I have fatigue. You may have fatigue or know someone who has fatigue. Or you may read the word “fatigue” and think “oh that person just needs to take a nap or have a cup of coffee and they will be fine.” There are lots of different ways to experience fatigue and, like most invisible illnesses, there are lots of different ways to perceive fatigue.
Fatigue is a symptom of over one hundred chronic illnesses, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a nasty chronic disease in itself. I feel like it is often overlooked and associated with the word “lazy” which provides it with that ever so lovely social stigma that lots of misunderstood diseases get tacked on to their names and which makes life with one of those diseases hell for the sufferer. I get an absolute kick out of it when people spend their time and energy denouncing things like chronic fatigue as “bogus.” It does nothing for them but give them a momentary “holier than thou” feeling and makes the person who has to live with that “bogus” disease question their sanity, their strength and their pain. Basically, it’s a really shitty thing to do.
So let’s talk about fatigue. Let’s make it more approachable so it isn’t this scary thing that people don’t understand. Let’s take away the stigma so some people won’t feel so determined to undermine what other people are going through. Let’s explain how chronic fatigue isn’t just an excuse to stay in bed.
I do not have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but if I did I could contribute the following symptoms to my CFS: extreme malaise, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration, persistent muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, sore throats, brain fog, dizziness, irritable bowel, visual disturbances, mood problems and other serious symptoms. Sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it? I could have relatively few symptoms and lead a rather normal, active life, or I could be absolutely debilitated by these symptoms and be as disabled as someone with MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or heart disease. I could go into remission and feel great for awhile or I could remain sick for a long time with no relief. To top all of that off there is no cure and there are no prescription drugs developed specifically for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s a very complicated illness.
Then there are people like me who have other chronic illnesses with fatigue as a symptom, not the underlying cause. I am lucky, in a sense, because I only get short bouts of fatigue occasionally. But when I do get it, it hits me hard. I have trouble waking in the morning and starting my day even though I had ample sleep the night before. I am groggy and could literally fall asleep while sitting up at the dinner table eating supper. I have no energy and have trouble even thinking about doing something active because all my body wants to do is curl up in bed and sleep. But the last thing I want to do is give in to that sleep. I’m in my mid-twenties and I have a rather exciting social life. I have a boyfriend and lots of friends who want to hang out and do fun and exciting things with me. I have a full time job and I enjoy writing and reading in my spare time. I want to go for walks and bowling and get up early to clean my house. I’m happy and I want to do fun, happy things. I don’t want to spend every moment I am not at work sleeping. I don’t want to nap on my breaks at work. I want to get through at least one chapter of a book in the evening without falling asleep on top of it and getting makeup all over the pages.
A few weeks ago when I was feeling pretty down from all of this fatigue I was talking to a friend of mine who also suffers from it and I told her that I want to write a self-help book about coping with fatigue in the workplace. I want to title it “How to Ask Your Boss for Nap Time” because I seriously start nodding off half-way through the work day every day. I can be running around the office completing tasks and if I close my eyes for a second I bet I could fall fast asleep crouching at the filing cabinet or walking down the stairs to get the mail.
Fatigue is not easy to have, it is not easy to manage, and although there are things you can do to decrease the symptoms a bit (such as exercise and eating a well balanced diet) you have little control over how your body will react.
I think fatigue is one of my hardest symptoms to manage. It is one that upsets me the most because I just cannot stand those days when fun activities pass me by because I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy them. I’ve slept about 30 hours this weekend. Think of all the activities I could have been doing in 30 hours!
Sure, sometimes I am lazy and I just want to sit on the couch and watch Netflix and take afternoon naps for no reason, but there is a world of difference between being lazy and suffering from fatigue.
So think twice before you tell someone they are lazy, or you shrug off their symptoms by telling them they just need a coffee. This is a lifelong, debilitating problem for some people, a problem that is very hard for most people to talk about publicly because of social stigma surrounding it, so why not try to make things a little easier on us by simply not being a jerk and not saying something rude about fatigue? I’m tired. I’m not only tired from fatigue but from all the negativity I hear about fatigue. So why not just give it a rest?
And fellow fatigue sufferers, please tell me all of the tricks up your sleeve to get through a busy day when you can barely stay awake!