Recently, I asked my spoonie friends on Instagram, “What is the one thing you wish people understood about your fatigue?” The quotes below are their paraphrased responses.
What Is Fatigue?
The Oxford Dictionary defines fatigue as: “Extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.” and “A reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.”
In a person whose fatigue is chronic as the result of any prolonged illness or condition, even those definitions aren’t enough to adequately describe what someone experiencing it is really going through.
How Does Fatigue Differ from Being Tired?
When a healthy person is tired, they’ve used up all their energy for that day, and their bodies give them a signal that it’s time to rest. These signals may come in the form of sleepiness, slowed response time, irritability, yawning, and/or cravings for caffeine.
For a person living with a chronic illness, fatigue is a feeling of being completely and utterly drained. Those who live with chronic illness already have depleted levels of energy every single day, no matter how much rest they get.
This is due to the physical, mental, and emotional toll a chronic illness takes on a human being. Those living with chronic illnesses don’t even have to move to become completely and overwhelmingly exhausted.
The quotes below should give you a better understanding of what it really feels like for someone who struggles with chronic fatigue.
1) “Fatigue is more than 'just tired'. It's like thinking and moving through thick sludge. My whole body tries to shut down.”
2) “Sleep won't help.”
3) “Trying to 'push through' the fatigue doesn't make it better, it makes it worse. I have to spend even more time trying to recover.”
4) “Fatigue isn't a normal 'sleepy' feeling. It's much, much stronger and more debilitating than that.”
6) “I do not enjoy 'getting to lie around all day'!”
7) “If you can tell I'm drained by looking at me, then I've already pushed myself beyond my limit.”
8) “A person with fatigue can struggle with insomnia, which only makes the problem worse.”
9) “Even 8 hours of sleep each night and naps in between can mean nothing when it comes to fatigue.”
10) “When I'm fatigued, movement feels both impossible and painful. My brain is fuzzy, my vision is blurry, and my heart races.”
How I Describe My Own Fatigue
I am, thankfully, no longer in a state of chronic fatigue.
However, when fatigue does hit me, it’s like a tidal wave. I don’t just slowly get sleepy or run down. I go from having energy one minute to feeling like I just donated pints of blood the next. I get panicky, shaky, and have incredible difficulty getting my mind and body to do what I want it to do.
When that happens, I have to take something for my anxiety, put on some soothing music, slip on my eye mask, and take a nap. Sometimes, I don’t have that option, and it can make me feel trapped and terrified because it’s really difficult (and exhausting) to hide and even more difficult to explain.
It’s one of the reasons I don’t participate in social engagements very often, and why I must know about a social event at least a week in advance so I can prepare myself mentally, physically, and emotionally.
What About You?
How do you describe your fatigue? Do people often mistake it for or compare it to ordinary tiredness? Share your experience in the comments below!