Years ago, like probably 20 years ago, I was watching an episode of Oprah and they were talking with couples who hardly ever have sex any more. Seems to me most of these couples had one person who felt that way and the other didn’t, but as I said, this was maybe 20 years ago.
There was, however, one couple I remember distinctly. They weren’t youngsters, but they were not old by any means – maybe in their 40s. She felt they weren’t having sex often enough. I don’t remember how often they were having it, but I think it was months apart. The “expert” asked them if they got along. Yes, in fact they loved each other and didn’t doubt that their partner loved them. And yet, they were having infrequent sex.
The “expert” asked what the problem was, and this is the part I remember vividly. The wife did an imitation of her husband responding to her advances by saying, “Baby, I’m just so tired.” She wasn’t mocking him, but it was said with a sense of exhaustion. He smiled a little and didn’t deny it. He loved her, but at the end of most days he was just too tired for sex.
I wonder what happened to them. I feel a real connection to that couple, well, to that man. The connection has nothing to do with sex. I simply understand what it feels like to be that tired – so tired that I don’t have the energy for the things I enjoy, so tired I don’t even want to spend time with the people I love, so tired all I want to do is sit still until I can relax enough to go to sleep. Sometimes this is a symptom of depression, but sometimes it is not depression. It is exhaustion.
People have limits. I have limits. Many of us don’t push ourselves to our limits very often. We forget where our limits are or maybe we’ve never had the chance to find out where our limits are. We are surprised when all of a sudden there are no more reserves. We are, as Jackson Browne so eloquently put it, running on empty.
There are all kinds of empty: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (maybe others that I’m too tired to think about right this minute.) When we are running on fumes in one, chances are very good that we are also or will soon be running on fumes in another or even all of them. When this happens and we say, “I can’t” we mean “I can’t”. We don’t mean I don’t want to, or it’s not convenient, or somebody else won’t let me. We mean it is simply not possible right now.
Of course the best thing to do is not to let ourselves reach the giant E on any of those tanks, but sometimes life conspires against us with circumstances beyond our control and there we are. Or we aren’t paying attention to our lack of reserves. Or we are finding new limits in the midst of new needs. If we don’t do something about that giant E, our bodies and minds and hearts will do it for us. We will shut down one way or another. There ARE limits.
I have found it helpful to be accountable to friends. When they hear me talking about fatigue or inappropriate outbursts or inability to think clearly they will question me about my self-care and just exactly what I plan to do about it as soon as possible. I think most of us need this kind of accountability. We need someone(s) we can trust who will help us keep track of our levels so we don’t hit the giant E, and when we do hit it they will support us in knowing that something has to be done right away.
Whether you believe in providence or coincidence, one of my colleagues posted on Facebook today about Grounding Spiritual Practices and said “even a short motorcycle ride can clear and settle my spirit.” Others mentioned commuting to work on their bicycle, playing 9 holes of golf, and surfing. It was the last comment that I connected with. This person talked about “sitting in Sherwood Gardens which has a magnificent display of tulips”.
I have no idea where Sherwood Gardens are, but I know about spending time in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. I can go there at any time of year, even the dead of winter when so many of the plants are hibernating, and feel better just for sitting there for an hour. It is a place of meditation for me and I am re-centered.
Sometimes I take off and go the movies. It doesn’t matter what kind. Just living for a couple of hours in another world allows me to let go of the stress in my life. When the movie is finished I can usually manage to leave at least some of that stress behind. Same with reading a good novel or listening to good music. They all take me somewhere else, somewhere I need to go for a while and tank up.
Sometimes I call or write to a friend. I need that personal contact. I love getting on the phone and sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine with someone that I’d rather talk with in person but who is too far away to do that. Dinner out with a friend can work wonders. Watching a documentary and learning something new can too. And of course, getting to bed early for several nights in a row might be the best investment of time I can make for myself. All of these are spiritual practices for me because they feed my spirit and/or my mind and/or my heart and/or my body.
Here’s to not letting ourselves get below a quarter of a tank before we find a way to fill up again.