woman leaning against a window and looking unhappy

The Deeper Meaning Behind 'I'm Just Tired'


“I’m just tired.”

Do those words sound familiar?

Those three words are my answer for literally everything related to my illnesses.

But there is so much meaning behind those words. “I’m just tired” barely scrapes the surface of what I am trying to convey.

What I really mean when I say “I’m just tired” is not that I even am tired – rather, I am downright exhausted. But even if I were to say “I’m just exhausted,” that still does not accurately depict what I mean. You see, I have come to find out that describing chronic illness is difficult; one cannot easily put into words the extent to which they are fatigued or the number that their symptoms may do on their body. It is not always easy to explain why we feel this way or why our symptoms are flaring. We do not even know why/how we developed our chronic conditions 95 percent of the time. There is a lot of unknown, uncertainty and invisible pain that accompanies living with chronic illness. So to say, “I’m just tired” and mean just that…how true can those words really be?

And yet I speak those words all of the time. And as I was driving today I was reflecting on why that is. Why do I always tell people when they ask that I am “just tired?” I couldn’t figure this out for the longest time…but the more I thought about it today, the more I realized that I do it simply because it’s easier. So yes, I am taking the easy way out. And this answer is easy for many reasons.

First, I am already drained of energy. So to go into detail about how I am actually feeling and why I am feeling that way…well, it uses up even more of the little energy I have. If I tell my family and friends I am “just tired,” they typically will not push the issue or ask any more questions. Sometimes I might get a “Well, you should take a nap” or “Go to bed early,” but that’s about the only responses that come my way.

Second, I do not like to show anyone that I am not doing well or not feeling well. I like to portray that I am strong, and to let others know how I truly feel and what is actually going on… Well, it makes me feel weak and vulnerable, even though I know logically it really does not mean that. I am not one to discuss my illnesses in great detail, and if I am honest about how I truly feel, I fear that I might be seen as a “complainer” or that I am just “looking for attention.”

So I have plenty of reasons for always resorting to leave it at “I’m just tired,” but sometimes I wish that people knew what “I’m just tired” really meant – without me explaining it. Maybe that is too much to ask. None of us are mind-readers. I cannot expect people to know what I really mean when I make such a general or vague statement. It is not fair to get angry or frustrated with people when they can’t see beyond those three words. I may not always have the energy or courage to speak up and reveal how I truly feel inside in that moment, but I have the courage to do so now.

“I’m just tired” means that my legs ache and feel as though they could break underneath me, and it means wondering how on earth these same legs carried me from point A to point B. It means bursting into tears out of sheer exhaustion and falling on my bed the minute I arrive home. It means feeling dizzy and weak as though I could pass out from just standing too long. It means not being able to think clearly and forgetting simple things because I used up all of my energy on daily tasks. It means feeling as if my body is being weighed down by a ton of bricks. It is feeling like I could collapse when I am already lying in bed. It is not being able to wake up in the morning because I am just so darn exhausted.

All of this is what “I’m just tired” really means. Those words represent something much heavier and complicated than one might think. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish people would realize what I mean when I speak those words. I wish people understood my illnesses and could feel what I feel so they know just how hard it can be to live with an illness that is invisible on the surface. No, some people will probably never fully understand or even comprehend how or why I feel so terrible sometimes. But does that mean I shouldn’t speak my mind and heart? Is it better to keep quiet and continue plugging along the best way I know how? Or should I try to explain to people what I really mean? I still am not sure what the answer is.

What I do know, however, is that it can be very difficult for those with chronic illnesses to sort through their feelings. It is not easy to deal with an illness that has no rhyme or reason. I think it is important for our loved ones to realize that sometimes we are just as confused as they are! So to have that understanding from family and friends that “I’m just tired” means something much deeper, could be a weight lifted from our already heavy shoulders.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic.

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