Tiredness and fatigue are not the same things. There is a general perception that being fatigued means the same thing as being tired. When in fact, the two words describe very different experiences.
Tiredness hits like a wave that you ride. You go from active and energized to a slowly building exhaustion that crests with a barrage of being tired. Tiredness can be fixed with different versions of repose. From needing some time to sit down to sleeping, it can often be alleviated with caffeine or a nap. You can rally your energy and complete tasks even when you are tired. The process may be uncomfortable and you may need some extra rest but there is a level of gathering momentum that happens to get you through.
Fatigue is like being out to sea with concrete blocks tied to your arms and legs. You can see the shore but you can’t swim. With every breath and ounce of strength used to keep your head above water, your brain tells you that you should be moving. You should be swimming towards the sand. When your head goes underwater, your brain gives in to your body and starts to get slow and fuzzy. No matter how much you want to move, you physical cannot. There is no swell that takes you out and then back in. You just try not to drown, for hours and days.
Explaining fatigue to an “average” person is not easy. We tend to relate everything to our own experiences so a conversation about fatigue equals a conversation about tiredness and exhaustion in the mind of a non-sufferer. They may commiserate without truly understanding why you can’t push through. Why you can’t take a nap, grab some coffee, and just get on with it.
People with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) experience this misunderstanding and discrimination constantly. The concept of zero energy just doesn’t resonate with most people. To them, everyone has enough energy to read a book, make food, or take a phone call. They think it is impossible for someone be so worn out that they can’t chew or use the bathroom. Often ME/CFS sufferers are viewed as lazy and not trying hard enough.
I’m very fortunate to have intermittent fatigue. Even with all of my health problems, most days I can move from my bed and take care of my personal needs. However, when I do experience prolonged fatigue I always feel as though I am to blame for my inactivity. Instead of enjoying doing nothing and embracing my body’s need for stillness, being struck with fatigue leaves me angry that I have no control over being able to move. I try so hard to fight it. People in my life inadvertently make me feel guilty with little quips, “Get outside for some air and sun” or “Taking a shower would make you feel better”. They are just trying to help but it is in the same vain as suggesting that pain can be brushed off and ignored. It can’t.
There is no lack of effort with chronic fatigue. No one suffering from utter physical helplessness wants to be stuck. They aren’t happily lazy and working the system. Everyone experiences fatigue at different levels. Just like with other frustrating symptoms, it is important that the sufferers aren’t criticized for something they cannot control. We are all looking for a cure. We all want to live symptom-free lives.