Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What It Really Feels Like To Have Chronic Fatigue

Virtually every human above the age of about 10 (and possibly younger) has experienced fatigue. Fatigue is different than simply being tired as a result of every day activity.  It's defined as: 

"Extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness."

Chronic Fatigue, put simply, is chronically feeling this way. But it's not that simple. It's not that you don't get enough sleep so you're often tired. It's not that you just need to take a nap and you'll perk up. It's that you are physically, emotionally, and mentally drained, to the point of not being able to think, or sometimes see, straight.  My chronic fatigue can exhaust me to the point of actual weakness.  There are times I think things like, "I don't physically think I have the energy to put on pants", or "I'm so exhausted that I don't know that I can make it to my bed to sleep." I have literally almost fallen asleep walking. I get weak to the point where I don't feel like I can hold myself up. I'm so exhausted that my vision starts to blur. 

In addition to the physical symptoms of exhaustion, I often have difficulty concentrating or putting thoughts together, my brain feeling "fuzzy", for lack of a more technical term. In my case, also having cyclothymia, these confound the already troubling symptoms of depression, hypomania, or anxiety. The two intertwine, making the symptoms of each multiply. I know others with chronic illness who battle chronic fatigue as well, it exacerbating their symptoms equally as badly. 

Chronic fatigue comes in "episodes" for lack of a better word. Sometimes, I'm not particularly fatigued. Other times, I can feel it start to creep up, first as a feeling of tiredness, and lingering as it increases in intensity to severe exhaustion. Other than a feeling of being tired, something most of us feel from time to time in our busy lives, I don't have much of a warning. I'll have a day or two where I feel like I just can't manage to wake up fully, and then fatigue will set in. 

Now, I'm sure there are going to be plenty of "welcome to my life" people out there (this phrase, by the way, makes me want to slap you, so please don't ever say it to me). These people are going to say something like "That's what it's like to be a new parent; that's how I feel because I'm a busy executive that barely has a chance to sit down; Now you know how I feel... ."  But here's the difference: you chose that, and it won't go on forever. Your kid won't be screaming for feedings in the middle of the night for the rest of their lives. You could choose to not be a high powered busy executive. And nobody calls you lazy or unmotivated when you can't manage to get basic tasks done because it's too much effort for your exhausted and weakened body. They get that your exclusive job makes you so busy you have no free time.  But for those of us with chronic fatigue, either in the form of CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or as a symptom of another illness, we do deal with that stigma. People think it's an excuse, that we could do it if we tried harder, made more of an effort. People think that if we just got a little more sleep, we'd be ok. People think we could make it go away if we wanted to. People think we're just tired, like them, and we should suck it up. But we're not, and we can't. 


  1. It sounds as though the distinction you are making between fatigue and chronic fatigue is one of agency. I think, however, there are people, the social conditions of whose lives imposes a fatigue upon them that is never likely to end, that would nevertheless notcharacterize their situation as a medical or psychological condition.

    1. Oh absolutely. There are plenty of life circumstances that will cause fatigue that seems continual - ie working 3 jobs as a single parent, for example. I think the difference is that one has a physical (internal/bodily) cause, while one has an external cause. I also think the difference is that many people who know a single parent working three jobs (or similar busy situation) wouldn't call them lazy for not having a perfectly clean house or for getting all the groceries on time, because they understand how busy they are. But for those with chronic fatigue syndrome (medical) it *looks* like they should have plenty of energy based on their lifestyle, and so they're often considered lazy for not getting things done, because physically and lifestyle wise, it looks like they should be able to.