Burnout = Exhaustion+Heartbreak
I am currently working on some projects that are pulling on my creative energy. I have decided to prioritize those things, one of which includes the final requirements for finishing my degree. While I rest from this platform, I’ll revisit some writings with you, with posts that I’ve enjoyed the most.
I haven’t done this kind of thing yet—but with new subscribers, this may be a nice way to help introduce new folks (hey *waves*) to my work.
It feels like they
Descended upon me
And called it love
It did not matter who I was
It fit them to make me their
To suck my flesh and marrow dry
And tears unbelievable
I could not become
So they bent and broke what they could
Making pillows of the hair
They still long to touch
If I held onto myself—
Even a little bit—
It’s because an ancestor
Sent word to my tingling ears
That my fear of their love
Demanded my care.
—Rose J. Percy, "Un-mammy-able" (April 2022)
What I like about this post is…it sounds the closest to what I sound like when I am talking to my closest friends. I can still say all these words with my whole chest.
Originally Published July 11, 2022
A couple of weeks ago, I ironically recorded a song where I was singing, “all my friends are stressed out. Can’t nobody get it together. Because we're being pressed down by all of the forces against us, and we just wanna live. We're just tryna to live.”
The things I make up jingles about seem to always carry a hint of truth—my friends really are stressed out…and some of us are burnt out. And so I picked up the book called “Burnout: The Key to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”…in order to figure out how to create content to help my friends, be less stressed out.
When I say that book read me the f—k back.
I tweeted days after finishing it “Burnout = Exhaustion + Heartbreak.” I’ve never been really good at math, but I always excelled in English and writing classes. The best math teacher I ever had used literary analogies to help me understand algebra. (Shoutout to Mrs. Went!)
When you are burnt out, you are beyond just physically tired.
You have lost all hope.
You forget your “why.” Or…you could care less about it.
You believe nothing you do matters or makes a difference.
You forget who loves you and you might even treat your loved ones like enemies.
Your work no longer makes sense.
Nothing makes sense. “Why am I here?” and “What am I doing this for?” are your choruses.
This past weekend, I tweeted a series of similar thoughts, which the internet swallowed up as it usually does, in the game of call-and-response platitudes. I felt like I was in an echo chamber with Job’s friends.
I have decided this: burnout, for me, is its own theodicy, operating in our body-minds (a term I picked up from this book, thank you, Dr. Amy Kenny!). It’s not to say our bodies are the source of that theodicy…but burnout seems to be a response to a kind of suffering that comes with questions. We can seek to resolve those questions poorly, in ways that put the blame in harmful places, and reinforce harmful views on the body’s ability to “keep up.” I will not write about all of those harms here, but if reading My Body is Not a Prayer Request is teaching me anything, it’s that we are so quick to respond to the realities of others from our own understandings of reality, without pausing to leave space for what we do not understand about their world. Without pausing to leave space for their realities to transform our worlds.
Lately, I began supplementing typing and texting with Otter.ai and speech-to-text because my hands literally hurt when I used them. In my right arm, it started out as trigger finger. Then it escalated into pain that went up my forearm to my elbow and now I feel it from my elbow to my shoulder blade. My left arm is only mildly affected with trigger finger, and a little bit of forearm pain. Carpal tunnel is a b*tch. It deeply sucks because everything I do depends on my hands. from writing to drawing to playing guitar to the endless dread of filling out job applications.
Everyone has a “Well, why don’t you try____?” answer.
In this space, reading Monica Coleman’s “Making a Way Out of No Way” has been giving me room to deal with the theodicy element of my burnout. The sentence “There is nothing outside of relationship (p.55),” points to the necessity of an ecological view of why “all my friends are stressed out and can’t nobody get it together.” Coleman goes on to write “ we deny the interdependence of the world when we act as if we are not all connected, and in need of each other. We produce evil.”
I see no other way out.
I have tried the hyper-independent way and this is where it got me, to the point where I have deactivated my Twitter account, Facebook, and soon, all of my social media online….maybe even this newsletter.
I started all these projects because I wanted to do something good. And in the world of making content for the internet, the mathematical formula is you make something of value, and people will respond to that value with support.
In the formula of “work” given to us by capitalism, when you work hard, it produces results and the payoff is satisfying.
Theodicies are exposed when our equations stop working.
But there are a lot of reasons why these systems don't work and social media is draining. Here’s a video I found explaining part of that reason.
I repeat them for you. I repeat them for myself. I repeat them to remember why I started “Dear Soft Black Woman.”
I believe Black women deserve to be centered. I believe what the Combahee River Collective meant in saying, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” I see no other way out.
Burnout is exhaustion plus heartbreak. I can name the symptoms in my body, beyond the carpal tunnel, it’s restlessness, anxiety, indigestion, etc…but the heartbreak? Not as easy to name. I let the panic attacks do the talking.
I will return to my work eventually because I love it. But the way I am working right now is not life-giving. I have a vision for what Interdependence, Solidarity, Mutuality, and Reciprocity look like in my work. Maybe someday we will get there.
For now, if you want to support my work, please visit rosejpercy.com for a variety of ways you can do that. Enjoy what’s available on my socials before they are deactivated. Maybe send me some snail mail if you ever miss that Black woman who said all those wonderful little affirmations on the internet.
I wish you a gentle landing…and I long for mine as well.
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Today we are possible…tomorrow though?
Do you see now why I write affirmations? Why affirmations are so important to me?
Paulo Freire says the ontological vocation of humanity is to be more human. We are called into being more (which sounds a lot better in Portuguese).
I am often asked questions about my future plans and I am not opposed to answering these questions—but sometimes I need to live for the possibility of today. Heavy on my shoulders is the weight of tomorrow (and didn’t Jesus say “tomorrow will worry about itself”?).
In this, I still hold: We have the power to define and redefine ourselves.
It may be in the face of things that can or cannot change, but we cannot deny the fact that we will. Whether or not we want to. But the comfort in this affirmation is we get to be involved in our becoming.
We have the power to define and redefine ourselves. Devocations be damned.
What are the things that call you away from your vocation? Is it a stereotype, a lie, a story you’ve been told about yourself, the memory of a failure, a social/political barrier, or___?