then maybe I could defeat exhaustion and finally have the energetic, joyful holiday that I think I should.
And every time it’s not enough. No matter how hard I try, I’m still tired.
When this topic came up yet again this year, my coach asked me what if you just accepted it? What if you accepted that you will be tired?
I think I rambled on for awhile about all the reasons it was unacceptable. But the question stuck with me.
What if I did accept it? Accepting that I’ll be tired doesn’t mean it’s how I ideally want things to be, but refusing to recognize things for what they are doesn’t change them.
In no other circumstance is a large group, all-day interaction the most energizing or satisfying for me. Why do I expect that to be different because it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas or someone’s birthday?
Yes, it’s frustrating and unpleasant to be tired for a week after getting together with family, especially this time of year when the gatherings keep coming one after the next. But stressing about it doesn’t make me less tired. Actually, trying so hard to make things different than they are is exhausting. I can’t enjoy the festivities and be fully present with those around me if I’m constantly looking ahead to how much energy each interaction will cost me.
I try to find opportunities to spend some time alone—not to avoid my family, but so I can be more fully present with them when I’m there. But if I accept that I will be tired I can shift my focus from trying to conserve energy to being fully present in the moment. I’m going to be tired either way…may as well create some fun memories and make the exhaustion worth it.
This Christmas I tried to acknowledge that, yes, I am tired and the exhaustion will carry over into next week, but right now this is where I am. Right now my little niece wants to style my hair. Right now my nephew is excited to tell me the names of all his toy cars. Right now my family is gathered around the table in the flickering candlelight.
I may be tired, but this right here—this I don’t want to miss.
Though we don’t like to admit it, I think for many of us the holidays don’t quite play out the way we think they’re supposed to. So many of us try to fight it and pretend that all is glittery and bright, all the while wondering what is wrong inside of us.
What if there isn’t anything wrong with us? What if the reason holidays feel hard doesn’t mean we’re not good enough…what if it just means that holidays are sometimes filled with impossible expectations?
What would happen if we could accept that? What if we took the energy we spend trying to force the holiday we think we’re supposed to have and instead focused on supporting ourselves as kindly as possible through our actual experience?