Over the years, my friends and family have stopped asking me how I am. This is because every time, the answer will invariably be “tired”.
I mean, why are you lying about it? There is no way to avoid the fact that I look tired. The bags under my eyes have bags. I walk like a woman who has been condemned to the gallows and I am waiting for someone to ask my 67-year-old mother if I am her mother.
Of course, if you are a stranger, or the girl at check-out and you ask me how I am, I will still answer with the obligation, “I’m fine”, when what I really want to say is: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will start. It all started in the summer of … “before giving them a long story of my pain and suffering in great detail. But not me.
The “me too” response is sometimes difficult to take and makes one feel extremely hurried. Not that I have a monopoly on fatigue, but unless the other person is also suffering from chronic fatigue, it is difficult for me to equate the two.
So, how am I going to describe to you how my fatigue is different from your fatigue, when I can barely describe it? How do I make them see that it is not just an elegant name to be extremely tired? That turning on the laptop, picking up the phone or simply reading is an exhausting experience in itself?
It seems strange to call debilitating fatigue, but that is what chronic fatigue is. It makes you weak and unable to do most tasks. Even that last paragraph took more than 45 minutes to write because I had to rest a couple of times between writing. It clouds your mind and weighs you so you can not put one foot in front of the other or raise your arms. Sometimes it feels so oppressive that it seems like your whole body is sinking into the ground. Everything you do feels as if you were doing it while you splashed in a few inches of mud, or as if you were always swimming against the current …
You could ask them to imagine having the flu 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Although for some, the symptoms appear and disappear. Or telling them that even if I managed to sleep 10 hours, I would most likely feel even worse than before I went to sleep. And muscle pain, sore throat, headaches, swelling and stiff joints, chronic cough and nausea? What about the psychological and physical symptoms? What about the impact it has on friendships and relationships? How do I explain all this to someone who just thinks I’m tired?
The fact of the matter is that I do not. It’s much easier to say that I’m fine, and I do. Like many people with a chronic illness, we paint our smiles and let the world think that everything is sun and lollipop, and meanwhile, we continue to suffer in silence.
I am not trying to demean those who say they are tired. Whether you are stressed, overworked, pregnant or running after a handful of “fruits of the womb”, fatigue can have a detrimental effect on anyone. I am tired of people who assume that “my fatigue” is an excessive exaggeration, or something that can be easily remedied by resting well at night. But would not it be great if I could?