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Too Burned-Out to Show Out

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Early in my Ph.D. research, in 2015, maybe 2016, I asked myself the question: “what happens when we’re all too tired to show up for each other, how others need us to.” I wanted to know, “what happens when others are too tired to show up for us, how we need them to.”

I asked because I was seeing how emotions and trauma were taking me for a ride. Feel-Healing shame and fear, and the traumas associated with them was simply put, burning me out. It was turning me mad and getting me irate.

Working with these emotions (mostly alone; highly don’t advise) had my neurology all “scrambled,” to use Octavia Butler. I was acting out and on my worst behavior when I needed others to show up for me the most. They couldn’t. They wouldn’t. They had limited capacity. They were fed up. They were managing their own lives. And were unable to show up for me how I needed and wanted. (This last part is important. Even if they did show up, I couldn’t compute it as such, because I was so fixated on them showing up how I wanted and needed. Again, highly don’t advise).

Cut to 2020. The pandemic hits. Now more people are burning out and depleted. Setting new boundaries and choosing themselves, prioritizing their health and other needs. Yes! to all of this. And also, “what happens when we’re all too tired to show up for each other how others need us to.”

Pro Tip: Disabled and poor and queer and trans and Black feminist activists and other communities have long been addressing these questions long before I even posed them to myself. Folks like Syrus Marcus Ware, Mia Mingus, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, it was their writings and lessons that I turned to learn how to approach these questions differently. Because these questions of emotions and trauma, disability and productivity, burn-out, overwhelm, showing up, and solidarity. They are really conversations about access. I’m still learning myself.


I learned the “what if’s,” of my life early.

Some of what happens when we and others are too burned out to show out are this: shame and isolation keep us apart; we anger and rage to discharge shame; reduced mobility; increased anxiety; excessive grief over what isn’t’, couldn’t be, or hasn’t yet; disappointment and guilt over being tired and afraid, over not showing up how others want; mourning often and a lot; ruminating over what once was, especially when what is, hasn’t yet taken shape; fleeting moments of joy that we hold on to, too tightly; limited pleasure when not intentional about staying in pleasure; misery, which loves more misery, which becomes contagious.

Ultimately, if we’re not careful and aware, what happens is separation and division. Distance, and solitude. And for good reason.

We take a step back and retreat to rest. (This requires time, resources, and privilege. Rest is expensive, especially for the poor). We etch time to intentionally center ourselves and our wellness. Removing or distancing ourselves from the collective, even when we need them. Knowing we are never really disconnected from them. It gets harder for us to show up for others, but we get better at showing up for ourselves. Which actually means, we get better at showing up for others. Spiritual practitioners like Dr. Thema, Prentis Hemphill, and Maryam Hasnaa talk about this in their work. As have others.

My contribution is this: to reach some imagined utopian vision of solidarity. To attain “kumbaya.” At some point, we’ll need to say, “not right now.” We will need a break. From others and the work. Which is hard and exhausting for us to hear. Common sense, but hard to embody. Time and space apart are not entirely unproductive. It’s learning how to balance solitude with still being in the community. That is the challenging part. Dismantling binaries in place of something entirely new, that is the difficult part. Black feminists like Audre Lorde also taught us this. It’s not new. Nonetheless, I’m still learning.

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Until next time, in solidarity.

Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

Image Description: Two photos of a snail on a green leaf, side-by-side. The fist is an aerial shot of the snail crawling up the leaf. The second is a zoomed shot of the nail.

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