This is the midweek edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing. Like a lot of people, I have found myself overscheduled this summer. I’m still doing less than summers of the pre-pandemic past, which often felt like one wedding sliding straight into another without end, but it still feels like
I really appreciated this as it reflects every conversation I’ve had since Friday, though the truth is that almost nobody I know *can* rest. They’re overworked and overcommitted, worried about housing, trying to contribute to the social fabric that has been worn thin AF, having to manage a Delta upswing alongside anti-maskers; and for parents, looking at depressed, lonely, unvaccinated kids and unable to give them a straight answer about anything. And, you know, everything else. If we had some kind of functional national leadership and cared about one another we’d pay people to rest!
(Loved the meal planning thread. My top least favorite sentence for the past year has been, “Hey, Mom, what’s for dinner?”)
Great piece. I don't know if I feel exhausted as much as I feel mentally checked out. We just went through a year where our entire political and economic system more or less told us that our lives are worth jeopardizing if that meant the seamless maintenance of profits, but we're the unreasonable ones for wanting guaranteed healthcare, labor protections, or a higher wage. Now with the environment degrading at an accelerating rate, the Democrats barely avoiding a mass homelessness crisis (for now), there just seems to be a futility to it all. How am I supposed to take anything seriously anymore? How can anyone describe America as anything other than an elaborate MLM scheme? Much has been made about a mental health crisis as the secondary pandemic, but I wonder how much of that will be agoraphobia.
I expanded on these thoughts over the course of this past year: https://thatguyfromtheinternet.substack.com/s/work
Oh yes. I had a month's time in nature, a lovely vacation with my kids. My son is so much happier now that he can go to camp and play with other kids his age. But school opens in a week and the district has no COVID test plan, no vax requirements for staff, not even a proposal for how they will manage shutdown if someone at school gets sick. Meanwhile other districts, already open, are seeing cases happen pretty quickly.
Everyone seems to have just decided that bad things will happen, that functioning regimes for planning and monitoring are beyond us. I'm trying to have constructive conversations on this with their mom and it's not really about data -- we are drowning in data but we have so little knowledge -- it's about risk perceptions, getting sick versus losing out on school, how big is the tail risk of getting really sick, how much does past performance tell us about what's about to happen. Trying to hold space for different risk perceptions and at the same time just being tired and worried.
And this is from someone with a stable job, supportive colleagues, and community ready to help when/if it's needed. I've no idea about people in other situations, I can't imagine it.
Funny that you sent this on a day when the mental/emotional exhaustion of it all just hit me extra hard. You hit the nail on the head that I think part of it is we went through all of this--and what did we really change? We don't seem to have collectively learned or improved much at all. It's also been such a time of extremes. You're either thrown in way too tight of quarters with kids, partner, etc and dealing with meeting everyone's needs and not killing each other and everything OR you're single/living alone and you feel horribly on your own at a time when everyone else retreats back to their people. We're at home all the time OR we're hanging out for 12 hours straight because we haven't seen each other in forever. There's been so little balance or control, which is not only exhausting but also tough to compensate for.
This is all truth and very much appreciated. I also think single people have been ignored. It hasn't been easy. But I can't rest - I lost my job a year ago, thought I was doing okay trying to piece enough work together, and now my landlady very quickly sold my rental, so I'm in housing hell — and the market really is hell for renters without hefty paycheck stubs. Doing it alone in my 60s is not what I expected, that's for sure. The exhaustion is real.
This has been such a truth. Space for grief is so hard to come by. I worked in nursing home all last year, homeschooled the kids, while my husband did National Guard Covid orders. I had a baby (maternity leave oa a joke) then broke my ankle so I have been forced to rest, but also not really because I am still single parenting this summer while he is deployed to the the fires here in the NW. People ask how I do it, when maybe the question should be why do I have to do it.
"That’s why it feels like you’re paying down exorbitant interest on an unpaid bill and never touching the principle. That’s why you wake up tired from what you thought was a full night’s sleep. That’s why you’re still sore and tender in places you’d forgotten you’d bruised. You never recovered, and you haven’t still."
YES. I don't mean to sound melodramatic with this -- I am very lucky to have the life I do. But after 6 months of a non-stop work project, no time off, managing my home/personal life, worrying about a year+ of COVID and the state of the world, attempting to save/hoard money because that's how you "win" in capitalism, and trying to smile through my disability to be a fucking inspiration, I sat down on my floor on Monday night and sobbed. Another previous comment said that America feels like a MLM scheme, and... yeah.
I'm grateful for what you write. It makes me feel less depressed, less nuts. I'm a caregiver of a severely disabled 26 year old daughter. I've been doing this stuff for a long time, and there's no end in sight. Coupled with the pandemic, it's been another helluva year. I don't know how much more I can take, so I know I need to rest. If only in my mind. Or at least know that it's ok to do so, even if I don't. Does that make sense?
I’d love to read more on the eldercare angle. I moved back home to help care for my mom last summer, we had 3ish roller coaster months before she died of a massive stroke (not on the 2020 bingo card, as she had kidney disease and we were dealing with that). I spent the next 10 months with my widowed dad who is fiercely independent but nearing 80. I’m single, an only child and will likely be doing elder care again. In the meantime, I just moved back to my own place and I. Am. Exhausted. I had intermittent paid jobs over the past year (a couple of temporary/contract gigs that I could do from home) because oh yeah, I lost my FT job in March 2020, and this year “off” has been the opposite of restful. I need a FT job but I also feel too worn down to do FT work.
“Instead, we’re just softly boiling over, emptying and evaporating whatever stores of energy and patience and grace remain.”
This metaphor is a thing of beauty. Also accurate. AHP, you make me feel understood and seen. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging us to rest.
Brilliant piece & impeccable timing. I’ve journaled a fair amount during the pandemic, but it occurred to me this morning that I don’t often write about the news, headlines, or about the pandemic itself. I’ll mention things here and there, but I leave a lot of the exhausting stuff out because I’m too tired to write about it. And I wind up categorizing most things/events in my life as exhausting.
This morning I was writing about trying to up my water intake (lol) and suddenly it felt like a really stupid and trivial topic. I hadn’t even written anything about the variant! I felt silly. But your words are a reminder that I definitely need to rest, and have only recently put up boundaries that will allow me to do so. And so it’s ok to write about water, and water is rest.
And the comparison of the exhaustion to paying down interest… ooooof! Real.
Exhaustion was a regular feature of life for plenty of Americans pre-Covid, many of whom don't have the opportunity to rest due to multiple jobs, lack of childcare etc. Not to mention the millions who may soon face eviction. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable telling them that they need to take some time for themselves. They may already know they need rest, but it's just not an option.
I am not only exhausted because of the events driven by covid, like moving my work to home, and coaching and cheerleading for my staff who have also done that, being isolated from friends and family, postponing plans time and again, spending way too much time on Zoom, etc etc I am also carrying long exhaustion from the Trump years. I know I'm not alone.
"You see this phenomenon in people’s relationship to their jobs: the feeling that the dynamic has become so toxic that no amount of recentering or manager-conversations can actually substantially change the way you’ve come to feel about the work you do. The only solution: quit."
Been having a whole-ass breakdown about the neverending pressures of my job. Since January I have been constantly behind and no matter how many warning flags I sent up to my boss, it hasn't been enough, and now everything's been tumbling down. Add in Delta and I've been cautious since late June. My partner is more cautious than me, and even though we spent a week off of work and out of our home, it wasn't enough. Now there's all the things I haven't been brave enough to do, taunting me out there.
I think work feels so much worse because it's truly been one of the only constants, the pressure has only mounted, and there are no rewards at work or outside of it. Just more anxiety. And now we're locked into going back to the office by the end of September.
Oh, yes. I should start by saying I am one of the enormously privileged/lucky (it took both) parents who was never completely without childcare, albeit initially with much less, but nonetheless. I also had a terrible case of shingles in my eye early in the pandemic -- thanks, I think to the combined stress of the pandemic and the first anniversary of my father's death -- and honestly it was a trauma that's still with me, being so, so sick (I really couldn't get out of bed for a week, during which two of my clearest memories are falling out of the car after a doctor appointment and vomiting in the gutter, and saying to my husband "I don't know how I can be in this much pain and it's not going to kill me") in the middle of a pandemic even if you don't have the pandemic virus itself, plus I still have ophthalmologist appointments about once a month, and let me tell you, living with the effects of a virus for 15 months really brings home the threat of long covid.
I'm taking three weeks vacation starting Monday. After a beach weekend, my plan is to just exercise and clean the house and walk a lot (where? I don't know). Sleep isn't really an option since I have to be up to take my kid to camp (or else I'll spend my days doing childcare). Maybe I'll throw on a kf94 and browse in a store for a few minutes sometime? But I haven't had that long off work since 2014 at least.
I’m late to the party as usual, but I think there’s something interesting at the Intersection of introversion, gendered emotional labour and the dip between the pandemic’s 3rd and 4th waves in North America. I think extroverts, finally freed from lockdown by the two-dose summer, are demanding social engagement. Introverts (who, IME, tend to be nurturers), and especially introvert women, are stuck hosting and traveling and never getting a minute to regroup let alone rest, all while watching Delta coming at them and (for some) their unvaccinated under 12s. Im sure there are nuances based on race, class, who you live, etc.; I’m coming at this as a white middle-class cis woman.
That’s all I have.