I don’t know about you but for me one word and feeling has come to express the days that have passed since the start of the year – and that is weariness.
My late mother used to describe January as ‘mìos sgìth’ the month of weariness or tiredness. Her oft heard remark in these winter months was “tha mi gu math sgìth” “I am very weary. I am very tired.” A phrase that became the soundtrack to many a day.
The dictionary describes ‘weariness’ as an extreme tiredness, fatigue and debility; a reluctance to see or experience any more of something.’ How better can we describe so much of what so many are feeling right now?
Weariness is not just a tiredness of the body it is a depth of tiredness that gets into the bones much like the damp and cold of this time of the year. It drains us of the energies’ of hope and togetherness, it saps the strength of optimism and confidence.
It is perhaps little surprising that so many of us are weary.
There is a weariness brought about by the announcement on Monday that we were returning to a strict lockdown and indeed around the fear that in the coming days that strictness may need to get tighter yet still.
There is a weariness amongst the care home staff and managers I have spoken to this week. Having got to the point of the end of the year, having overcome outbreaks and working through the exhaustion and emotion of the months that have passed, there was hope that we were turning the corner, then news of the new Kent strain came and it felt that things went back to the beginning. Their weariness and exhaustion has been compounded this week by yet more demands through increased testing of staff and others, tragically many more outbreaks of this deadly virus, staff absence and sickness, loss of individuals now shielding, all adding up to a painful the sense that we are in Groundhog Day yet again. One manager said it all felt like the light going further away rather than getting closer. People are weary beyond description.
There is a weariness amongst family and friends of those in care homes. Ten long months of separation, 300 days of absence, hundreds who have passed away not just from Covid but other conditions, and still for the majority there is no touch, no embrace, no sitting alongside and holding hands; no intimacy and sense of togetherness. We had been getting better in addressing the fear of care home staff, managers and relatives, better by introducing the prospect of lateral glow tests, in slowly opening up care homes to days of closer normality, and then Tier 4 restrictions ended all but essential indoor visits. People are weary beyond description.
There is a weariness amongst the workers and folks who work in care at home and housing support, who are in all weathers, in cold and ice , going out and bringing care and comfort, presence and support to thousands in our communities. They are weary of the continued failure of the others to prioritise their needs, to initiate a robust system of testing asymptomatic staff whilst the new strain runs amok around them; they are weary that all the response of others seems to be a Thursday clap when what they need is recognition, value, resourcing and prioritising in vaccination, testing and in contracts that do not diminish life into 15 minute segmented visits. People are weary beyond description.
There is a weariness amongst health colleagues not least in hospitals. The massive increase in admissions, the growing statistics of those needing intensive care despite new treatments for Covid, and the sad daily reckoning of death and loss, are taking a huge toll on the morale, sapping the energy, and draining the reserves of a workforce and system which has been on over-drive for months. People are genuinely frightened about whether the health and care system can sustain itself unless the wider population begins to act as if we are all infected and to behave accordingly with an urgent cautiousness. People are weary beyond description.
There is a weariness in the wider community. The return to lockdown has meant again the challenges of juggling work and home-schooling and all that comes with that; the strains of keeping children and others motivated and positive when there is little to do. For others this last week of frost and snow has restricted the ability to get out and exercise for fear of fracture and fall. Thousands more are terrified that what they have built up in businesses and the careers they have nurtured over the years, incomes they require to pay bills and simply to live, will be lost the longer we remain under lockdown. There is real raw fear of loss of hope and role, of identity and self-value. The adopted normality of autumn has been replaced by a closed inwardness which is so much harder for so many in these winter months. People are weary beyond description.
There is a weariness for the countless thousands who are struggling with emotions and mental health. The inability to connect with others, to engage in the routines of exercise and activity; to be able to do what keeps you healthy and balanced, has been a devastating blow in the last few days. And what makes all this worse is that we have all been here before. The very predictability of uncertainty, the fear of a never-ending roundabout, is causing a tiredness which empties individuals of positive energy and hopeful spark. People are weary beyond description.
In the face of such weariness, what should our response be? I do not have the answer – but all I can do is reflect back to the weariness I saw so often in my own mother in this ‘mìos sgìth’ ‘month of weariness and recollect her own actions. They were simple, rest, restore, relate and renew. Not her words but upon reflection this is what she did so often
When she got to the point of being tired and exhausted – which was quite often bringing up six children, she would stop, sit and yes typically have a cup of tea. But this was not just an ordinary activity. All her children knew and sensed the moment that she was not to be disturbed, that this was her time for herself. It was the moment which she needed to continue being. It was not that the tea was any different, or what she ate, or the length of time she took. What she did was to dis-connect from the activity and the concern and to retreat into her own space and place of time. For her it meant putting on the radio and listening to the Gaelic programmes. It was an escape in the midst of encounter and activity in order to be renewed and reconnected. It was a charging of the batteries.
I know when I am weary and tired and exhausted I need to do the same. It might be in the genes, but I need to go away from people, listen to some music or read some poetry, and simply sit and rest and be. I think the coming days and weeks we all need to find what it is within us that helps us to rest and be apart from the chaos and concern, to sit and be, to rest and renew. We cannot continue to give and to be present, unless we are able to re-store the energies within us. We all need to find, whether by mindfulness or meditation, exercise or conversation, silence or sound, the spaces and activities, the inaction or moments that rest and renew us. We cannot overcome weariness by the exhaustion of hyper-activity.
The other critical thing that helped my mother deal with her weariness was to re-connect with others. Through relationship she found a solidarity of support which gave energy and assistance. Through conversation and chat, gossip and laughter, on topics unimportant and irrelevant, she found a way to disconnect from anxiety and activity and to be with others. Now I recognise this very ability to relate is diminished by the restrictions we are all living under, but I think again it is critical for us all to re-discover the importance of conversation, of talking through our troubles and airing our concerns, which we were so much better at in the spring. ‘No man is an island’ has never been a more true saying than it is in these dark days of disconnected and isolated January. We have to find ways to converse with difference which drags us out of what we are doing, and which helps to give us a different world view or perspective. It may seem strange but for so many, myself included, the act of talking helps to renew and restore.
But perhaps the most important lesson I learnt about the way in which my mother dealt with weariness was the sense she always arrived at – her awareness that you cannot wallow in weariness but have to work through it to a point of renewal. Even writing that seems glib and dismissive. It is a lesson I took many years to learn and at times still struggle with. It is the insight I saw all around me when I look outside this last week. It’s been a cruel and hard sharp frost where I live, and my garden has been covered in snow and ice. But as I have walked out into it this morning I have noticed with the slight increase in temperatures, an astonishing number of bulbs now showing in pots and borders. Silently, secretly, without notice and regardless of the harshness of temperature and the hardness of earth, the renewal of spring is happening all around me. I have simply not noticed.
So, weariness is ultimately re-energised by a hope of renewal and change. On Monday we started vaccinating using the AstraZeneca vaccine and yesterday we heard the news of the Moderna vaccine and the first positive research showing that the developed vaccines seem to work against both the Kent and the South African strains. This is our bud of hope bursting through a hard soil of anxiety, hopelessness and exhaustion. Vaccination and other activities of precaution will drag us into a spring of hope. These will be hard months and very challenging days indeed, but we are being pulled through by the light of hope into a tomorrow which will be changed and chastened, but which will be better than the sapless emptiness of these times.
So, “tha mi gu math sgìth” ‘I am weary’, but I know I must, like my mother, sit and rest, restore and reconnect, and remember promise is growing around us silently, urgently, overcoming hard soil and cold days, to give birth to tomorrow.
And to end, as in so many times I find John O’Donohue insightful with some words from ‘A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted’ :…
‘Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have travelled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of colour
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.’