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19 Metaphors That Explain What Chronic Fatigue Feels Like

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Out of all the symptoms people with various chronic illnesses experience, the one that seems to get misunderstood the most is chronic fatigue. Everyone, chronically ill or not, knows what it’s like to feel tired, or even sore after a workout, so oftentimes when you talk about your chronic fatigue, you’ll get responses like, “Oh, I was so tired last week, too,” or “I know what you mean — I am always fatigued on Monday mornings.” But chronic fatigue is different than the average healthy person’s “tired.” (It’s also different than myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a separate illness with its own set of symptoms). Unlike being tired, chronic fatigue doesn’t go away with a good night’s sleep.

It’s hard for people who have never experienced chronic fatigue to understand exactly what it feels like and how it differs from the tiredness they feel. So we asked our Mighty community to share a metaphor that explains what chronic fatigue feels like for them. Perhaps these metaphors will help you explain to others what chronic fatigue feels like. At the very least, hopefully the responses will help you feel less alone in your own experience with chronic fatigue.

Here’s what our Mighty community shared with us:

  1. It feels like my body is weighted down and I am trying to walk uphill. No matter how much I sleep the fatigue is overwhelming.” — Sandy P.
  2. “Think of the flu, that all over unbearable ache, now make it constant. That’s me on a good day. I’m not lazy, or making my pain up, when I say something is too much it’s because I’m already in more pain than you realize.” — Jenni J.
  3. I’ve referenced the Dementors from Harry Potter many times during my recovery. Sometimes the fatigue is so bad it feels like my soul is being sucked out. Being a spoonie can be hard.” — Justine R.
  4. It’s like having lost several pints of blood. (I’ve had substantial blood loss requiring transfusions, so I can say that with some certainty.) It’s also like coming out of general anesthesia, when the anesthesiologist gave you a bit too much.” — Alyson K.
  5. It’s like returning to earth in a Soyuz only to get out and immediately run a marathon while wearing ankle weights in a pool full of thick oatmeal.” — Lindsay W.
  6. “To me chronic fatigue feels like when you’re in the water at the beach and you try walking out of the water against the waves as they pull back into the ocean and you feel as if you’re not actually moving, you’re just walking in the one spot, and it’s heavy and your legs ache but you’re not getting anywhere. All. The. Time.” — Janelle F.
  7. “Its like having your body filled with wet sand. Every part of your body is extreamly heavy and hard to move. Including your eyelids which become difficult to keep open.” — Billikay P.
  8. If I am in the middle of a flare every move I make is like living in zero gravity. ‘Moon boots’ I call it, except it’s covering my entire body. Certain noises, smells and light overwhelm me and I literally force myself to push through my day and when I am able to sleep the fatigue keeps me awake. Leaving me in a loop of pain, lack of sleep and a body that feels like a concrete brick.” — Nicole E.
  9. “It’s like you accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills, but are expected to just continue on functioning like a normal human. People can’t see the fatigue, so they don’t understand. It’s being too tired to breathe, and worrying you’re going to die in your sleep because your body is actually too tired to breathe.” — Jill A.
  10. I always tell people it’s like filling my body with sand and asking me to walk through molasses. But that doesn’t even begin to discuss the brain fog that comes with it.” — Bay H.
  11. “It feels like getting tired really quickly but instead of recovering you fall from a cliff. I have to rest (sleep) for hours but when I wake up I’m still tired. Can’t read a book because I can’t concentrate. I lose things, can’t find my keys or glasses. Easily irritated and forgetful.” — Erika N.
  12. It makes you feel hungover all day every day. You feel like there’s someone dragging all energy from your body. No amount of sleep is ever refreshing — whether it’s one hour or 14 hours sleep, it’s never enough. It makes you feel like a living, breathing zombie.” — Emily V.
  13. “Chronic fatigue feels like I was run over by a cement roller right after I wake up. I get plenty of sleep, but I wake up feeling sore and even more tired than I was when I went to sleep.” — Christina F.
  14. “It’s a tie between the chronic flu and a crazy workout that everything hurts and muscles you didn’t know you had even hurt oh and don’t do anything strenuous you might get hurt.” — Sarah Y.
  15. “Like walking around all day at a hot, outdoor event and all you want to do is crash on your bed and sleep… except that feeling never goes away.” — Bailey S.
  16. “My fatigue is like waking up with only 10 percent battery on my phone and hoping it will somehow last till the end of the day.” — Aimie R.
  17. “It’s hard to describe chronic fatigue to someone who doesn’t have it because it’s more than just being sleepy or worn out. When my fatigue is at its worst, even thinking about doing anything is exhausting. It may be similarly described as getting up in the middle of the night and being half asleep. It’s hard to think clearly and body and mind are moving in slow motion. Getting back to bed is priority one because nothing wants to move… arms and legs feel weighted down and being up is more tiring than anything else done that day.” — Danielle M.
  18. “It feels like you haven’t slept for weeks, you’ve been hit by a train, and every movement is running a marathon all wrapped up in one.” — Katie P.
  19. “Swimming in a fur coat after running a marathon. Exhausted without earning it. Most people know what it feels like to work yourself to exhaustion, but can’t imagine feeling like that and not accomplishing anything more than moving from your bed to the sofa for a change of scenery.” — Lorraine R.
Originally published: July 23, 2018
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