What to Do When You’re Sick and Tired of Everything — Including Yourself

The rejuvenating power of feeling like a visitor

Photo: Masaaki Komori/Unsplash

Rejuvenation. That’s what a friend recently told me she needed. She’d written a book that was published in October, right before the election, but she’d felt too exhausted to publicize it. Not that it would have mattered anyway. The world was shouty and stressed.

Now, with vaccines and tulips all around us, she was still dragging herself from masked grocery store visits to the occasional school pickup (when school wasn’t closed because of Covid.) “What can rejuvenate me?” she asked. We listed the obvious options for middle-aged women in Brooklyn: yoga, wine, essential oils, hanging out in someone’s backyard for an evening, away from our families. None of it sounded sufficient.

When I brought up our conversation with my younger colleagues, they told me that the word rejuvenation made them think of plastic surgery, fillers, and dermabrasion. Ok, so never mind the word, but what was the answer?

I found out during spring break when my husband, two kids, and dog spent a long weekend in Rhode Island. The salty scent of the ocean, wandering through decrepit family graveyards from the 1700s, and not cleaning out the dishwasher every morning was a welcome gentle jolt: I remembered that being a visitor is rejuvenating. Waking up in a place you don’t know gets you out of your head and focused on different customs, smells, and vistas. The world is new. You feel like a kid again.

I don’t miss my pre-pandemic life, when I spend a lot of time in airports. But I miss the feeling of being sparked by a change of scenery, like the moment everything turns technicolor in The Wizard of Oz.

Recently, I asked my 10-year-old daughter why she missed traveling. “I get to see new parts and it makes me feel like I’ve got a second chance,” she said. It reminded me of a quote from the writer Terry Pratchett:

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

After that weekend away, I thought back to my exhausted friend. I think she was tired of herself. I know I am. Maybe our fatigue is less about being sick of our routines and more about being tired of ourselves. All these months spent living within a 10-block radius have limited my perspective.

Without the chance to turn my minds outward, toward something new, life feels like an infinite load of laundry. Pre-pandemic, I loved folding laundry. The repetitive nature of matching socks gave me time to replay moments from earlier in the day, process everything I saw. Now, even though there’s so much going on in the world — more than ever to think about — my thoughts are repetitive, too. I’ve realized how much a change of scenery gives me a new frame of reference for everything.

Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish. ManoushZ.com/newsletter

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