What “Fatigue” is Like

What “Fatigue” is Like December 22, 2021

“Fatigue” is like this:  You’re lying on your kitchen floor, which is logical and you have a good reason for it, that’s not up for discussion.  No one’s even surprised by it anymore.  But you’re lying there, and you start thinking, “You know, a nap seems like a good idea after all.” So then you silently hold an argument with yourself about Reasons Not to Nap on the Kitchen Floor.  You come up with two:

  1. It would inconvenience the other people.  The ones who are in fact using the kitchen right now. Currently they are eating in the breakfast area, but soon they will need to get to the sink or the fridge, and you are lying in their path.
  2. You would get cold. It’s winter, the tile’s already cold, your body will cool down further as you drift off to sleep, and, for reasons that usually seem logical but right now seem like a complete planning failure, there are no blankets on your kitchen floor.

As you lie there, you seriously debate, silently to yourself, these two reasons.  There really aren’t any other reasons not to roll on your side and go to sleep right where you are, but these two are persistent.  You finally convince yourself not to sleep on the kitchen floor.  It’s #2, you getting cold, that’s the winner.  Frankly the other people can just step over you, how hard would it be really?

But cold is impossible to rationalize away. So you get up and go find an insulated, blanket-laden, relatively quiet corner and lie down there, and sure enough you fall asleep, and the part where you got ten hours of sleep last night means nothing.  You’re tired. You’re thankful to be able to sleep.


“Fatigue” is like interval training.  You remember years of going to the pool, and sprinting out a lap, and then resting twenty or thirty seconds, and then going back at it.  Sure, you could go all out for fifty meters, but then you’d need to rest.  Rest a little and then you’re good.  Go out and sprint again.

Except now, the “sprint” is doing normal things: Grocery shopping, making dinner, folding your laundry.  Do one, rest.  Do one, rest.

Wait, no. Some days those chores are sprints, sure; some days those little chores are the 40-mile bike rides you used to take — one in a day is reasonable, but if you were doubling it, that would be your whole day, and furthermore you’d organize the rest of your week to peak on that day.


“Fatigue” is this sudden overpowering need to lie down. RIGHT NOW.  It comes out of nowhere, and like a nervous dog in a thunderstorm you get antsy, and your mind becomes a vacuum sucking in only thoughts about how tired you are all the sudden, and no matter what you think you are doing, you end up lying down.  You thought you were going to get a drink, but instead you are lying down. Your guests are probably wondering why you just got up and left the room and never came back.  You are too tired to follow up on that question.  They can either figure it out or make something up.  Whatever.


“Fatigue” is remembering when someone would ask you, “Have you ridden today?” and you would say, “No.  Wanna go out?” And then you’d vaguely remember that you had, in fact, already put in an hour cumulative on your bike already, 50% of that uphill with a stack of textbooks on your pannier, but that was just the daily commute, it didn’t count.  You’d go out for “real ride” too, a few days a week, in addition to the daily hour of commuting, and running the six flights of stairs up to your floor, and everything else.

Now you’re carefully watching your steps and your resting heart rate and troubleshooting weird symptoms, some of them painful and most of them disruptive, that might or might not be related to something you did? But try to figure it out?  Try to solve it?  Maybe?  Try to get an amount you can reliably do each day, not too much not too little, try to guess what later in the week will be like, and how much will really happen of the things you think you can probably do?


“Fatigue” is hours and hours spent lying there, awake, doing nothing.  Maybe looking at the sky.  Maybe listening to music.  Maybe curled up next to your laptop thinking it might be nice to be entertained, but nah. Nah.

And then explaining to well-meaning people that “tired” and “sleepy” are often, yes, but not always overlapping.  “Maybe you need a nap” is nice?  But we can’t always need a nap. Sometimes we just stare at the sky.


“Fatigue” is getting chigger bites from laying outside staring at the sky.  And it takes you a few weeks to do anything about it?  You lie there getting bitten, but it’s fine.  Because the weather is good, and lying there is good, and honestly?  Whatever.  Chigger bites are the least of your problems.  Toughen up, buttercup.


“Fatigue” is the novelty of getting to run a little bit, and your legs are heavy the day after, and for a moment you panic because it feels like the years when that heaviness in your leg muscles was neurological injury, but you recovered from that (no idea why, just lucky) and actually now it’s just normal muscles recovering from increased exercise, and you marvel at this, because you have experienced all kinds of pain and muscle spasms and cardiac dysrhythmias in response to minimal activity, none of which are anything at all like the normal effects of exercise that you were long familiar with from your previous life.  So it’s just plain weird to be, for a few days, a normal person who can go and workout and feel the normal things a body feels after exercise.

Never mind.  You lose ten days of being able to do your daily normal level of activity because you stupidly felt like jogging when you shouldda been carefully managing the steps.  Those normal-acting muscles are just fine; it’s everything else that couldn’t take it.


“Fatigue” is perpetually gaslighting yourself, because it is literally impossible to know how much you can do, and anyway you’ve always been slow to downwardly adjust expectations, and also you’ve had years when you’ve been pretty much normal and you thought you were done with all this.

So yeah.  You definitely feel guilty these days if you are able to do a normal-person amount of activity, because then you’re like, “Um, have I been faking it all this time?”  You have not been faking it all this time.  As the week or two after, recovering from your idiotic foray into having a normal-person day, will confirm for you.


“Fatigue” is every minute of every day thinking about your food choices, your medical choices, your body mechanics, your sleep, your activity level — wait what’s that study about a thing that might be relevant? — because if you do everything exactly right, maybe you can accomplish almost as much as a normal person.  Also sometimes you just do whatever, and you tell yourself it’s healthy not to be obsessive about every little thing, but of course later you know that, honestly, you shouldn’t have done whatever.  That doesn’t work. Whatever is not a good choice.


“Fatigue” is gaslighting yourself because you are able to do things, physical things, that other people can’t do.  There are good reasons for this: You’ve worked every minute of every day in the effort to maximize your abilities.  Other otherwise-healthy people your age aren’t doing that, and so they’ve lost the fitness or agility that they should have, but don’t.  Other sick people can’t do what you can, because their illness physically limits them in ways that yours does not. And yet there you are, feeling like you have an embarrassing secret, when that embarrassing secret is that because you push yourself to your limits you are, in fact, able to do some cool stuff.  And then you’ll be tired. Totally worth it.


“Fatigue” is being caught speechless when your family pulls ridiculous antics like wanting to speak to you while you are cooking, or wanting to ask a question while you are writing down an item on a grocery list, and you would like to say: “I am exhausted, but I am doing this thing that needs to be done, and it has to be done now despite my being exhausted, and I am happy to do it, and I love you, but I am too tired to do this thing and also speak.”  So you just panic a little and try to make a nice-ish face? But words aren’t happening.  Sorry. Out of words. Try again later.


“Fatigue” is being 99% sure that you’re lying, no matter what you answer, when people ask you, “How are you?”

But whatever way it was you just lied, it’s probably more pleasant to the other person than the times when people speak to you and you really have no answer at all, because you just weren’t ready yet, and they should not have surprised you by speaking to you that way.  Speaking-to-each-other is for normal people, not for tired people.


Anyway.  It makes life interesting.  And it makes people who don’t understand “fatigue” look really, really ignorant when they try to say that __________ disorder is really just some kinda snowflake problem because what the heck does “fatigue” mean anyway?

I don’t know.  Maybe lie down on my kitchen floor for a while.  It helps clarify the thoughts.


File:Sleeping Beauty by Harbour.jpg

Artwork: Illustration of Sleeping Beauty by Jennie Harbour, public domain, via Wikimedia.


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