It’s ironic that I’m talking about this on a week where work has picked up tremendously leaving me too exhausted and in too much pain to do much at the end of the day. My writing producitivty has slowed, but does continue, and that to do list…it runneth over. Honestly, I think the emotional exertion is worse because my mind is saying “but you didn’t DO anything” (referring to physical work) and yet my body is like “nope, done!”. Last week I talked about the Catch-22 of physical exertion, moving more trying to exercise more, and how it knocks me out. What I didn’t have a chance (or the brain power) to touch on was emotional/mental exertion and how that can be just as bad, if not worse, than the physical. Let me explain.
When you have a chronic illness there’s an underlying level of energy to manage it. Working from home, that’s a bit easier for me because pajamas all day, hugging cats/talking to the chickens or horses when I need to take a break and having things like my favorite water glass, lots of different teas, GOOD coffee (I’m afraid to say I buy shit coffee to take to work.) all helps. I can get outside on my breaks and lunches, even go for a walk to check the mail. It’s all good. It also takes energy. This is because as a general rule, our society frowns on people who “look/act/feel ill” and don’t project a calm and pleasant demeanor all the time. In fact, when I worked for Wells Fargo’s Technical Support, my voice had to be “happy” on quality assurance checks, even when I was in so much pain I was fighting back tears. Even a pleasantly neutral tone of voice wasn’t good enough. It had to be happy. And so, I put on my phone mask for phone calls, even though I kind of want to die or at least curl up in a ball and cry for a bit.
Then there’s the mental work. I do training and tech support which means pulling a lot of knowledge (tricks and tips) out of my brain at any given moment. I have to be able to explain how to do something, even when I can’t remember the word for the step or the order they go in thanks to fibro fog. Talking on the phone means not having physical clues as to someone’s demeanor, and I have cPTSD from when I worked at Wells Fargo due to getting yelled at repeatedly on a daily basis (among other reasons). I fully expect to be screamed at every time I pick up the phone, even though that’s rare with this job. Still, phone anxiety is real, so let’s be nice to your customer service rep. You most likely have no idea what hell they’ve gone through. Thankfully right now we respond to voice mails, and it’s so much easier on the nerves to know what you’re getting into.
When work is slow, I can take some time to think, to decompress on social media. I write. I think about my books, my worlds, the stories I want to tell, and that soothes the nerves. When work is busy, I can’t do that. Add to that the added stress of when I worked in the office, being by the front door so I never knew who would show up (or why), having to put on a “normal happy” face for everyone even when I was in miserable pain, and in general manage my illness in an environment that triggers my cPTSD on a daily basis.
Mental exhaustion is worse than the physical. At least with the physical, even though the slightest of things can set it off, you can say “oh, I went grocery shopping” or “Whoops, I probably should have asked for help with that” and understood why. But when you’re a creative person and have been for years, having a productive, awesome day throw you for a loop is like a punch in the gut. Personally, if I have a super productive, hit all the to do list items and then some day, I can count on two days of feeling as if my brain and body are stuck in mud afterwards. Saturdays tend to be super busy days. I’m usually out of gas until about Tuesday or Wednesday.
I think we need to talk about mental and emotional exhaustion more. There are ways to mitigate it, but sometimes you just can’t. If we do become more open and honest about it, hopefully it will end the stigma and we can start talking honestly about all aspects of our illness.