The difference between “tired” and “chronic illness tired”

The grey sky is dull and dreary. The only glimpses of colour on this cold September day is the tops of the trees that are fading from the green hues of summer to the golden glow of autumn. Glistening diamonds of rain cling to the earth and its inhabitants, almost protectively. The thing about grey days is that, while they can be cozy, they can also smother you with their dreary demeanor.

I went to bed tired. I woke up tired. The puffy dark circles underneath my eyes cry out for sunlight to wake them up. I slept in unusually long today, as if my body could sense the dull cold that awaited it outside. Even with the pressure of a full bladder making it hard to sleep, it was still too difficult to get out of my cozy mountain of blankets. I wanted to stay afloat in my dream world, but reality was calling me forth. I had appointments to get to.

I wait in an old blue lazy boy. The sound of what I assume must be waves is coming from the doctors computer. This is his attempt at white noise I’m assuming, while not totally accurate sounding, it was soothing.

“How are you feeling today?” He asks.

“Tired.” I reply. I laugh internally, isn’t that always the answer? I allow myself the pleasure of imagining myself rolling my eyes. Tired, tired, tired, always tired. However, I do admit that today it is a different type of tired, the medication must be helping. He starts talking about something, but I am following a small wispy train of thought into my own little world.

I do feel different today. I’m tired, so tired. But I know that this is not my typical tired. This is the type of tired where I still have some sort of drive, deep down there is still a small fire of energy burning. I ponder the concept of tired.

Before I was sick, I knew what tired was. It was feeling sleepy, a bit worn out, and having less energy than usual. After I got sick being tired became something completely different; a new entity. Being tired changed into being completely wiped out, not one ounce of energy, being a shell of the person I am.  It felt as if someone had scooped everything inside of me out and replaced it with mush.

This feeling could not be fixed by sleep. I woke up feeling as if I hadn’t slept in days, and this went on for weeks at a time. Sometimes, I would get a small break where I would have a small morsel of energy for a day. The sweet taste of energy would linger in my mouth for a while, only to get completely obliterated soon after. A small taste of who I am and what life could be like. I was shown the lighter happier side of me; I remembered the side of me that was eager to go out and conquer the world. Energy is a the lifeblood of life.

The thing about chronic illness is that it weighs on you in more than just physical ways, it weighs heavily on you in mental and emotional ways, as well. When you are tired for a day or two, it is easy to push through or take some time to rest. It actually feels nice to rest, because you have been working hard and living at a fast pace—your body needs that blissful time of recharge. However, when you are completely exhausted all the time, you physically need rest, but mentally you don’t feel like you deserve it. Small simple things that once brought joy and recharge are now taboo for your body, they are now things that force you to lie down and rest, or even trigger a flare-up.

I don’t know how to fully describe the difference between normal tired and chronic illness tired. I’m not sure that people who have not experienced it could ever fully understand. I could say that I’m chronically fatigued, but the weird looks and reactions I get is not worth it, nor is the suspicious questions I get. People think I’m joking or being weird.

Chronic fatigue is something like this: the things that you love now wreak havoc on your body; simple activities exhaust you forcing you to have to go lie down; social outings are something you love, yet live in fear of because you never know how you will feel the day of; you feel distanced from yourself and from life because you are too tired to actively participate. Mentally, you feel like the worst, laziest, and most useless person ever. This type of tired is like a heavy wet blanket putting out a fire. I am the fire.

It’s hard because I look healthy (for the most part), and yet I am not.  Trying to explain that to people is tiring and not easy, and so when people ask how I am I say “fine, just tired”. Because even if I had the energy to explain, I don’t know if they would understand.



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