“It’s OK To Be Exhausted”

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Longtime journalist Dan Rather has a newsletter on Substack.com, a publishing home for some high quality material. Rather’s newsletter, written with coauthor Elliot Kirschner, is called “Steady.”

I know from Rather’s Twitter comments that he’s a thoughtful, sage, measured, and upbeat soul who expresses outrage about injustices but also seeks to improve communication. Thus, I was happy to subscribe to his newsletter. It’s one of a number on Substack and elsewhere that is available free or offers several tiers of financial support.

His column this week has resonated widely. It certainly resonated with me. I’d just read a New York Times front page story about the Republicans’ advantages in retaking Congress: the gerrymandering they’ve already accomplished gives them outsized control —even in states where they don’t have majorities.

Why, I wondered, am I so invested in all this when the system that the Republicans consistently bray about being rigged is, in fact, rigged in their favor?

What gerrymandering doesn’t accomplish, changes in state voting rights legislation will–unless the Democrats get their act together and at least reform the filibuster to permit passage of a bill—such as the one Joe Manchin just happened to help write.

I then watched President Biden sign the infrastructure bill, a truly historic piece of legislation that may well help Americans everywhere.

Much was made of its bipartisan nature—even though the 13 Republicans who voted for it in the House are now receiving death threats.

Death threats. From whom? From some of their House colleagues and members of the Republican base.

Why? Because any Republican who acts in a bipartisan manner has been deemed a traitor for giving President Biden a win—forget what the legislation will do for the people in their districts (or the questionable continuation in the US Congress of such incendiary members).

And the former guy, who talked about “Infrastructure Week” for years but accomplished nothing, delivered a parallel message to his increasingly violent supporters.

So I worried that if the Republicans prevail in 2022, all the good stuff will go away, and we’ll be “governed” by people who don’t believe in democracy or equity or safety or nonviolence.

That thought is deeply troubling to me, as I believe it should be for every thoughtful American, regardless of political affiliation or lack thereof.

I felt exhausted.

But Rather’s piece, true to the newsletter’s title, steadied me. It reminded me that I can’t give up. The stakes are too high.

I can, however, take a break. And so can you.

Here’s Rather’s valuable message.

Today, I would like to talk about exhaustion. 

I have a feeling, echoed in what I read in some of your comments to our posts here on Steady and elsewhere, that many of you, many of us, many here in this country and around the world, are exhausted. 

Now the travails of life are often exhausting. Illness, sadness, work, or the loss of work, strained relationships, all the stuff you need to do but have put off, these are but a few of the many prompts for exhaustion.  And many of you are undoubtedly dealing with at least a few of these, or other ordeals. 

But hanging over all of what would be the “normal” course of life, if there is ever such a thing, are some pretty existential wellsprings of exhaustion. 

Covid, and our response to it, is exhausting. 

The threats to our democracy are exhausting.

The former president and his allies are exhausting.

Vitriol is exhausting.

Our climate crisis is exhausting. 

False equivalence is exhausting. 

Injustice is exhausting. 

Systemic racism is exhausting. 

Income inequality is exhausting. 

The fact that this list could go on and on (and on and on) is exhausting. 

Now adding to all of this is the fact that we live in a media landscape where there is no limit to the size of the wave of information you can surf down into the depths of despair. You can doom scroll for hours, finding reasons for why you should be on edge, should give up hope, should be outraged with no seeming outlet to fix the outrage, which is even more cause for outrage.

And after hours of this, days on end, well, you probably can see where I’m going. It’s exhausting. 

It perhaps provides little solace to understand that exhaustion is not unique to our times. In fact, much of life, for most people, and most of history, was far more physically exhausting than what many of us are privileged to face. Ours is more a collective mental exhaustion – inputs and checklists of the mind that we can never fully contend with or complete. 

We get to a point where the exhaustion is itself exhausting. And I firmly believe that the forces who seek to undermine our society, who seek to pit us against each other for their cynical gain, see exhaustion as a potent weapon at their disposal.

The more exhausted people who care about solving difficult challenges become, the more uncertain success in these endeavors becomes. And I suspect many of you sense this as well. And find it exhausting. 

There is a belief, and for good reason, that vigilance is necessary. But vigilance cannot be borne by any one individual alone. It is impossible to always be on the go. Remember even star athletes need a day off. Soldiers need R&R. Where would we be without a weekend? 

Over the course of my career I have covered many protest movements that have ultimately proved successful. And I have found one of the hallmarks for that success is that they are collective actions where members of the group step up to help others when they get exhausted. 

So not only is it okay to be exhausted, it’s okay, in fact necessary, to take a break. Step away from your screen or your newspaper and step outside for a walk. Talk to friends and family about topics other than politics or current events.

Read for fun, or watch something escapist on television. None of this will solve the problems of the world. There is a place for action of course, and commitment. But resilience is a perspective that requires rest as well as determination. 

We must acknowledge that not everyone can step back from exhaustion. To be able to take a break is its own form of privilege. There are people whose life circumstances never provide respite. But there is also a reason so many of the world’s religions have days of rest and reflection built into the calendar. The human body and mind cannot always be working, or it will cease to work well. 

I say all of this not to diminish the challenges we face, quite the opposite.

The world needs sustained effort and exertion.  But effort and exertion requires energy.

And energy requires us to acknowledge, attend to, and forgive our exhaustion.


Does Rather’s essay resonate with you? Do you find it helpful?


31 thoughts on ““It’s OK To Be Exhausted”

  1. Yes. I find myself trying to preserve my optimism by confining my news time to a proscribed limit. As someone who taught US History for 30 years and wrote about it as well, I have always been a news junkie. But that addiction began to feel like an overdose waiting to happen after January 6th. It’s not that I have tuned out — I have turned the volume down to preserve my sanity.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Everything you say is true, just being alive is exhausting. But that is no excuse for being rude. I work in retail and it’s inexcusable the way some people talk to me. I am not their slave or their servant and I cannot fix the world so don’t take your anger out on me. No wonder everybody is quitting their jobs. Nobody likes to be yelled at. Be kind, be respectful, be nice.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re so right, LA, and I’m glad you added this aspect to our discussion. But I’m very sorry you have to face so much verbal abuse. I worked in retail sales long, long ago—part time, while in school. It was sometimes unpleasant then, and I know it’s much worse now. And I assume you’re not permitted to respond—even respectfully?


  3. An excellent post with much needed guidance as we attempt to navigate through the political turmoil constantly accosting us . Also, a great share of Dan Rather’s “Steady”. I receive his newsletter via “Substack” along with several others such as Robert Reich and Heather Cox Richardson…all are well worth the nominal monthly fees that I chose to pay. I shared this quote elsewhere recently but will share it again with you : “There is too much bad news to justify complacency. There is too much good news to justify despair.” – Donella (Dana) H. Meadows. Thank-you!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Excellent post. But please, you never bray. You elucidate, gently, persuasively, and at times, humorously. As to exhaustion, certainly true. And there is so much to find utterly wearying. As to the physical side of it I’m sure you saw it, but there’s a recent New Yorker piece on exhaustion from the standpoint of biology. He covers a lot of territory and I would get up and find it so as to include the author and issue, but I’m too tired. Ask me in the morning. After my jolt of coffee.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Denise. I was talking about the Republicans’ braying—not mine—but I guess some readers may be less supportive than you are😉.
      I’ll look through my New Yorker pile for the article you mentioned, and thanks for that, too. Take it easy, my friend.


      1. It’s tough, though, when you want to keep up with the news so that you stay informed, but find the news to be so disturbing and disheartening…and because of that, exhausting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I emphatically agree, Fandango. One thing that I find helpful is writing postcards encouraging people to register to vote. A small thing, but it gives me the feeling that I’m doing something…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this timely reminder! Over the past few days when people ask how I am, I’ve been answering that I have a bad case of “weltschmerz”. Meanwhile, I think I’d better buy some postcards. 😕

    Liked by 2 people

  6. That was a good article Annie! Exhaustion as a weapon. I find life exhausting sometimes, even in retirement, just trying to get everything done with less energy. I checked out of watching our nightly Canadian news about six months ago….I found listening too close to bedtime was giving me nightmares. I still keep up with the Covid news but limit myself to the amount.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The GOP will take control of the House and Senate in 2022, almost no doubt. Of course, they will accomplish nothing. And the good news is that President Biden has the veto so they cannot roll back any progress made by the Dem Congress. At least not for now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes. Rather’s essay definitely resonates. I recently finished Begin Again, by Eddie Glaude. It’s partially a biography of James Baldwin and partially Glaude’s personal reflections. Glaude turned to Baldwin in the wake of Trump’s election. He was feeling defeated and wondering how to find inspiration after such a massive setback to the progressive agenda. He knew that Baldwin fell into despair and attempted suicide after the assassinations of so many civil rights activists in the late 60s. Glaude hoped that by revisiting Baldwin’s life, he’d be able to piece together a vision of how to move forward in his own.

    I find it interesting that one of the conclusions that Baldwin came to was that it was not his job “to save white people.” I think he felt that if some whites were morally bankrupt, it was not his job to bring them to salvation. Rather, he had turned his quest to building a life for himself that ignored injustice as much as possible. He would certainly speak out against it but he was going to try his damnedest not to let it define him. I’m sure that my paraphrasing is over simplifying but part of my takeaway was that at times, you have to live as if the world is what you want it to be. In doing so, you are also pushing society toward the ideal which you seek.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Carol. I’d actually written a very long post after reading Glaude’s book some time ago. The book evoked my frustration about race relations and hopes that Baldwin and Glaude’s turning to love may somehow help us find the way.
      I was struck by the message of Ahmad Aubrey’s father today after the jury found his son’s killers guilty. He called for all of us to love one another. Remarkable generosity, I felt, from someone whose son was murdered because he was Black. But very much in keeping with Glaude and Baldwin’s sentiments. Extraordinary generosity of spirit.

      I’m glad you read Begin Again.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. I may have even read your review Annie. I can’t recall when/where I first learned of Glaude’s book, but it could well be you that turned me onto it.

        I didn’t hear Arbery’s father speak but in some ways his generosity no longer surprises me. It seems I’ve heard several other Black parents of slain children express similar sentiments, such as the mother of the man who was shot in his own apartment by a female cop who lived in his building. Their words hold extraordinary grace and wisdom as well.

        Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving today with you and yours—be they near or far.

        Liked by 1 person

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