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Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue: No, I Don't Just Need a Nap

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Today is one of those days. Exhausted before I even get out of bed. No sleep, no rest. Fighting my body to do even the smallest tasks. Mentally, physically, and emotionally I am so worn out, and it is only 7:00 in the morning. I am just so tired and worn out.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue Is Not Just “Being Tired”

Some days are like this, and today that is where I am. Fatigue is a very real struggle for many of us battling rheumatoid arthritis. It is more than just missing a good night’s sleep, more than just being tired or worn out, and more than just needing a nap. It is a weariness and exhaustion that few understand and that is sometimes hard to explain, and it is much more than simply needing a nap or a good night’s sleep.

Oh, how many times I have heard, “I totally get it, I did not sleep well last night,” or “I understand, I’m really tired today too,” as I have tried to share this struggle with others. I get that when these things are said, people are trying to identify with me, but rheumatoid arthritis fatigue is so much more than not sleeping well or just being tired.

Types of Fatigue With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis fatigue is an exhaustion that encompasses every aspect of life that builds up day after day, month after month, year after year. It can be something that just wears you down over time as you constantly battle your body. Mentally, emotionally, and physically you just become exhausted.

There is the obvious physical fatigue. Pain drains you, and with rheumatoid arthritis, pain often becomes your constant companion. It is the “white noise” that is always there. Because of this pain, everything you do takes extra effort – few things are simple anymore. Whether it is walking, standing up, eating, or just getting dressed in the morning – some mornings I am worn out by the time I am ready to head out the door.

Mental fatigue can also be a massive daily struggle for a person with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes, that struggle gets old. It wears on you and drains you. When you throw in the fact that often you get little or no sleep due to discomfort or medications, it fogs your mind in a way that is hard to explain and just makes your brain tired.

Whether it is due to medications, or constant pain, or grief over what you have lost, emotional fatigue is a very real aspect of rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness. Sometimes, your emotions just get the better of you, and whether it is just sitting down to cry, or “biting someone’s head off,” or just becoming quiet and distant, emotionally, you reach a breaking point, and one way or another it all spills out.

Staying Strong When Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue Gets You Down

When the perfect storm of all of these things comes together, and I have reached my breaking point, I’m just done. In these moments, I have sat beside my wife and simply said, “I just can’t do this anymore. I am so tired of this fight.” It usually comes after I have tried and tried to do something but can’t, or when I feel I have let someone down. In those moments, the sorrow, grief, fatigue, pain, sleeplessness, and exhaustion wash over me, and at that moment, I am done. In that moment, I have given up, and that exhaustion feels overwhelming.

Yet in those moments that seem hopeless, I believe the Lord strengthens me by reminding me of His promises, and through those around me, like my wife, who lovingly sit with me in that place, I am given the will to keep going. Sometimes that looks like a hug, sometimes it looks like encouragement, and sometimes, it looks like the kick in the pants I need in that moment. But no matter the form, it helps me find the strength to fight another day. There is never condemnation for where I am, but understanding, care, and love, and when I am fatigued and exhausted, it is just what I need to keep going.

How to Cope With Fatigue From Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness exhaustion are very real, and it is OK to be there sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up worse for feeling this way – we all have bad days. When you find yourself in this place:

1.    Give yourself understanding
2.    Step away and give yourself the space to heal and strengthen
3.    Be honest with at least one person about where you really are
4.    Do something for yourself or another
5.    Remember the good, and find hope for tomorrow

If you are walking with someone through rheumatoid arthritis fatigue, give them the love, care, understanding, and sometimes “kick in the pants” they need. Above all, let them know they are loved and sit with them to show you truly care. It is those moments that will mean the most and be the most helpful as they are walking this very challenging, difficult, and exhausting path. When you do this, you might just help them find rest and encouragement, and strength to face tomorrow.

Getty image by francescoch.

Originally published: September 6, 2021
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