When Tired Isn't Just Tired
That’s a very subjective phrase. Fatigue can’t be measured and those two words can mean many different things, not just that you need a nap. You can be emotionally spent or stressed to the point of breaking and those two words are the only way you can articulate that. That’s a state of being that most patients who deal with chronic fatigue can understand.
Signs of a Deeper Problem
Everyone has trouble sleeping occasionally, but most people can bounce back from it pretty easily. A night in or a weekend can make a world of difference, but chronic fatigue just doesn’t stop. Rest doesn’t make it any better and neither does being active. As a matter of fact, chronic fatigue sufferers are just more drained, either mentally, physically or both, after activities and it can take quite a while to recover lost energy. When this comes on suddenly it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, but it doesn’t happen suddenly for everyone.
For me, it crept up over time. I couldn’t sleep (which is a symptom), and eventually it affected my memory and cognitive function. Now I have medicine to put me to sleep and though some of my short term memory has recovered, much of it hasn’t and probably won’t. My cognitive function is still pretty spotty too; short term memory problems and cognitive function, even simple things like remembering how to spell words or remember them, are signs that something isn’t quite right.
Pain is a good indicator that something is off with your body. Chronic pain can make it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes pain worse. It’s a vicious cycle that just gets worse the longer it goes unchecked. It’s important to pay attention to muscle and joint aches—it isn’t always just overdoing it.
Another sign that you’re having a serious problem with fatigue is, surprisingly, your temperature. Cold hands and feet, inability to tolerate cold temperatures, and a lower body temperature are all signs that you might be having some trouble. When I was younger I was a furnace. Now it can be 70F outside and I need a sweater. WebMD has a great article on the common and less common symptoms of chronic fatigue. Check it out here!
What Causes It?
That’s a great question and one that doctors still can’t really answer. Sometimes it just happens with no known cause, but it’s often associated with something else.
Fatigue plays a major role in Fibromyalgia and is probably the most common complaint from Fibromyalgia sufferers. You don’t need the statistics to see that, you just need to take a look at social media. Countless support groups exist for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients and almost every single person will say that fatigue plays a serious role in their daily life.
Autoimmune disorders also cause fatigue. Though the cause may be different for each patient, the simple fact is that many of those dealing with an abnormal immune system experience fatigue of some type. For MS patients it may have to do with the nervous system or, like for many autoimmune patients, the sheer effort of manipulating the body into being mobile when it isn’t easy by any stretch. And, in the case of some autoimmune treatments, the medicine might only contribute to that problem while helping to prevent further damage. Dr. Rothbard is an excellent medical writer that’s contributed to the literature available about autoimmunes. You can read his article here.
For me, my extreme bouts of fatigue often follow a migraine. My migraines are very intense and closely resemble a stroke, so it is a physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting event. According to migraine.com, the link isn’t so unusual.
At times, it has nothing to do with an illness or disorder. Some treatments for other illnesses can also cause fatigue, so be sure to review your medication history and see if there’s a link between your fatigue and medical treatment. It may be necessary to adjust your medication or find another alternative.
Some other theories about how chronic fatigue starts include viral, trauma or toxins, or even just your unique biology. The truth is that no one really knows for sure, so be sure to seek treatment if you start to see signs of chronic fatigue.
I mentioned above how I still struggle with the effects of chronic fatigue. Though I joke that having a bad short term memory means that movies and books often feel new, it’s not a laughing matter. It’s difficult for things to stick. That is, I usually have to get emotional. This means that the little things in my life, like the cute antics of my cats or whole conversations, are gone. They fade away quickly leaving me with either no recollection or a faint idea that I’m forgetting something.
It is pretty common for me to not understand what’s been said to me. Others have to repeat themselves a few times and then walk me through, step by step, what they are trying to communicate. I can’t always articulate what I’m thinking and though this is something all of us likely experience time to time, it’s a little more frequent for me.
The damage of chronic fatigue is different for everyone. I use myself primarily in the above examples because these are complaints that I see on a regular basis in support groups. There are other ways that chronic fatigue hurts you, like your social life or your relationships. It also doesn’t do anything good for under eye circles and premature aging.
Suffering from chronic fatigue can also affect job performance! Losing your job can put you and your family in jeopardy; the keyword in this is chronic, and your work performance will suffer.
What You Can Do About It
Go to the doctor. Step one is to talk to your doctor about this. Chronic fatigue isn’t something you want to ignore. There are some things you can do at home and because most doctors don’t want to write unnecessary prescriptions, they will likely support a more holistic approach before a medication.
You can’t fix chronic fatigue with a five minute exercise, but you can get started with that. Meditation, deep breathing and de-stressing are all important when it comes to winding down at the end of the day. Much like popular cleansing diets, doing a mental cleanse shortly before bed allows you to identify and release the stress that built up over that day. Before chronic fatigue turns into a big, chronic problem, you can establish a ritual that helps you relax and clear your mind so sleep comes more easily. Decaffeinated tea can also help you relax.
If you are required to take random drug screening tests, please be aware that some nighttime teas may show up positive for synthetic marijuana and may require for tests to be sent off. Consider a de-stress tea or my personal favorite, Traditional Medicine’s Breathe Easy. It doesn’t have any caffeine and always helps open up my breathing so that it’s easier to sleep.
Being more active helps too! Exercise releases positive endorphins in your body, but it also helps to tire you out in a good way. Yoga and other gentle exercises not only allow you to release stress you may be holding onto, but it also helps to develop other habits (like not slouching) that will help you take deeper, fuller breaths. This lets you be more active and alert.
There are also some supplements that can help. Again, don’t take anything without consulting with your doctor first; some over the counter supplements can interact with medications you are already taking. Melatonin is a widely accepted choice for over the counter sleep aids and, oddly, some allergy pills. Diphenhydramine is used to treat a variety of issues, but it’s also an effective sleep aid. If you are already on it as an antihistamine, consider taking it at bedtime instead of earlier in the day. Velarian root is another all natural alternative that’s popular. You can likely find it at your local co-op or vitamin store.
Finally if more natural approaches don’t work, you may need a prescription. Remember that some medicines, though originally intended for other purposes, work better as sleep aids. Mine is technically an anti-depressant, but it works exceptionally well at putting me in to a fulfilling sleep.