Sometimes, I am amazed by the amount of energy that I have. Other times, it amazes me how tired I can get. Totally drained. At age 59, with three Chronic illnesses, fatigue happens. I could blame my age, or my health. From the rational standpoint, it’s probably a combination of both. But, unfortunately, I’m not alone. Approximately 150M Americans live with at least one Chronic illness. Millions, like me, live with multiples. And fatigue is a very real … very stubborn … part of most Chronic illnesses. Do you fight yours? Or do you listen to your body and rest?
When you have fatigue from a Chronic illness, it changes a lot of things about your life — even the way you see yourself. You remember the person you were, before diagnosis, i.e. running 5-10 miles each day, whitewater rafting, chaperoning field-trips, maintaining a hectic schedule at work and at home, playing tennis, no pain, no limited mobility, etc. And then you look in the mirror at the person you are, today. Better, in some ways. Worse, in others. It’s frustrating.
Now, when you have energy, you savor it like a fine wine. Because, unlike your old self, you can’t take such things for granted. You know that these energy bursts, come and go. You even prioritize what you will use your energy on. Because, we all know that there are limits. If that isn’t frustrating enough, your fatigue also changes how you relate with others.
You find yourself accepting fewer invitations and not returning phone calls. Instead of posting your selfie enjoying a night out with friends, you look at the ones posted by others. You struggle to keep up with home … work … the kids … friends … everything. You look for a way to manage it all. Then, when things get difficult, you beat yourself up about that. It’s a vicious circle.
First and foremost, let go of the person you once were. Or should I say the person you thought you were? Let’s be honest, here … even before diagnosis … you had other problems. We all did. None of us are, or ever were, super beings. It’s time to focus and to love the person that you are, right now.
Next, you really need to learn how to say “no” and even delegate. It’s better to do a few things well, than to do several mediocre. No company pays anyone enough to be a one-person act. Work, like home, is a team-effort. Co-workers need to do their part. Personal days are just that — personal. Use them, wisely. Kids can actually do laundry and clean the house. Spouses can cook dinner, run errands, etc. This holds true for husbands or wives. The new you has more time and flexibility. So, if it takes longer to get ready, you have that time. The new you isn’t volunteering on every committee, at every fund-raiser, etc. Hence, there is actually time for a nap on Saturday afternoon. And there’s no sin in taking one!
A very wise man (I’m talking about you Dr. Steve) once told me that if my body didn’t need rest, then I wouldn’t be tired. Though I was skeptical at first, I’ve found he was right. Yes, you can have drowsiness from medications. But that’s not the same thing. When fatigue sets in, it’s like your cellphone trying to function with its last smidgen of power. Nothing works too well; does it? And a nap is to your body like a re-charged battery is to your cellphone — vitally important!
Some chronically ill patients even have trouble sleeping. If this is you, please consult your doctor. Pain can interfere with your sleep. Depression can, too. Usually, once you gain adequate control of your pain, you can rest. If sleep is still a problem, there are many non-medicinal approaches to help you, i.e. relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, etc. Exercise is another way to ultimately relax and get your needed rest. Most chronically ill patients need and can do low-impact exercises, i.e. walking, swimming, Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, etc. Believe it or not, even Ballroom Dancing qualifies. You could actually combine time with your better half and exercise, into something special for the two of you to share. Healthy and sexy? That’s a win-win. If sleep still eludes you, a prescription may be needed. But realize that you have options. Explore them.
Last, but not least, never underestimate the power of a good recliner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive model. No home make-over is required. What most people do not realize is that a recliner (when reclined) relieves pressure and pain to the body much like a hospital-bed. And that alone may provide the rest you are desperately needing. So, c’mon. Stop making excuses. It’s time to be good to yourself. Find a quiet spot … relax … feel the stress fade away … and rest. You need it. We all do.
Now, shhhh … close your eyes. Heal.
*Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash