Just push through it.
If I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve been told, in so many words, to “just push through it”, I could probably find some kind of cure for chronic fatigue. And that’s what I have. Not sleepiness. Not feeling run-down. Not even exhaustion. Chronic fatigue.
When I was 13 I came across a YouTube video where a girl was talking about her first hand experience with chronic fatigue syndrome (which includes more symptoms than just fatigue. I don’t have chronic fatigue syndrome, just plain old chronic fatigue from my cancer treatment. I’ll link some resources at the end to learn more about the difference). I remember not being able to comprehend how being tired could disable somebody so much. “Just take a nap,” I thought. “That’s what most people do!”
I think the reason that people have trouble understanding chronic fatigue is because fatigue is something we all experience every once in awhile. Anyone reading this, healthy or otherwise, has probably (at some time) felt fatigued in a similar way that I feel fatigued. It’s easier for people to understand that something like cancer is serious because most people don’t have tumors growing inside of them. But fatigue? We all know what that means and we know how we personally handle it.
I want you to imagine the most tired you’ve ever been in your life. A few years ago I would’ve known the answer right away: the day I tested for my black belt in karate. An hour straight of sparring the students in the studio. It’s enough to physically and mentally break a person, and you better believe that every bone in ligament in my body was in pain twenty minutes in. My breathing was labored, my head pounded, and when I got home the only thing I could do was lay down. I was so tired that even showering and changing clothes sounded like too much of a chore. Imagine the most tired you’ve ever been in your life, and imagine feeling that way multiple times a week for absolutely no reason.
That’s the other thing people struggle with. When you’re healthy and you get randomly tired, pushing through IS the right thing to do. But I think people forget that even when the fatigue has no cause, it’s still fatigue, and sometimes it really isn’t possible to do anything but sleep. The exhaustion I felt today laying in bed debilitated me in the same was my black belt test did. Back then, it was caused by something that anyone would understand; now, I’m made to feel like I should just be working harder. And it’s the same type of tired.
I’ve learned how to live with my fatigue. I feel like I’m pretty good at managing it and getting my stuff done, despite being tired. I schedule days to rest, practice a lot of time management, keep up with medication, limit myself when I need to. I really just wish society’s view on it was different. I wish I didn’t feel guilty when I need to go home home early, take a nap before homework, or miss a day of school. And I really hope that someday, an afternoon spent resting won’t feel like a failure; it’ll just be what my body needs at that time. I’ll push through the stigma, I’ll push through the internal struggle of choosing between work and health, and for the days when I just can’t push anymore, I won’t feel guilty, because my fatigue is not my fault. It’s just one of the ways that my body is a little bit different from everyone else’s.
About chronic fatigue after cancer:
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