I consider myself lucky that I don’t have any friends, acquaintances or family who will (to my face, anyway) bemoan my laziness, and encourage me to only be a bit more active or productive and I might feel better. It seems most people now know me well enough to understand that more often than not, this isn’t an option, and actually my ‘choice’ to spend half my life sleeping, resting or not being able to do much isn’t really a choice after all.
I refer, of course, to the Fatigue. It’s so significant it gets its own capitalisation, and earned me the nickname ‘koala’ from one of my friends. I’m sure many people who experience depression and/or anxiety can relate to this, either as a symptom of the illness itself, medication, or – quite delightfully – both. I’m fairly sure that I fall into the latter category; my inherent lethargy is absolutely a symptom of my depression; it also comes about after particularly anxious periods where I crash after running on adrenaline for too long; and, naturally, my anti depressants also contribute in a brutish, forceful way. The result of this cocktail of inconvenience is an omnipresent tiredness, a mental and bodily exhaustion so acute I struggle to concentrate, to function and often, to stay awake at all.
It’s a catch-22 situation, where my mental ill health causes me to become drained owing to constant thinking, over-thinking, bubbling anxiety and otherwise unhelpfully overactive brain. The more this happens, the more tired I become. The more tired I become, the less able I am to function which in turn makes me more depressed. Anxiety can perk me up a bit, giving me a change of pace for a week or two – sometimes, I don’t sleep very well, instead kept awake by racing thoughts, palpitations or night sweats (I know, I know. Form an orderly queue, admirers). Eventually, my body will cave in to the constant over-stimulation and I will crash spectacularly back into exhaustion, weakly clinging to what I believe is known as ‘a life’ or ‘functioning’ in the circles of the more privileged, and lowering my mood once more.
At the moment, I am in a deep chasm of lassitude. It’s now Monday, and for the past eight days I have managed a grand total of two where I have not had to retire back to bed at some point prior to a socially acceptable bed time. When I look at my sleeping habits over the past couple of weeks, I am astounded that I managed to maintain the farce of employment for as long as I did. Sleep is crucial to me at the moment, and although most likely counterproductive, I cannot conceive of skipping off to an office full of arseholes to earn my keep when I could instead be lulled into heavy slumber by the workings of my own brain and body.
I’m finding it a lot harder than I thought to really impress exactly how tired I am. It is a bodily fatigue, my very limbs feeling heavy from the moment I wake in the morning until I slip fully into another night’s rest. My mind feels empty, but in reality is probably the opposite – I am too tired to connect with what is happening inside, I cannot focus on my thoughts, or indeed anything else.
I can be sitting on the sofa, having just finished my breakfast and feeling pleased that I’ve made it out of bed before 9am, and my eyelids will start to drop. I will fight through this, sometimes attempting to work, sometimes trying to distract myself another way. On good days, I will keep myself awake for a few hours, maybe allowing myself a nap in the afternoon. On not-so-good days, my eyes will continue to drop and I will be back in bed, sound asleep, before 10am.
It’s no real surprise that after my breakfast I take my medicine, anti depressants and anti psychotics (for anxiety). The sedative effect of these almost immediately transports me to a land of fluffy clouds, encasing me soothingly in waves of peaceful rest. I’ve been taking the same combination of drugs for a couple of months, and it’s hard to tell exactly what impact they have on my ability to stay awake. As well as living my best nap life, I have also had weeks where I was able to go to work for entire days and not need a nap. Imagine!
My constant fatigue makes me irritable. I struggle to engage with conversation, and instead wish that the other conversant (usually my poor partner) would just shut up and stop trying to overload me with information I am too bone-weary to process. This makes me feel guilty, exacerbating my already negativity-bound thoughts and worsening my mood. Feeling irritable leads me swiftly into black and white thinking, unable to distinguish if I am merely tired or have grown a murderous hatred for my partner and must cease participation in the relationship post haste. I wonder if my tiredness is symptomatic of other problems, bleakly concocting scenarios I may be hiding from and convincing myself that I am unhappy in ways I had not previously considered.
It is a vicious circle, forbidding me from breaking free of the weary chains that drag me into my bed time and again. The frustration I feel, although dampened to a far-away voice by waves of drowsiness, is violent and ever-growing. How am I ever to get better if I cannot drag my stupid arse out of bed? Why must I consistently hide in sleep instead of addressing my problems? Every man, woman and child wants me to feel the joys of exercise, to boost my mood and become a less boring person to interact with – why don’t I just go to the gym, and make myself tired for an actual reason? What do you mean you’re too deep into a waking-coma that you don’t have the energy to walk to the shop, never mind smash it out on a treadmill for half an hour? Just keep your eyes open, you silly cow, you’ve got rent to pay and it doesn’t seem as though anyone is willing to pay you for sleeping, so buck up.
My mum, bless her, worries about my tiredness and is very keen to blame my medication. Yes, I tell her, I take medication that is bound to make me tired. I feebly try to explain that the very nature of my conditions makes me tired as well, and if I don’t take the medication, then where will I be? I’ll either be asleep 24/7 or some other ridiculous symptom will take over.
It’s hard to know how much of my fatigue is mental, and how much is physical. How much is my thoughts, how much is my medicine, how much is the result of restless sleep, poor diet, any other factor I might not have noticed. I feel completely and utterly trapped in this cycle, a waking dream where even when I am able to function, I am sometimes so drained that I cannot actually remember what I did, or what day it happened. I am racked with guilt, convinced that I am not trying, that I am letting people down by giving in to the oceans of dormancy washing over me.
For those who wonder why people with depression, anxiety or any other mental health problems are tired, here it is. This is why. There is simply too much happening in our brains and bodies. We have to take medicine that affects the functioning of our brains. It’s no joke, it’s serious shit and quite frankly it’s a wonder we aren’t all rendered completely comatose all the time. Being mentally unwell is exhausting. Trying to function when every thought, every nerve, every muscle is screaming at us not to is completely, life-changingly tiresome. Getting out of bed is fucking hard work; facing a day when you’re already catatonic just with the effort of getting up is bone-shatteringly wearisome.
It is not a choice, and it is not as simple as ‘getting out more’, ‘changing our medication’, or ‘going to therapy’. Yes, of course these things may help, but the reality is we deal with mental and physical symptoms that may be beyond your comprehension, no matter how much therapy we are getting or how often we venture outside. We cannot just switch it off, as much as you cannot switch off your desire to foist well-meaning nuggets of advice at us.
I may be tired, but I am still here. Granted, that in itself is completely draining, but it’s still an achievement. I may be tired, but I am still trying. I may not have run a 10k today, but you know what, I did go to the shops and I did only nap for an hour. Swings and roundabouts. Mental ill health changes the spectrum of what we can expect from ourselves and others. I’m sure it’s worrying and frustrating for others when I tell them all I’ve been capable of achieving today is a sleep and some jumbled words posted on the internet, but considering how much my body is currently begging for hibernation, that’s not bad at all.
Why are you always so tired? Do you really have to ask any more?