Being another one of those “invisible” symptoms, chronic fatigue is a tricky little thing to explain and an (almost) impossible feeling for the healthy and energetic to comprehend. I’ve tried to explain how it ‘feels’ here, but much like trying to decipher the difference between pain and chronic pain, trying to explain the difference between tiredness and chronic fatigue is ordinarily not worth the hassle.
If you take the name “chronic fatigue,” it literally means being tired for a very long time. I’m not talking a post-weekend bender sort of tired, I’m talking months or even years of overwhelming exhaustion that sucks every last drop of energy from the person, rendering them virtually unable to carry on with a normal day-to-day life.
I know for many, the idea of spending extended periods of time in bed or under a blanket sounds like a breeze – an absolute pleasure, in fact. Most might imagine it’s like pulling a sneaky sickie and relishing a day of peace and quiet. But having chronic fatigue is not a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the telly. It’s not a holiday and it’s certainly not a life choice.
Chances are the person stuck under that blanket is someone who once led a busy life, with study, work, kids, aspirations and dreams to do a hell of a lot more than sleep, rest and resent their body. Tell me, who would choose to feel like shit every single day?
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me, “Oh, I’d love to be able to spend a day in bed.” Oh, would you now. Really? Would you also like the compulsory side order of debilitating pain, banging headache and numbing brain fog to go with that too? Hmmm, thought not.
Now before you think it, I’ll get in there first and say it: everyone gets tired, of course they do. Chronically ill people are well aware they don’t have a monopoly on feeling dog-tired; how could we forget, we’re reminded often enough. We know that every single person feels knackered at some point during their day, whether it’s from waking up too early, shrieking kids, boredom at work, overdoing it at the gym or spending too long behind the wheel on the commute home.
But dare I state a fact and say that chronic fatigue is on a whole different level of tiredness to those above. It’s a bloody big deal and it’s real. The misconception that we’re just a bunch of lazy lay-arounds is rather frustrating. As is that unspoken notion that this “fatigue thing” is all in our heads. Just so you know, the only thing in our heads tends to be a whole load of fog, a shed load of guilt and a great big helping of stress and anxiety.
We don’t expect healthy, energetic people to “get it,” but it would be nice to occasionally have a “What’s up?” / “I’m fine, just a bit tired” conversation that didn’t end with: “Yes, I’m shattered too” or “Perhaps an afternoon nap/brisk walk/change of scenery/better diet/supplements would make you feel better?”
Please understand, chronic fatigue is just one in a long list of symptoms that accompanies a chronic illness. It is not something that can be “cured,” and certainly not with 60 minutes of shut-eye, a drive in the country or a pile of bleeding spinach.
So to summarize the above, here are my top 10 things that chronic fatigue isn’t:
- A lifestyle choice
- A form of laziness
- A result of a bad diet
- A matter of being just “a little bit tired”
- A handy excuse to lounge around in bed
- Something that’s “all in our head”
- Something “positive thinking” will fix
- Something “a little bit of exercise” will help
- Something a good night’s sleep will sort out
- Something a pill can cure