The difference between being tired and fatigue

Chronically Rising – The difference between being tired and fatigue

“I would do anything to be tired again”.  Sounds crazy, right?  With chronic illness, everyone assumes you are just tired. How bad can it be? If only it was that simplistic…

Comparing being tired and fatigue from chronic illness is like comparing the ocean to a bucket of water. Technically both are water, but they simply cannot be compared.  The bucket of water can be easily quantified and refilled, whereas the ocean is never-ending with dark depths and rough tides.  Just like refilling a bucket of water, being tired can easily be fixed with a nap or a vacation, whereas fatigue is like the ocean – infinite, multifaceted and underestimated by those unfamiliar with it.

I have a chronic illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Extreme fatigue is the primary symptom of ME, but also a major limitation felt by numerous chronic illnesses like autoimmune disease and Multiple Sclerosis. What we experience every day is a type of bone-crushing fatigue that makes the simplest tasks a quest through the Sahara Desert with no water, shade or rest.  Washing hair, cooking simple meals and lifting the kettle are workouts of note.  Stairs become little pieces of elevated hell that suck our energy supply dry (that is if we can manage a few on a good day).  Walking a bit more than a few steps around the house leads to a feeling of extreme weight gain accompanied by an astronomical increase in gravity.  Even the simplistic tasks of thinking, processing, and interpretation now carry an energy label.  This is far to complex to be put in tiredness’ little bucket.

Being tired is coming home after a productive day and needing to rest, lying on the couch after an intense workout or falling asleep early after having fun with friends.  I never sat still and always did 110 things a day, and thereafter I was tired.  Having fatigue due to chronic illness is a whole other ball game.  Its being in the middle of the ocean surrounded by crashing waves and strong currents with no sight of land ahead.

We feel as if we constantly pull all-nighters, even when we sleep 14 hours a day.  Our entire being is filled with fatigue.  Our battery never fully charges and runs empty without warning. Every day we carry Table Mountain on our shoulders.

I would give anything to feel tired again because that means I did something without my overwhelming fatigue following me like a shadow.  That means I can sleep and wake up refreshed.  That means I can exercise, walk my dogs and dig in my garden, without drowning in an ocean of fatigue.  You see a healthy person’s tired and what we experience are millions of buckets of water apart.

So if your chronically ill family member or friend ever says they are tired please understand that IT IS NOT the same feeling you experience!  We can not push through, as it will only worsen our symptoms.  We are not lazy, nor crazy. We all indeed get tired sometimes, but please remember that tired and fatigue are only synonyms in a dictionary. Thank you for trying to understand this.

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This post is proudly brought to you by Chantelle Spies from Chronically Rising. To learn more about the author please visit our about section.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    Great explanation!


  2. Jon says:

    While I do not suffer from a chronic condition, there have been a few periods in my life where I experience a resurgence of symptoms including passing out. This might be a problem for a year or two and clear up for years before returning.
    While going through a “flair up” I usually experience fatigue as part of my symptoms. I can also attest that “tired” doesn’t come close to truly describing it. Though they are frequently used interchangeably in our language, they are not equivalent.
    Great post! Hopefully it reaches a wide audience and helps people understand their loved ones better.


  3. Marilou Corver says:

    Perfect description Thank You

    Liked by 1 person

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