If you’re fatigued, raise your hand (or just think about it because you’re too tired to move)

Clever Manka, · Categories: Manka's Posts · Tags: , ,
Tina Belcher lying on floor

This is not a terribly inspirational post. Channel your inner Tina to get through it.

I have chronic fatigue.

It took years to come to grips with that little sentence (boy did I fight my doctor on it—not that admitting it mattered when it came to actual treatment because modern western medicine is shit for dealing with stuff like this). It’s something I still struggle to accept—not because I think it’s a personal failing, but because of the limitations. Fatigue is a constant presence in my body and in my brain. It’s not something that comes and goes. Even on days I feel energetic and motivated (especially on days I feel energetic and motivated), I have to remember my fatigue and make accommodations for it. Like an old injury that you forget about until you reach for a casserole pan and your back reminds you about that deadlifting accident and you’re stuck having someone else get stuff out of low cabinets for the next week (not that I would know anything about that), my fatigue demands constant attention.

I know we’re all tired. Everybody’s tired. If we aren’t tired physically, we’re tired mentally, emotionally, or all three. We’re tired of horrible politics, tired of police brutality, tired of wrecked and wretched legal systems.

We’re also sleepy. We’re sleepy because between eking out a living often doesn’t allow time for enough sleep and a quality waking life. The stress of what we’re never going to get to do (exercise! meditate! create art!) keeps us from quality rest. Either that or we stayed up too late reading a fic because it it’s one of the few pleasures left that we can financially afford (bless fanfic writers doing their thing for free).

We’re tired and we’re sleepy. I am often these things, too. These things are not what I mean when I say I am fatigued. My partner has his own issues (who doesn’t) but he has near-boundless physical energy. Trying to describe it to him, I once explained fatigue is the opposite of one’s brain spinning with thoughts. It’s one thought, wading hip-deep through sludge, that basically consists of how to stay upright until a decent hour for bedtime.

Ignoring my fatigue forced me to drop out of CrossFit several years ago. I loved it and the coaches helped me scale and modify stuff, but it was still too much. It took me nine months to get back to where I could exercise vigorously again. A little over a year later, ignoring my fatigue caused me to flub a deadlift, tear a disc, and put me out of weightlifting for two years (possibly forever, we’ll see). Ignoring fatigue is what caused me to injure myself while doing exercises for physical therapy. Twice. Obviously the need to notice and accommodate my fatigue is a lesson I’m still learning.

Anyone who suffers from chronic fatigue or adrenal fatigue (they’re not quite the same, but are often connected—many of us including yours truly are blessed with both) can tell you that dealing with it is a bad mix of a shell game and Go Fish. How do I feel now? How will I feel in an hour? Will the thing I did yesterday with no problem cause a flare-up today? Can I trust myself to use my brain correctly right now? How about this afternoon? The one thing I can count on is if I wake up feeling fatigued that’s probably not going to change over the course of the day.

My approach to dealing with fatigue is haphazard (much like the illness itself).

The days I wake up fatigued are psychologically the easiest because I simply prepare for the worst. The first thing I do is decide if I can make it through a day at the office or if I need to call in (I’ve had to compromise on that since recently running out of sick leave while I was on part-time FMLA for, guess what, fatigue). I cancel any social appointments for that day and I don’t allow myself to feel bad about doing so. As you might imagine, my circle of local friends has diminished enormously. Self-care can destroy relationships—don’t let anyone tell you different—but the relationships that survive are priceless. On days that I wake up fatigued, I don’t do anything that requires physical effort (I am fortunate to have a partner who will do The Most Tedious Shit for me—like going upstairs to get my phone because I left it by the bed, or bringing me my slippers, no I mean the other pair of slippers).

The days I wake up feeling okay-but-not-great (this is most days), I go about my normal day, but gently (always gently). I monitor myself for signs of impending doom. Do my legs get tired from walking before I run out of breath? Am I slow with the smart-ass comments (fatigue doesn’t affect only physical capabilities)? Am I feeling extra sad or emotional for no particular reason? Constant Vigilance is crucial which is in itself somewhat fatiguing.

The days I wake up feeling great can actually be the worst, psychologically and emotionally. Those are the days that I still need to do all the things on my okay-but-not-great days when what I really want to do is just enjoy being a somewhat normally functioning adult for twenty-four goddamn hours. I know that’s the path to ruin, although sometimes I ignore the signs because once in while I need to dance, regardless of the piper’s outrageous payment scale.

I’m not going to paint a pretty picture about it. I’m not attempting to convince anyone (especially myself) that fatigue has been a blessing—a way to slow down, enjoy life, smell the roses. Fuck the roses. Fatigue sucks and for me there is no upside. I’m angry that fatigue kept me from experiencing being an athlete when I finally discovered a sport I enjoyed. I’m angry that I don’t have the energy to lead a fulfilling life outside of my job. I’m angry that most insurance (and most western doctors) don’t have the capabilities or the interest in helping manage my fatigue. I’m angry that there are so many others in my exact same situation. Being angry doesn’t help the fatigue, but that’s another post.

Fatigue has not helped me find my best self. Fatigue has taught me no lessons that I couldn’t have happily and successfully lived without. There are no silver linings, no up sides, no “but at leasts.” Anything I accomplish is done in spite of fatigue. Things happen slowly, sometimes they don’t happen at all, and every success comes with a price (my life is a continual series of trade-offs). The one positive thing I can say about fatigue is that it has taught me to care even less about what people think of me. I often don’t have the energy to remove makeup before bed—so I’ve stopped wearing it for anything other than special occasions. I’ve stopped shaving my legs above the knee (Linda Belcher would be pleased). I went six weeks between touch-ups on my roots last time (it takes me six hours to do my roots because I’m allergic to hair dye and so I use this hippie-ass method of henna and indigo which looks great but JFC SIX HOURS). I’ve recently gone so far as to wear tank tops with built-in shelf bras to work even though I am a D cup because my office is consistently 80 degrees and it is too god damned exhausting to add an underwire to that experience.

I’ve never cared about whether people liked me, so I guess thanks, fatigue, for helping me give even less of a shit about people’s opinions. Now I don’t even care what people think of my looks (I don’t have to tell the ladies reading—that’s a huge thing in our culture). Not gonna lie, though, it felt really good to get those roots covered. That’s probably something I need to examine more closely, but right now I just don’t have the energy.

clevermankaClever Manka is your site host. She would like to go lie down, now.

24 Responses to “If you’re fatigued, raise your hand (or just think about it because you’re too tired to move)”

  1. CleverManka says:

    I queued this to post two weeks ago and had to call in sick to work today because of fatigue. Good times, good times.

  2. Frumiosa says:

    Oh man, this is my life. I've had constant fatigue since I had a baby during a rigorous grad school program (would! not! recommend!), then had two more while finishing grad school and working full-time (glutton! for! punishment!). I've somehow inserted my Type-B personality into a Type-A life, and now I struggle between wanting to be in the moment for my kids' years of tiny awesomeness and constant daydreaming of a time when they'll be more self-sufficient and I can get some energy back. But even when I'm on vacation without kids I'm tired, so I think at this point my system has accepted it as fate, and "fatigued" is just my personality.

    ETA: Obviously self-imposed life circumstances fatigue is different than health-related fatigue. I'm just saying I can relate to the drowning-while-upright feeling, and wish you the best in getting through your days.

  3. inkwashed says:

    you are amazing. also, timing sometimes makes us question whether or not jokes are being played on us from the entire universe. "ok ok I get it. irony etc."

    it's so hard to talk about fatigue – a dear friend of mine suffers terribly and people often just have no idea what she goes through to make it to work, to make it out of bed, to make it to dinner. it's insidious and frustrating for her, for all of the reasons, and being friends with this delightful woman for the past twenty years has meant the world to me.

    • CleverManka says:

      timing sometimes makes us question whether or not jokes are being played on us from the entire universe

      The idea of my existence being programmed entertainment for a parallel universe does not seem that strange to me. It actually makes me feel a little better, thinking I'm my own Truman Show.

      Best wishes to your friend!

  4. RoseCamelia says:

    Fuck smelling the roses, indeed. You are a badass, even when fatigue is at the fore. I admire your independence of others' opinions of you. Having no fucks to give is liberating.

  5. OshKoshMalosh says:

    Oof, I couldn’t love this piece more if I tried.

    I’ve been dealing with fatigue for the past week (mine is related to Hashimoto’s), and I have to keep reminding myself that this is a health thing. I’ve had good times and bad, and whenever I’m feeling good and refreshed, I become a bit of an amnesiac about the bad times. This post is came at the perfect time for me!

  6. calystarose says:

    *hugs* this is an awesome post, I really like the no silver linings part because that feels so true to my experiences with Depression. It's so frustrating when people try to romanticize it. 🙁

  7. Fancy_Pants says:

    THANK YOU for what you said about there just being no good side to some things. For some reason it's so ingrained in our culture that eeeeeevery struggle is just part of your awesome backstory. Nope! Sometimes things just suck, and people just get randomly assigned a shitty deal and it has nothing to do with their worth or character and it definitely does not secretly make their life more meaningful in some way.

    I get pulled into that trap of expecting to find a positive side to my (admittedly minor) and my partner's (substantial) anxiety issues. Like wow we've learned so much about empathy or something? GREAT! But at the end of the day, some weeks just get utterly consumed by this beast, and there's no good we can pull out of it. And trying to make it into a thing of value is just so demoralizing. Ugh.

    Manka, you're awesome. Thank you for spending some of your precious energy on writing 🙂

  8. aqueousmedium says:

    What a brutal, beautiful post, and I wish you'd never had to write it. You are amazing even with chronic fatigue and I'm pissed at the universe on your behalf for putting so many obstacles in your way to further badassery.

  9. Doc_Paradise says:

    I'm still waiting for my Sith powers to kick in. If they ever do, I promise to teach Force Choke to anybody and everybody who has ever had to deal with people telling them what a "blessing" their illness is.

  10. jan_ette says:

    Autoimmune fatigue is a constant for me. I realized recently that it's entirely possible that "I'm so tired" is the phrase I've said most in my life. For the most part I've given up being angry because it just costs too damn much. Yeah, I see you. Thanks for putting it out there.

  11. iosognodisonno says:

    I am quite late to this post (maybe I put off reading it because I knew it would hit too close to home)? What was the process of coming to your diagnosis like?

    I've been dealing with fatigue for a couple of years, but especially in this last year. My insurance is shit and I've always been a wait-and-see-if-it-gets-better-on-its-own kind of person rather than heading to the doctor when there's a problem and I'm now in this state of figuring out how to negotiate the potential high costs and disappointing answers of what could be a very long diagnostic process to figure out what the hell is making me tired so often.

    All the more affordable tests to rule things out have been done (it's not anemia, a thyroid problem, or too little B12). I'm pretty sure it's not sleep apnea, based on a sleep monitoring product I bought that shows my breathing and heart rate are normal throughout the night, and I don't know what else a sleep study would tell me (the doc's current recommendation). I'm wondering if an allergy test could help me identify something in my diet that's the problem, but I've been experimenting with cutting different things out on my own with no results (not a gluten problem, probably not dairy, although I've had a hard time not cheating when cutting that out).

    What all did you have to rule out to get to the point of a CFS diagnosis? And is there anything docs have been able to recommend for that?

    I'm right there with you when it comes to having to manage my time and energy. I'm dreading a social engagement I have this week that, by all accounts, should be fun. But it will involve a crowded place, will probably be difficult to park, and the friend setting it up invited a bunch of people so it's more of a group thing that I realized at first.

    If my energy levels are fine, it will be a lot of fun! But if they're not, I'll either be the friend that bails at the last minute (which I definitely do always feel guilty about) or I'll show up, feel tired the whole time, and try to gauge how long I have to stay before I can politely leave. The social world outside my house just takes so much out of me these days.

    If you don't have the energy to read the mini novella I've posted here, no worries 🙂

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