A Case of “Have-to Exhaustion”

These last three days have been exhausting. My sore throat and slight chest pains have me wondering whether or not they are a cause or an effect of the exhaustion. If I had to diagnose myself, I would say I have a case of “Have-to exhaustion.” What is this diagnosis you ask?

Have-to Exhaustion is defined medically as a sense of mental or physical fatigue experienced as a result of ones have-to obstructing their want-to. Symptoms include muscle fatigue/tension (from worrying all day about making the wrong decision), headaches, sore feet (from walking the entire building in dress shoes), and onymailophophia (the fear of seeing certain names in your unread email).

I know there are blogs and videos and quotes out there about flipping the script and tricking your brain. If you say that you want to do something, rather than you have to do something, you will feel better about it. I have enjoyed watching/reading those in the past, generally agreed with them, and generally still do. These last three days have made me question if that is always possible. What I had to do in the last three days prevented me from accomplishing what I wanted to do, and even when I was able to fit it in the schedule there was little joy gained from it.

After reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, I am now under the impression that anything can be studied by psychologists, so I hope one reads this and explores the difference in feeling between a working schedule that is ‘have-to’ heavy vs ‘want-to’ heavy. In my own reflection and study of my schedule, the actual times blocked off changed very little. To be honest, my schedule doesn’t even look that difficult. I was even excited about a number of items on my schedule toward the end of the week. What changed was the number of unexpected items that arose, which forced items that were planned and meaningful to get squeezed into shorter time frames, and seemingly squeezed the meaning right out of them.

It became clear over the past three days that I was showing my exhaustion, too. A few colleagues noted my looks of exhaustion and asked if I was doing alright. Today, I literally stopped a conversation today without saying a word, and I wasn’t trying to. My colleague came up to me with a quick item as I bounced between unexpected items. Before she even finished her sentence, the look on my face must have told her that it wasn’t the time. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that face was, because I would like to conjure it up in the future. Fortunately, she didn’t take it personally and found me later.

The weird thing is that I think I might have accomplished more in the last three days than I have in most other sets of three days. Interviews completed, references called, a short deep thinking session was squeezed in, and lots of fires were put out (I think all of them, but I am still worried about missing a few embers). I feel good about what I accomplished, but it is difficult to get over my current sense of exhaustion.

I’m okay with that for now, probably because the day ended on a few good notes. Two colleagues, who clearly saw me wearing down, had their students right thank you cards. When I entered my office to a pile of cards that had been slipped under my door, it made me smile. When I finally got to read them after everyone else had gone home, some of the exhaustion washed away. When I saw the caller ID on my phone as I tried to wrap up my day and go home, I was scared to death to answer it. When I did, I found out it was possibly my easiest solution of the day and ended with smiles all around. A few kind text exchanges later and I’m feeling like I might be able to get out of bed Saturday morning.

A good ending can make everything a little better and may have kept me from feeling completely overwhelmed. Oddly, I just read about the peak-end rule in Thinking, Fast and Slow, which means I find examples of it everywhere now. The main idea is that our memory of an event is almost completely based on the peak moment and end moment, rather than the overall positivity or negativity gained from an experience. My peak was not very high this week, but it ended pretty well; high enough to get me back for more next week. Although not without a good bit of rest this weekend.

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