I can barely keep my eyes open as I write tonight. The combination of sunshine and deep breaths of fresh air creates a very particular kind of tiredness. I used to call it “good tired,” but it’s been so long since I’ve felt this way, I’d almost entirely forgotten about it.
Sure, I’ve been tired. “Bad tired,” I guess you’d call it, though that sounds particularly inelegant. Maybe that’s fitting, though. “Bad tired” is the gray exhaustion that settles in before you put one toe out of bed in the morning. The permanent half-moons etched under your eyes, the vague achiness that seeps in your bones. The kind of tired that has nothing to do with physical exertion, but somehow makes a walk to work or cooking a meal seem like an IronMan triathlon. I think Coldplay had it right — it’s when “you feel so tired but you can’t sleep, stuck in reverse…”
The English language does not serve us well here, which is why I have to resort to “good tired” and “bad tired.” I mean, seriously. We use the same word – “tired” – to describe this vague, gray, draining melancholy and invigorating physical exhaustion. But these two feelings couldn’t be more different. One makes us feel barely alive. One reminds us we are alive.
When I was cruising at negative 30,000 feet (aka rock bottom), I read a lot of impassioned advice to combat depression by exercising! (Very rarely was “exercising!” used without at least one exclamation point). This advice was generally accompanied by pictures of smiling, fit, blond women jogging on picturesque mountain trails. I wanted to punch those women. I was exercising(!). I was dragging myself to the elliptical trainer or the treadmill nearly every day, and not once did I leave looking or feeling like those women. Instead I felt achy, restless, and decidedly not smiling, fit, or blond.
Here’s another place where the English language fails us, I think. We use “exercise” to cover a large swath of activities from mindlessly elliptical-ing to hiking the Appalachian Trail. Most often, our culture uses “exercise” to describe ways to punish your body into being slim, fit, and perfect. When I read that exercise was an antidote to depression, my mind automatically free-associated “exercise” with the daily grind of the gym machines, surrounded by other people trying equally hard to punish their bodies into submission.
Hello. This is not filling my well.
By dictionary definition, grinding it out on the elliptical trainer certainly counts as exercise. But never once have I felt alive on a gym machine. I remembered today that our bodies are meant to move in natural ways.
We all have different physical abilities, but when we move in ways that remind us of our strength and capability, we are all reminded that we are alive. When I walk in the fall air and rake leaves and lift boxes and hike up the towering hill of the apple orchard and lug 40 pounds of apples back down and soak up sunshine, I connect to the ancient, strong part of my body that is meant to do these things. This is “exercise” that celebrates, rather than controls, my body.
Tonight, for the first time in a long time, I am “good tired.” Tonight, I will collapse into bed, and the sheer weight of my body will overpower the buzz of thoughts that so often keeps me awake. I will sleep the sleep that only sunshine and productive physical work can bring. And I will wake, perhaps a little sore or stiff, but joyfully aware that I am alive.