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We All Get Tired
but there’s a stark difference between being tired and managing fatigue
We all get tired. A long day, a stressful event, a poor night’s sleep, or a huge life change — there are many reasons why we may feel our energy depleted. It’s normal. It’s expected. And while it can feel heavy, for most, its presence makes sense in relation to the events of our lives, it’s manageable, and often, a good sleep or a few days of rest are enough to replenish those energy stores.
For others, tiredness can hit hard and fast, knocking our feet out from under us from one breath to the next. Activities must stop, rest must take priority, and our body cannot handle anything beyond the slowest and gentlest of tasks. Sleep will still help our situation, despite being hit harder than most other folks, and generally speaking, we’ll feel better after a period of rest.
There are likely many reasons why tiredness may hit some of us harder than the majority of the population — maybe we are highly sensitive, autistic, dealing with ADHD, neurodivergent, an introvert, I’m sure the list goes on of those that feel the effects of life a little more deeply, and therefore, feel that tiredness more keenly too.
Beyond tiredness comes fatigue, whether chronic or a temporary visitor. Fatigue and tiredness are terms often used interchangeably, though, I feel they are quite different from each other.
Tiredness — Being tired is caused by something tangible; a restless night of sleep, a later-than-usual bedtime, a stressful day at work, or prolonged physical or mental exertion. The causes are many and diverse, but there is a reason why we get tired. Regardless of how hard it hits, if we have a cause, feeling tired is often easier to rectify — we sleep, we rest, and we cut down on our commitments. Soon enough, we can usually count on our energy returning.
Fatigue — Fatigue is something a little more complicated, a little more pervasive. Often fatigue sets in without an obvious cause, rather it could stem from a medical condition, hormone imbalance, burnout, or nutrient deficiency. Its cause is harder to pinpoint, and therefore, it can be harder to fix, and in some cases, it isn’t fixable at all. It can settle in for days at a time, weeks, months, or longer, bleeding into something chronic and debilitating. Sleep doesn’t top up the energy levels quite as much, and brain fog and difficulty focusing are common companions.
Fatigue has been my near-constant companion for several years now, and as I mentioned above, finding its cause has proven to not be that simple — though I hold on to the hope of finding that cause one day. It is beyond simply feeling tired, it’s heavy and constant, my mind often foggy and fuzzy, and emotions sit barely concealed beneath the surface. Sleep and rest make little difference beyond offering me a slight lessening of the dragging weight.
I have good, bad, and average days as it relates to fatigue. The good ones, I am still tired beyond what feels normal, but I can usually take on a little more. I use these days to get things done that I am not able to on the bad days; cleaning the bathroom, doing my laundry, catching up with a friend.
On average days, I may get myself out for a walk, which, in combination with work later in the day, is usually the most I can do.
On the bad days, luckily I seem to spend most of my time within the sphere of average, but the bad days still arrive with unfortunate regularity. I am lucky if I accomplish an hour of work on these days, and I no longer attempt to push myself beyond that as it results in an uptick in the number of bad days I get.
I recently watched a short video that wonderfully summarized how differently our energy levels work, how it normally works versus how it may work for someone with fatigue. It was something like this —
Everyone begins each day with 100 points of energy to be spent. Maybe you spend 10 points to work out, 2 to shower, 15 to make your meals throughout the day, a long day of work may require 50 points from you. There are also activities that can add points back in, maybe engaging in a loved hobby, napping, or sitting under a tree for a few moments and watching the clouds fly by overhead. By the end of the day, you may be out of points or there may be a few left over. But a restful night’s sleep brings your points back up to 100, ready for a new day.
Now, let’s take a look at how this same points system works for someone living with fatigue. This alternative might also work similarly for those without fatigue, but that get hit extra hard by day-to-day activities. We will begin the day with 100 points for the sake of this example, though in truth, I can’t remember the last time I woke up with full energy stores.
We attempt a gentle workout, that takes 20 points. Showering takes 10. Knock off 25 to make our meals. Work will take more than what we have left, so we add a nap in there to try to make it through. But the activities that should give us some points back, don’t add very many. By the time we reach bedtime and head off to sleep, we’ve likely overextended ourselves, so that when we wake up the next day, we’re beginning the next day with only 90 points and we will have to be even more picky about what makes it into our day.
As you can likely see, there is just no way that we can attempt the same activities and day-to-day tasks as most folks, we have to make careful choices, and often sacrifices, just so that we can make it through each day.
Though I share openly here with all of you, I have kept so much of my struggles to myself in my offline life. When initially speaking of my pervasive fatigue, I also grew fatigued by hearing such responses of, I get tired too. Somehow, it felt like the point was being missed entirely.
And so, I began to keep more things to myself, only sharing with those who were open to learning and understanding. Not everyone, I realized, can offer those things to me. And that’s okay, I also have come to realize. I can reserve the energy it takes to share such intimate parts of my life with those who have the space to receive and support them.
While I will never be grateful for this fatigue, I will say that it has taught me a lot and I am grateful for what I’ve learned.
It has taught me what rest really means — I have struggled with rest in the past, feeling like I should always be working on something, bettering myself in some way, the lack of productivity or growth while resting was very difficult for me to come to terms with. I still am often visited by feelings of restlessness, and the need to be doing more, but I am slowly coming to understand how to rest.
It has highlighted what is truly important to me — as I have to pick and choose what gets my focus and what doesn’t, I have learned what matters most and where I really want my attention to be.
It has guided me to better understand what living a slow and simple life means — while there may be things I would enjoy adding back in if I ever have the energy to do so, I am so grateful to have this knowledge of how this type of life suits and benefits me.
We may not be happy about how change comes about in our lives, but I have to say that I am happy it has changed. I do hope, one day, to say goodbye to the weight of chronic fatigue, but I will never say goodbye to many of the changes its guided me through.
Has fatigue been a part of your life? Has it changed you, guided you, taught you something? If not, that’s okay too, I would love to hear your story.
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