The Difference Between Being Tired and Having Chronic Fatigue


Over the years, my friends and families have stopped asking me how I am. This is because every single time, the answer will invariably be “tired.”

I mean, why lie about it? There is no getting away from 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’m just waiting for someone to ask my 67-year-old mother if I’m her mum.

Of course if you’re a stranger, or the girl at the check out and you ask me how I am, I will still answer with the obligatory, “I’m fine,” when what I really want to say is, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. It all begun in the summer of…” before regaling them with a long history of my pain and suffering in great detail. But I don’t.

The answer “me too” is sometimes a hard one to take and makes one feel extremely stabby. It’s not that I have the monopoly on tiredness, but unless the other person is also suffering from chronic fatigue, it’s difficult for me to equate the two.

So how do I go about describing to them how my fatigue is different from their tiredness, when I can hardly describe it to myself? How do I make them see that it isn’t just a fancy name for being extremely tired? That switching on the laptop, picking up the phone or simply just reading, is an exhausting experience in itself?

It seems a strange thing calling tiredness debilitating, but that’s what chronic fatigue is. It makes you weak and unable to do the most menial of tasks. Even that last paragraph took more than 45 minutes to write because I had to rest a couple of time in between typing. It clouds your mind and weighs you down so that you can’t put one foot in front of the other or raise your arms. Sometimes it feels so oppressive that it appears as though your whole body is sinking into the ground. Everything that you do feels like you’re doing it whilst wading in a few inches of mud, or as though you’re forever swimming against the tide.

I could ask them to imagine having the flu 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Although for some, the symptoms come and go. Or telling them that even if I did manage to get 10 hours of slumber, the chances are that I would feel even worse than I did before I went to sleep. And what about the muscle pain, the sore throats, the headaches, the swelling and stiff joints, the chronic cough and nausea? What about the psychology symptoms as well as the physical? What about the impact that it has on friendships and relationships? How do I explain all that to someone who just thinks that I’m tired?

The fact of the matter is that I don’t. It’s so much easier just to say I’m fine, and so I do. Like many people with a chronic illness, we paint on our smiles and let the world think that all is sunshine and lollipop, and all the while, we continue to suffer silently.

I’m not trying to demean those who say they are tired. Whether you’re stressed, over-worked, pregnant, or running around after a handful of “womb-fruits,” tiredness can have a detrimental effect on anyone. I’m just fed up with people assuming that “my tiredness” is an over-exaggeration, or something that can be easily remedied by getting a good night’s rest. But wouldn’t it be great if it could?

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