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Emails to my Therapist

Post-Holiday Mental Exhaustion? Or Is It Just Pneumonia

Dear Nicholas, I’m wondering if having a ferocious cough this week is why I’m having trouble getting myself to do any of the things that need doing. Does coughing kill motivation and energy and focus? Or is my lethargy a case of post-holiday mental exhaustion?

The last time I had a cough this aggravating it was indeed from a mild case of pneumonia. (Tele-health appointment with physician set for tomorrow. Will cough on camera.)

The Roots of Fatigue

There’s plenty of reason to be tired. For weeks before Christmas, Bob and I worked on closing down his office, as he’s retiring from his psychology practice. He had journals and papers going back to the early eighties, a few items even older. Some were truly treasures and some definitely not.  It was a huge job. Bags and bags of trash. Boxes and boxes of books. We finished two days before Christmas. Perhaps the hardest part of packing I posted on BookTok:

Christmas usually feels like a big project to me. I think it feels that way to the majority of American women, even those of us who merely pick up a pre-cooked meal.

The day itself, though, was festive and fun. We had a great time visiting family, with a sharper appreciation because of the serious ICU-type health crisis that one loved one had weathered a month earlier. He gave us a scare.

(Home office in December)

The To-Do List

And then the week after Christmas, there was a flurry of items I needed to handle, including a few end-of-year financial chores from Bob’s practice, which always make me jumpy. The process is like a real-world high-stakes version of the misery of Algebra II.

On the eve of New Year’s Eve, I started to sink, after getting home from a friend’s brother’s funeral. The four days since, I have barely functioned.

I Think It Takes Courage To Rest

Allowing myself sinking spells is hard. I don’t do well at “just being.” It’ll probably take a diagnosis of pneumonia to justify in my mind my current uselessness. (If you don’t have a fever, you don’t stay home from school.)

Yesterday I managed to do a load of laundry, an experience I stretched out for much of the afternoon and evening and which felt like a barely-believable accomplishment. (I now ransack my pockets looking for a cough drop.)

It’s hard to imagine the return of my usual energy. I take the irrational view that how I feel in a particular moment will continue forever.

But that’s not true, is it?

I have just enough fire left to wish you a happy, healthy, and vigorous new year. Please take good care of yourself.





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  • Peggy Clover
    January 4, 2024 at 4:37 pm Reply

    So many of us can relate to that post holiday exhaustion. But when you add that cough you get more than the regular post holiday feeling. Hope you are able to get treatment and rest. I have found audio books allow me to rest while still feeling like I am accomplishing something. I share your irrational view that how you feel in a particular moment will continue forever. But it won’t–so wishing you a happy new year and a quick recovery, or maybe even a slow restful recovery

    • Peggy Payne
      January 4, 2024 at 8:56 pm Reply

      Thanks so much for this, Peggy. Nice to have company in an irrational view. Happy New Year to you!

  • Judi Culver
    January 4, 2024 at 10:04 pm Reply

    I’m convinced that we, too, need hibernation. We fight it, especially in January and February, but I think that makes our fatigue worse. Meanwhile, your cough undoubtedly saps your energy, too. Actually, you can stretch that load of clothes for days: wash one day, dry the next, and put away whenever. I heard this from a friend.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 4, 2024 at 10:09 pm Reply

      We probably do need to hibernate, Judi. Not a bad idea at all. I once saw a cartoon–in The New Yorker, I think–of the timing for doing a load of laundry. Wash, 1 hour. Dry, 45 mins. Sort, 8 to 10 business days. It’s so true. Yesterday’s unsorted laundry will await me for a while.

  • Mary Lambeth Moore
    January 5, 2024 at 1:20 am Reply

    I relate to a lot of this, Peggy — I always dread the hectic days of December, and sounds like you had a doozy. Hope you’re feeling better already!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 5, 2024 at 2:26 am Reply

      Thanks, Mary. I find Christmas fun once I’ve met all the deadlines. Maybe this coming year I’ll do all prep in August. (And compared to most folks, I don’t even do much prep.)

      I have great hopes for feeling better. A doc gave me 3 prescriptions this afternoon–she said no need for an X-ray because she’d treat it the same way whether the problem was bronchitis or pneumonia. Anyway, I’m practically guaranteed to feel better within a week. Thanks again.

  • Mary Lambeth Moore
    January 5, 2024 at 1:49 pm Reply

    So glad to hear this!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 5, 2024 at 4:03 pm Reply

      Thanks, Mary!

  • kenju
    January 7, 2024 at 5:33 pm Reply

    My daughter the nurse says that RSV, Flu and Covid are filling the hospital this month and last. Please have a doc check out your cough, and if you have not had the RSV vaccine, please consider getting it. I had a bad cold through Christmas, the first time I'[ve been sick since before Covid his the scene in 2020. Nevertheless, it was fun and festive. HappyNew Year, as you embark on a new phase in retirement. Hope you are feeling better by now.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 8, 2024 at 2:32 pm Reply

      Happy New Year to you, Kenju. I’m glad you’ve shaken the cold. I’ve also taken a welcome turn towards health. And, yes, there are a lot of folks coughing just now. Holidays were great–glad yours were. And it’s my husband who has retired, not me. Writers never retire.

  • Kenju
    January 8, 2024 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I knew that – but your life will change too. It’s inevitable!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 8, 2024 at 3:36 pm Reply

      You are so right!

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