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I'm Not 'Too Young to Feel Tired'

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“You’re too young to feel tired.”

This was a statement I heard a number of years ago from a loving family member when we met for some celebratory event in his home. He’d asked how I was, and the first thing that came out of my mouth, before I could even think, was “tired.” I knew Tired. It was my daily companion which shadowed me everywhere I went. I lived with it, feeding it coffee and sugar to temporarily distract it in one place as I went on with my day. But always, Tired would finish the peace offering and come running after me, nipping at my heels when I stay still for too long.

As a teenager, I wasn’t supposed to be tired. Yes, high school was supposed to challenge me and prepare me for college, but I was supposed to have a bottomless well of energy to draw from to get me through. School had deposited Stressed like a necklace around my neck, but everyone wore that, so few people made note of it. Though the only people who were allowed to have Tired as a companion were those who had worked for it. They’d done the schooling, punched many time cards, checked multiple boxes in the “Life Accomplishment To-Do List.” These people had lines of emotion which crossed their faces from years of experiences. And their bodies had Tired. I was the new generation, the hope for the future, and I could not socially have Tired.

My family member was not the only person to react in such a way when I said that I was tired. When people asked how I was, they wanted to hear “good” (as awful as that grammatical statement is). They wanted hope that I’d go on to do great things, and the thought is that one cannot do great things if she is tired. So I began to comply with society, lying through my teeth that I was doing well. Then I realized that people don’t want to see that you’re tired, either. So I learned passable makeup skills and made an effort to brush my hair every day; I learned to turn my voice up to candy-coat the lie and wore a smile whenever people asked. And it worked. People thought I was doing things, going places. I took part in many activities, rising to the top in almost all of them. I got high marks in most of my classes, and those which I did not were marked as learning experiences. I faked being “not tired” well.

Then Tired began to really chomp on my heels. I got careless and instead of taking time to recharge, I’d push through. This led to physical injury because while Tired was clawing at me, I’d be doing so many other things and just… break. In the span of a year and a half, I sprained or threw out four separate joints. Tired and Stressed didn’t let up as I went through my freshman year of college. But now a new friend joined in, Aching, and we didn’t get along either. Aching draped itself over different parts of my body each day, suffocating me like a wet towel. For those who know me, it’s clear that I’m stubborn. I tried to push past it. And it pushed back. The makeup and the turned up voice became a mask which I only completely took down when I was alone.

In my vulnerable state, Depressed snuck onto my path and perched on my head, using my hair as reins to control my movements. Twins named Paranoid and Anxious are little, seemingly harmless creatures which hung from my earlobes like jewelry whispering “what ifs” and other doubts day in and out that intertwined with my personal narrative. As I navigated with my “friends,” I continued to pick up activities and commit to obligations. I was going to be the hope that people wanted when they asked how I was doing. I was a happy face with the paint running when Stressed decided the seasonal trend of statement necklaces was the way go. While I was hunched over, supporting these nasty little devils, I thought to myself that I was going to make it through.

And then I tripped. All of my not-so-little friends landed on top of me, crushing me. Much like the initial weight of Tired, it had a physical toll on me. I got sick; sick in a way that I never thought I would. Going to another family gathering, my grandmother sat with me comparing ailments. And they didn’t stop coming: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, vasovagal syncope, generalized anxiety disorder, IT band syndrome, OCD, POTS, amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, insomnia, and ADHD. With all of that, you can’t tell me that I can’t be tired. I now had a small pharmacy in my dorm, and it was impossible to keep my mask up. Activities were dropped. Sick days were taken. Many tears were shed. And the hardest part is that friends were lost. Even now, there are many times when my brain tells me that I am just too much to deal with. The handle of the wagon of problems, which I used to be able to check at the door, had been superglued to my palm. I couldn’t escape it anymore.

It became hard to do much more than put on foundation to cover the cuts on my face from nervously scratching in my sleep. Brushing my hair was hard on days when pain was high because as a result my hands didn’t work well and migraines tormented me. I’d miss things because if I got out of bed, my blood would rush to my legs, and it would either leave me too dizzy to put on pants or blacked out on the floor. My roommates stopped coming into my room to ask me to join them because I was usually in some state of reclined rest because my legs couldn’t support my body and I’d been up the night before tossing and turning as paranoid thoughts sped through my brain. For a growing percentage of days, it made being in college really suck. It made existing really suck. And I was just so tired.

But what it did do is allow me to stop lying. I’m not well. And often, it’s apparent. Maybe it’s because I have bags the color of storm clouds under my eyes. Or it’s clear that I slept in the clothes I’ve now worn to all of the classes I’ve managed to attend. Or I’m still wearing a hospital bracelet from my most recent test because I haven’t had the energy to find a pair of scissors. People see me and ask still how I’m doing. And I meet them with my tired eyes. And I tell them the truth. And don’t give a damn if they think I shouldn’t feel that way.

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Thinkstock photo by Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: April 26, 2017
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