Fatigue is such an awkward topic to discuss. It’s one of those conditions that people who haven’t experienced just don’t understand. It isn’t visible so unless you go around complaining about it all of the time, people assume you are fine. Or if you do try to explain to others they think it is the same as just being tired after a bad nights’ sleep. You go to the doctor and if blood tests come back normal, they tell you you’re healthy and act like you are making it up. Maybe fatigue is “all in your head” in a way as often it does have a psychological root but that doesn’t mean the physical symptoms aren’t real and often debilitating.
My experience with fatigue started 5 years ago. In my final year of university, after 4 years of too much stress, caffeine, partying and terrible eating habits, I developed gastritis. This is a painful inflammation of the stomach that would plague me all day but be even worse in the middle of the night when my stomach was fully empty. The pain would be so bad I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep because it was like someone was stabbing me in the belly. The sensation was like the peak of the hunger pangs you get when you are really starving, except it wouldn’t come in waves it would just stay at that intensity. Horrible.
So I started getting only 4-5 hours sleep a night and from 3am I’d be awake trying anything to ease the pain and relax so I could get back to sleep: herbal teas, dry snacks, gentle yoga, guided meditations. This continued for months and at first it was manageable but after a while I started feeling like a total zombie during the day. I went to the doctor and he put me on PPI medication for my gastritis which didn’t help and actually made my fatigue worse because it affects absorption of certain nutrients so I came off it after a few months. I remember being at work during that first year after graduating and nearly falling asleep during meeting on so many occasions. Looking back I probably should have been off sick but it was my first job I was so determined to keep going and find a solution.
Over the next few years I did find things that helped and eventually managed to cure my gastritis fully. I still have a sensitive stomach so I can have a flare up if I drink too much coffee, alcohol or fried food but on the whole I don’t have symptoms. However, my sleep patterns still didn’t improve much even after the gastritis faded. I would still wake up during the early hours and not be able to get back to sleep or if I did sleep through the night I would still feel exhausted the next day. I look back at photos of myself from that time and it’s pretty emotional to remember how I felt. And I struggled to understand how people couldn’t see that I was suffering when it was written all over my face!
It’s crazy for me to think now how I kept going for years like that but I did. I barely had the energy to maintain my social life but I still managed to work, enjoy my relationship and my family. I remember going on trips or days out and enjoying them but feeling like I wasn’t fully present, like I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in the moment. I felt like I was dragging myself through every day doing things because my mind wanted to make the most out of life, even though my body just wanted to lie in bed all day. I couldn’t engage in conversations and being with people often felt draining.
Last September we moved to a new city and I think this is where I hit rock bottom with insomnia and fatigue. I started a new job and I was completing my research project for my nutrition degree alongside. I was so depleted and still couldn’t sleep. It was like my body was on alert mode all of the time. There were a couple of nights where I didn’t get any sleep at all and by the next day I would be feeling so out of it and delirious. You’d think that by the next night I would be so exhausted that my body would make up for it but I’d still have that “wired but tired” feeling. I would pass out at 9pm only to wake up again at 2am. I had so many mini break downs and emotional outbursts. The weekend would come and I would be crying all of Saturday morning. I felt like a 2 year old not able to control my emotions at all.
Fast forward to 2020, this is where the real healing began. I actually think being in lockdown helped a lot as working from home full time meant I could take breaks and naps during the day when I needed to. I also managed to cut out coffee completely for long periods which I had never been able to do before. I was definitely leaning on it as a crutch, especially when I needed to show up for something and wanted to do my best. But being stuck at home with no schedule no social obligations was a blessing in disguise for the first few months. Finally I realised that it was ok to be tired and that instead of fighting my body I would just have to listen to what it was telling me.
I ate really well, building up some nutrient stores that had been depleted through lack of sleep and stress. I went for walks in nature every day and really got back into my yoga practice. I focused again on menstrual cycle awareness and living in tune with my cycle as best as I could. I spent alot of time reading, reflecting and journalling, trying to weed out some of the old mental and emotional patterns which were causing me stress and keeping me stuck. And finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get 6-8 hours sleep most nights (even though I was still waking up at 5am it was a big improvement!). I had days were I felt energised and had waves of random happiness that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. I felt my silliness and playful start to come back which I didn’t even know was missing.
Even though I have come so far I still feel like I am on a healing path with this. I don’t feel like my energy levels are as high as they could be and I am still sensitive to stress. But I have learned through all of this how to manage it and to look after myself when I have low days. And I trust that things are only going to continue to improve. Recently I have been really busy at work and preparing to move house and I have felt the fatigue coming on again in the last few days. Actually that is what motivated me to write this, to remind myself how far I have come and that overall things are getting better! I have the energy to pursue my passion for writing again and to help others through my nutrition and health coaching which I’d only dreamed of doing a year ago.
Over to you…
I hope that by sharing my story I can give hope to anyone who is suffering with fatigue for any reason that things can get better! I am so grateful for all of the people who supported me in my life during this time (especially my parents, my nan and my boyfriend) and I want to do what I can to help others in a similar situation. Please leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience or can relate to any of my story. I think one of the hardest things about insomnia and fatigue is the deep loneliness that you experience when you feel like everyone around you is free whilst you remain trapped in this cage. But that is the beauty of online spaces, you might not know people in “real life” going through similar things but you can find others to relate to and connect with from all over the world which is amazing 🙂
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