This year one of my many new years resolutions is to stop neglecting my creativity and in turn that means to stop neglecting my blog. I have an aim for 2 blog posts a month… I’ve currently got about 100 (No jokes I’ve counted) blog post ideas. However for the past two weeks I’ve struggled to know where to start- should it be about my new years resolutions, do I continue to write about the Cancer world or should I move onto something else, do I write about my learnings from my awesome church or do I do a little of all? Possibilities are endless… but then I got hit by a bus (metaphorically not literally) that is Chronic Fatigue syndrome and its knocked me for 6. After a conversation with a friend I realised most people don’t ‘Get it’ so this post I hope will explain a little what its like, and my experience with it. I also hope it will help my friends who suffer with it explain it to others but also give them some advice on how to manage it in the future.
So to start I should probably explain why people don’t ‘Get it’…. This week un-intentionally I’ve had people respond to me saying my chronic fatigue is playing up with ‘yep I’m tired too.’ I don’t want to be a pity party or to ‘moan again’ (also had that this week too) but I do want to share with you the difference and why saying ‘I’m tired too’ just isn’t the same comparison (however, I do get that your tiredness does exist and sucks too). Chronic fatigue is more than just tiredness- It’s a complete exhaustion an inability to do normal tasks and literally everything is an effort. (That’s the short answer anyway)
As you may know I was diagnosed with Very Sever Aplastic Anaemia in 2010 and had to have a bone marrow transplant immediately to save my life. Many who have had cancer and received chemo or radio will tell you about the fatigue being a huge issue and its hard to even describe it because fatigue is way more than just being tired for some this lasts for a few months others it just doesn’t go away. Over the past 6 years I’ve had chronic fatigue syndrome (chronic meaning extreme and persistent lasting over 6 months) and I’m way way better than I use to be but doesn’t mean it’s disappeared. I’ve learnt a lot and realised there are several parts to my fatigue some days I’m shocked because I can go all day without using the words ‘I’m tired’ but its rare these days happen. I’m fairly sure if you’ve spent any time with me over the past 6 years you would have heard those I’m tired words more than any other it was my catch phase for a while (but I try not to say it).
Before I go on to explain what the types of fatigue I suffer are. I want to explain a fantastic way (I often use) to explain what its like living with an invisible illness. It comes from the fantastic Christine Misarandino it’s called the spoon theory. This sprung out from a conversation with her friend about her Lupus diagnosis (something my eldest sister has and we’ve often talked about the similarities between what we both experience). You can find the full article here.
Basically when you have a chronic illness like Chronic fatigue your forced to make choices to enable you to get through the day. Unlike healthy people who can enjoy limitless life without choices we don’t get that luxury. Normal people begin their day with a limitless number of options however life with a chronic illness means your options are limited, you have a certain number of spoons (the visual aid Christine uses). So sat in this café Christine hands her friend 12 spoons (her friend automatically asks for more but it doesn’t work like that so she said no.) She then asked her to begin explaining her morning routine she explains how each small task like getting out of bed would cost a spoon, having a shower another spoon, getting dressed another, the stairs another…. Thing is you could be through half your spoons before you even leave the house. In my case- Resting and eating food can replenish spoons (sometimes) but it depends on the type of fatigue. Her friend soon realised that skipping lunch, standing on the train spending too long typing would all cost spoons. It’s hard to balance life when your spoons are limited you have to choose between things like cooking and doing the dishes, or chores or having fun. You could be out of spoons by 1pm or it could be 9pm you just don’t know but once they are gone they are gone. Some people can borrow spoons from the next day, for me I can’t because my spoons vary day-to-day sometimes I don’t know until I’ve started my day how many I’m getting. I also don’t know when I might need some extra due to an infection. You learn to have a spoon in reserve at all times so you have enough to get you home if you need it.
My life pre diagnosis was crazy, frenetic and super fast pace. Lazy wasn’t in my vocabulary. During my school years I would sometimes leave the house at 5.30/6 to go swimming, then rush to school have a full day often with a school club after followed by an evening activity whether that was swimming, orchestra or bell ringing there was ALWAYS something. Most nights I wasn’t home before 10. Lazy I wasn’t. It’s incredibly sad for me but I know that life is dead. I’d never be able to do that again. I’ve had to learn to accept a slower paced life. Its horrible and I will forever be learning how to balance it but it’s not something I’ve had to adapt to. I hope that the normal people out there reading this understand just how much I’ve had to give up if you know me at all you know I hate having to say no, I hate missing out but I can’t do everything I have to choose what I want to prioritize each week and then each day. Sometimes I can do a crazy busy week other times one day will simply wipe me out (and by wipe out I literally mean it could take weeks for me to recover) problem is I often don’t know until it hits me which way it’s going to be. I want to let you in on what my life is truly like but please don’t think it’s a cry for sympathy because its not it’s a cry for understanding.
I want to tell you about my most resent experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At Christmas- it’s always hard the fast pace of life, buying presents in a way crazier shopping environment. This on top of a change in routine and a crazy busy few days for me and my family. I love it, however, its super draining, the almost 2 year olds 6am wake up doesn’t help (love him but sleep is a luxury). I would have loved to have stayed a bit longer because this year was certainly less draining than last year. However, the build up of lack of sleep, plus the pace of life I knew I needed rest and soon else burn out would be soon around the corner. I also really wanted to enjoy new year as my church threw a new years eve party. I came home and bed was home for me for the next 2 days. I had been invited to a friend’s birthday meal during the day on new years eve but I had very limited spoons so had to prioritise and stay resting (and colouring) on the sofa till moments before I needed to leave. I loved it and had a great time however, I got home went straight to bed and didn’t resurface till gone 12 the following day. I suffered brain fog fatigue all day and my flatmate cooked dinner- however I was too exhausted to do the dishes in fact I struggled to keep my eyes open during dinner. I’ve been slowly spiralling for the past 2 weeks. I’ve needed to be in bed (without screens) from 9pm most nights and despite falling asleep quickly I have been struggling to get up much before 10 (the only exception been when my flatmate has come in to wake me for church). The other day I went to Bristol for an afternoon volunteering with CLIC Sargent. I rested in the morning because I knew it was going to be a longer day. However, once I was home I stupidly decided to eat tea from the sofa (I should have gone straight to bed) I couldn’t move, the immobilising fatigue hit and it hit hard.
Have you ever felt stuck in your own body? No? Well let me explain. You lose the power to move because your that
tired exhausted your brain disconnects from you muscles. Your telling your body to pick up a glass because your thirsty and it is literally 30cm away but your so exhausted you can’t get your arm to move. This was me on Tuesday night. I had to nap to be able to move up the stairs where in the painful fatigue set in. I sit on my bed unable to move. I sit waiting for the pain killers to kick in just to be able to get undressed for bed which takes so much longer than normal. I know that tomorrow is cancelled and any plans in the day need to be wiped because I would be unable to get out of bed at least in the morning. Finally I make it to bed- this process took from 9pm till 1 am. All just to go to bed. I turn all alarms off and attempt to sleep despite the pain- 12 hours later I wake up- not refreshed but exhausted so spend the next 5 hours in and out of sleep. The following night I’m in bed by 10 and sleep through till 12.30 yet woke up exhausted. Yesterday I spent the day in pain because of fatigue and unable to do the things I had planned. Now do you understand the difference between being tired and Fatigue? Most days I wake up as tired as normal people go to bed yet I have to live on that. My fatigue is not solved by sleep. Napping doesn’t always help because most of the time it’s not tiredness its full body exhaustion. I’ve no idea how long it will last but for now my chronic fatigue is bad. So sorry if I flake or cancel sorry if I can’t do what you expect me to but welcome to my life.
I’ve decided to go on and write about the 11 different types of fatigue I get (I may have forgotten some), some are rare some are I have most days but I’m going to try to explain them because I think its important to know why when I say I’m tired- I’m really saying I’m fatigued and basically exhausted.
This I have almost every day. I wake up tired, I have to pace myself and rest often. I have to priorities what I want to do- If I push myself I know it.
This is people- and noise, multiple conversations going on at once. Yep you get it- like dementors (from Harry Potter) this sort of activity drains me massively it sometimes feels like life is being sucked out of me (hense the dementor). In group situations I have to be careful where I sit as if I have noise behind me I get drained. When I’m tired I find noisy places more draining. I also struggle to have conversations if multiple conversations are happening. I used to be that annoying person that could tune into multiple conversations at once- now my brain tries to shut out irrelevant noise but this is hard. At times this sort of fatigue leaves me unable to hold conversations and my body wants to shut down.
This type is probably the hardest for me to deal with its one of the less common ones now thankfully (however early stages of treatment it happened a lot more) but when it strikes I sure know it. It can hit at any moment and you have no choice but to stop and sit down. It can literally paralyze you. You brain to muscle movement connection disappears and your trapped inside your own body.
Brain Fog Fatigue
Thinking takes longer, finding words is harder and it basically feels like your eyes up are covered in a haze that nothing gets through. Conversations can be difficult but you muddle through best you can.
You know when you go up stairs but forget why you’ve gone- yep its this but with literally everything you try to do. A simple hello from someone is distraction enough and you lose your trail of thought. Complete conversations can disappear from you brain and boy is it frustrating.
Over Tired Fatigue
Insomnia if I miss bed time it’s almost guaranteed that falling asleep will be difficult and it doesn’t matter if there are no screens it could mean I have a seriously late switch off time and if I’ve got things planned the next day guaranteed it will come alongside at least 2 types of fatigue.
Over Doing It Fatigue
If I push myself too much or have too many busy days without allocating enough time for rest I’m way more likely to get burn out and the fatigues above at a sever level.
Poor Sleep Fatigue
Sometimes I don’t get enough sleep, sometimes it’s the quality of sleep, sometimes it’s the way in which I’m woken up but all mean I’m starting my day on even less energy than I need so will really have to be strict with what I do (this is what makes me flaky).
Infection related Fatigue
Depending on the infection will depend on the level of wipe out- but even the smallest of infection will increase the number of hours I need to sleep/spend in bed. Big infections knock me out for weeks.
Build up Fatigue
This is something that I suffer with most weeks, it’s where you keep going and keep going and then have to have a whole day resting because the basic fatigue along with all the other types just accumulate till you have no choice but to write of a day and spend it in bed.
Fatigue has hit a new low, you have had a few days of build up Fatigue but now you haven’t even got the energy to shower and the shops which are only 900 steps away (yes my pedometer told me) are just too far if you’ve not been sensible and got in ready meals your living on takeout.
However despite all of these types of fatigue I deal with I manage it all pretty well most of the time. It’s all about Planning, Prioritising, and most importantly Pacing. Its tough but eating regular balanced meals and having a small amount of exercise each day helps- even if it’s just that 900 steps and back to the shop. I have a un written rule that I have to leave the house at least every other day- trust me it helps your mental wellbeing, your physical wellbeing and helps you get a better night sleep too. Don’t just take my word from it… Watch this.. Dr Mike Evans explains what you should be doing if you have fatigue in a way that would take me another million years. So I will leave you with this….