Understanding Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of chronic illness, and may be experienced as part of almost any long-term health condition. It is also one of the most misunderstood, as people with no personal experience of this may often incorrectly assume it is the same thing as tiredness. So what is fatigue, and how does it differ from simple tiredness?

Tiredness is something we all experience in our day-to-day lives. You might have a particularly busy day (or week) at work, or take a long-haul flight that gets in at 3am, or organise a birthday party for twenty hyperactive children. You can feel yourself pushing beyond where you would normally go, but you can put this aside (perhaps with the help of some coffee!) and get through what needs to be done. Afterwards, you feel drained. Your body may ache, or your limbs may feel heavy. You may have difficulty concentrating, and lose your train of thought when speaking or writing. But you sit down and relax for a few hours, or get a solid night's sleep, and you feel refreshed. After a day or two, you feel pretty much back to normal. 

Fatigue is rather different from tiredness. It involves many of the same feelings - aching, heavy limbs, difficulty concentrating (sometimes called "brain fog"). But this isn't something that you can just push through to get what you need to do. Fatigue is an overwhelming sense that your body and mind have done far more than they should, and cannot do any more than it has already done. There is no way to soldier on through this - it demands immediate, complete rest. But unlike tiredness, rest will not usually ease fatigue. You can sit down for a minute, or nap for an hour, or sleep for 14 hours, and you will still feel almost exactly the same afterwards. The feeling of exhaustion is unrelenting. 

Unlike other symptoms, like pain or nausea, there is no symptomatic treatment to relieve the effects of fatigue. It often gets better or worse as the underlying health condition does, but the only way to manage it is to restrict how much you do. Consistently low levels of activity (physical, mental or both) will allow the body and mind to slowly recuperate, but this can take weeks or months to achieve. 

 

What Is It Like To Live With Fatigue?

Living with fatigue is, ironically, exhausting. At its worst, it can turn the simplest of tasks - showering in the morning, cooking a meal, driving to work - into an insurmountable obstacle. Often, what it means is that 

 

What does fatigue feel like?

How does it affect our day-to-day lives? Relationships? Hobbies?

How Does Fatigue Affect Us At Work?

What parts of our job does fatigue make more difficult?