Home / Blog Posts / Fatigue and the Black Dog / Diary of a Chronically Exhausted Vicar. Episode 40

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Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar image


She sits beside me and simply with her presence says, put them down for a moment; put them all down, those burdens you are carrying. Let’s hold them between us, together; let your shoulders rest for a while.

I lower the first, it falls with a thud. That’s a hefty one by itself, that ministry load, being a minister in a large parish. A second, attached with a string, tumbles along behind it: oh, it’s got a chunky one connected to it? A ministry colleague leaving: small, but quite weighty, isn’t it?

I breathe a little deeper into the space that opens, then drop another bundle at our feet. Here’s the shiny new one: grief for a father. That’s bulky, and heavy, that one.

I roll my head, stretch my neck, reaching into the momentary ease. Another drops, looking like a tangled blankety mess. There’s the fatigue, looks like that alone could push you to crumbling.

It’s quite something that you are still standing, you know, she says earnestly.

Taking it all in, those weighty, bulky, burdens, I nod, it is a lot.

And then the black dog pokes its nose through the pile on the floor, throws a withering glance at being almost overlooked, then snuggles back under the weighted blankets of fatigue to sleep.


Five minutes at a senior school assembly speaking on tips for maintaining good mental health while studying. When I ponder the wonder at how I am still standing under this load, I recall the wisdom I’ve gleaned from experience, and see through this week how I have practiced what I preached to those students.

Keep moving, I said. To keep moving, gently, slowly, and intentional rest as a step in that forward momentum, keeps you returning towards healthy balance.

This week I swam, as usual, keeping my body moving through the fatigue; I slept and I wept, moving through the grief; I prepared and facilitated gatherings of the community, turned up, and retreated so that I could turn up again the next day.

Stay connected, I said. Connect with friends and family and nature and the Sacred however you name it. I forgot to specify, connect with health professionals (five minutes is too short to mention all the things, in the end).

This week, I talked with family members on the phone and Skype, email and text; I met friends and colleagues for coffee, chatted to them on phone and email and messages in various platforms. I sent a message to my friend asking how her new job was going, and she said, I’m in the area, was about to text you to see if I might drop round. I said, please do: I knew I needed her company. See part one.
I spent hours with my chiropractor, untwisting the knots, seeking ease. I sat in stillness, I cried in the Presence of the One who hears.

Strive for balance, I said. You’ll not quite achieve it, but it’s in the reaching for it that you will find a way to good health. If you’re reading and writing a lot for study, spend time doing something different, for balance: do needlework, go for a run, colour a mandala or Harry Potter colouring book. If you’re inside studying, spend plenty of time outside. If you’re alone studying, spend plenty of time with people. Balance.
I told them about my three part division of a day’s waking hours, making 21 sections per week, and how 11, more than half, spent on ‘time off’ leads to balance and good health.

This week, I used my three part division of the days and wrote the week out so that I could see when the work would get done, so that the resting, retreating, grieving, could happen trusting the necessary tasks would happen in time.
The balance needs more time alone, more time off, more space even than earlier this year with the fatigue. I try not to feel guilty. Really, I could do with a week or two of blocked out time off, but there are things to do, so the going slowly but still going with the work, the greater absences so that I can still, broadly speaking, remain present, is the necessary way through this season.

Years of carrying heavy loads appear to have built quite some strength and resilience for me, and I have developed strategies, rhythms, and practices, that enable me to keep standing under the load.


One by one, I take the bundles up again: gently, with a kindness towards each that understands there is no malice in the burden they make for me.

As a hiker pauses along the way to rest hard working muscles, change the rhythm of the breath, enjoy the lightness of putting the pack down for a moment, so I have paused, let go of all I was carrying for the briefest of moments, and found myself refreshed.

I shuffle the bundles into a new balance (putting the dog back in the corner gently so as to leave the sleeping dog unawake); strengthened and encouraged through this deep connection with a friend, I stand; rested and refreshed, I move on.