Over the years, my friends and families have stopped asking me how I am. This is because every single time, the answer will invariably be “tired.”
I mean why lie about it? There is no getting away from the fact that I look tired. The bags under my eyes have bags. I walk like a woman who has been condemned to the gallows and I’m just waiting for someone to ask my sixty-seven year old mother if I’m HER mum.
Of course if you’re a stranger, or the girl at the check out and you ask me how I am, I will answer with the obligatory “I’m fine,” when what I really want to say is, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. It all begun in the summer of…” before giving them a long history of my pain and suffering (anyone for a steamy hot cup of over-dramatic?) in great detail. But I don’t.
The thing is, if you tell someone that you’re tired, the probability that they will answer with “me too” is 3/9 versus the probability that they will answer with “Oh you poor thing” which is 2/9. If that is the case, then the probability of “me to” will be far greater than the probability of”you poor thing”, with “me too” being the more likely outcome…not really, I just made that shit up.
But the answer “me too” is sometimes a hard one to take and makes one feel extremely stabby. It’s not that I have the monopoly on tiredness, but unless the other person is also suffering from chronic fatigue, it’s difficult for me to equate the two.
So how do I go about describing to them how my fatigue is different from their tiredness when I can hardly describe it to myself? How do I make them see that it isn’t just a fancy name for being extremely tired, that switching on the laptop, picking up the phone or simply just reading, is an exhausting experience? And anyone who has Fibro can tell you just how draining taking a shower is.
It seems a strange thing calling tiredness debilitating, but that’s what chronic fatigue is. It makes you weak and unable to do the most menial of tasks. Even that last paragraph took more than 45 minutes to write because I had to rest a couple of time in between typing. It clouds your mind and weighs you down so that you can’t put one foot in front of the other or raise your arms. Sometimes it feels so oppressive that it appears as though your whole body is sinking into the ground. Everything that you do, feels like you’re doing it whilst wading in a few inches of mud or as though you’re forever swimming against the tide.
I could ask them to imagine having the flu 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, although for some, it comes and goes. Or telling them that even if I did manage t get 10 hours of slumber, the chances are that I would feel even worse than I did before I went to sleep. And what about the muscle pain, the sore throats, the headaches, the swelling and stiff joints, the chronic cough and nausea etc? What about the psychology symptoms as well as the physical? What about the impact that it has on friendships and relationships? How do I explain all that to someone who just thinks that I’m tired?
The fact of the matter is that I don’t. It’s so much easier just to say I’m fine, and so I do. Like many people with a chronic illness, we paint on our smiles and let the world think that all is sunshine and lollipop, and all the while, we continue to suffer silently.
I’m not trying to demean those who say they are tired. Whether you’re stressed, over-worked, pregnant, or running around after a handful of womb-fruits, tiredness can have a detrimental effect on anyone. I’m just fed up with people assuming that ‘my tiredness’ is an over-exaggeration, or something that can be easily remedied by getting a good night’s rest. But wouldn’t it be great if it could?