The other day, I was sat with Little Man on my lap I’m the evening. This is, of course, a common occurrence. He’d been very difficult all day with an upset tummy and teething pain. I’d just been playing on the floor with him to distract him, doing tummy time and walking practice and licking Mr Bun Bun (the best part of playtime, of course). I sat back down with him in the armchair, and five minutes later I completely ran out of energy. And I knew I’d overdone it.
I get tired like everyone else, but I also get fatigued, thanks to my medical conditions, and although they sound similar, they’re not the same thing. These days I’m pretty good at managing my activity levels to avoid getting fatigued, but being a parent creates a new challenge in that respect, as you can’t plan for when the little man decides to kick off! So, what are the differences between normal tiredness and fatigue? How can you tell them apart?
Fatigue vs. Tiredness
How is fatigue different from tiredness?
I think a lot of people who haven’t had a chronic illness think that having fatigue is the same as being tired. Which is understandable if it’s not something you’ve experienced! Fatigue does indeed involve feeling tired, but also often includes:
- Aching muscles
- Difficulty concentrating or “brain fog”
- Feeling physically weak
- Difficulty with decision making
- Slow responses
- Poor memory
Plus, the sensation of tiredness/exhaustion is often quite extreme.
As well as having more extensive and severe symptoms than tiredness, fatigue is different in terms of what causes it and how you fix it. It can be caused by long-term illness, including mental illness, or stress.
Most significantly, it often doesn’t resolve with sleep, and the feeling of tiredness is disproportionate to the level of activity you’ve been doing. As a result, it can be quite tricky to understand where your limits are and not go too far. In my case, the other day I was completely surprised that I had apparently overdone it and hit a fatigue wall. I felt like hadn’t had much more of a strenuous day than usual, but obviously it was enough to tip me over the edge.
My experience of fatigue
Firstly I should say that I’m fortunate because my fatigue has improved a lot over the past few years. I first experienced fatigue when I had glandular fever at university and afterwards was left with post-viral fatigue syndrome for a number of months. Then once that started improving, my pituitary tumour started giving me more symptoms…including fatigue!
It’s gradually improved since my second pituitary surgery, when I started taking medication to treat my tumour (lanreotide). The improvement has been so slow as to be imperceptible, but looking back five years it’s a huge change in retrospect. I think as well that I’ve got much better at managing my fatigue in general. I can usually do a busy day or a late night, as long as I have nothing to do the next day. I’m also fortunate that my husband is really helpful at understanding and helping me manage my symptoms.
For me, it’s about ensuring enough downtime around periods of activity. It doesn’t need to be sleep necessarily, but just rest time without much physical or mental exercise. For instance, if I’m doing housework, I need to make sure I sit and have a short break every 15 – 20 minutes or so. If I don’t, I can end up so exhausted I’m useless for the rest of the day. When I got married, my husband had to act as a consultant for my bridesmaids organising my hen do, to ensure that it was enough of a balance of things that I’d be able to make it to the end!
When I’m tired, I can usually power through. Also, even severe tiredness tends to come and go over time, so I’ll feel better for half an hour before the tiredness hits again. When I’ve got to the point of being fatigued, though, there’s no powering through. I am completely useless.
What’s your experience of fatigue? Let me know in the comments!