The past two weeks, I’ve been feeling very tired. Why? Some mysterious combination of COVID booster, possibly catching a cold from my daughter, and other factors. I wasn’t tired or burnt out from a work situation, or of anything in my life. My body just felt tired.
How we treat tiredness sometimes feels like how we treat anger — we try to avoid it, we try to distract from it, we try not to feel it. We drink one more cup of coffee, or play some upbeat music, or do some physical activity to feel more energetic.
If someone asks you how you’re doing, and you say you’re tired, a common response is, “Ugh so sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better soon.”
There are a lot of common stories behind that response — perhaps that your tiredness is from the general societal tiredness from being in a pandemic, from having to constantly re-evaluate risk factors, from not getting the typical recharge activities that we all so desperately need. Or that you have ongoing life stuff that is contributing to tiredness (baby up at night, overwhelming responsibilities, long hours at work).
But the last week or so, I had the space to be tired, so I let myself just surrender to the tiredness. A few things that surprised me from the experience:
It made space for me to be taken care of
I usually am very good at doing lots of things, but being tired made a lot of space for the people around me to take care of me.
On Monday, I took a sick day at work, and ended up in bed resting or napping almost the whole day. I haven’t had a day like that in a few years. My partner brought me food and made me chicken soup. He also took care of my daughter who was home sick from school. When I finally made my way downstairs, I was surprised to see that she had done all her math and writing homework that the teacher had sent home, and was happily enjoying her sick day reading and watching TV.
Later that evening, I was in the backyard, and she asked me if I was chilly. She then ran around the house trying to find my jacket so that I wouldn’t be cold. She said, “You took such good care of me when I was sick, so now I want to take care of you.”
I actually got a lot done
I generally assume that when I’m tired, I can’t be very productive. But this week when I leaned into my tiredness, I found ways to actually get a lot done (surprisingly!). A coworker had recommended a chrome extension Marinara (a pomodoro timer), so I gave it a shot. Something about the combination of being tired and having this chrome extension manage my time was really wonderful — I just worked on one task for 25 minutes and the extension would tell me it was time to take a break. Being able to just focus on that one thing felt so good for my tired brain and body. I ended up steadily making my way through a bunch of my to-do list.
Metrics are useful
I started using an Oura ring to track sleep and activity about 6 months ago. I never paid much attention to my “readiness” score, as it was generally around 80-85 everyday. This past week, though, it dropped down to 60s and 70s, and said that my heart rate variability was much higher than my historic average. On Monday (the day I was in bed), it dropped down to 30.
This was useful to me to understand, ah, something is going on with my body. It’s working through something. Let it do its thing.
It also makes me laugh, because when my kids were really into mood rings, they would randomly ask each other how they’re feeling, and respond (after consulting their rings) with “I’m feeling romantic and happy” or “I’m feeling excited and tired.” The Oura ring sort of feels like a grownup version of that, except based in some science and measurements.
It was actually enjoyable
It was so enjoyable in a sort of delirious and relaxed way. My brain felt slower, so I couldn’t worry as much about the future. I couldn’t multi-task too well, so I just made my way through one thing at a time. I was too tired to be irritable with my kids and partner.
And I didn’t just hole up at home because I was too tired to do anything. I found a good balance of still doing stuff like meeting up with friends and having leisurely time at home.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for today. I’m still tired, and don’t have a lot of extra effort to edit or tie it in to engineering management or life insights. I’m just generally curious if this was a unique week where I had the space to let myself be tired, or if I can always bring this mindset of welcoming tiredness.
I’ll leave you with this post from an Instagram account I’ve been following around rest: The Nap Ministry
Thing I’ve been enjoying
Board games with kids - we are thankfully past the Candyland stage (which I refused to play anyways) now that both kids can read well. We’ve been enjoying Evolution: The Beginning, a game where you evolve species and feed them. Even more exciting, I found this game on a Berkeley sidewalk for free — completely unused, which meant we got to do my favorite board-game activity…popping out all the game pieces.
I can't help but think that, rather than being as much of an ode to tiredness, this is a very real first-hand account of the joy of giving yourself permission to focus. "Working on one thing" while your eyes dart to the unread messages badge on your Gmail tab, or the red dot on the Slack icon, or your ears perk at every notification "ding" is not focus.
The state of physical exhaustion or illness can help us break our own mental habits of distractedness or internal feelings of obligation, but those are fully within our control even when we are neither sick nor tired, if we take the time to pay attention to when they appear.
This will be a story of privilege for sure, but during the height of covid in mid-2020, working from home and simultaneously parenting our four-year-old, I had some of the best days of my working life. Upon reflection, much of what I felt was due to how much distance and permission we gave each other as coworkers then; it was OK not to reply to Slack within 5 seconds, it was OK to take a day to reply to an email; everyone was just trying to survive. That distance created space for a lot of things that feel like they're missing in a typical American workday.
By mid-2021, that was over, and the expectations returned to pre-covid levels, which eventually drove me out of that career entirely and onto a new path where I can set my own boundaries, and I'm just starting to feel more human again.
Our family's phrase for this is "happy sloth." It's tough for me to achieve because I tend to focus on all the stuff I wish I was getting done. But when I'm able to let go of all that stress and mellow out a bit, it's much better for everybody.