When fatigue becomes something else altogether

May 18, 2016

Well this is different. And I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s not bad, and I’d love to just


Yesterday’s visit to the shore wasn’t thoroughly exhausting!

go with the flow and enjoy it. But that’s hard when I don’t know why I feel this way. Not knowing why means that I don’t know how long it will last, or what I can do to help it along.

But I’m getting ahead of you here. I should explain.

It’s common to have fatigue with chronic illness. A lot of people say that pain causes fatigue, but that wasn’t my experience. Yes, pain can be tiring, but there’s a difference between “tired” and “fatigued.” If you’ve never felt fatigued, it’s hard to explain. Have you ever had the flu? Have you felt so exhausted and drained, it was like something was sucking the life right out of you? Was it hard to muster the energy to sit up, much less walk across the room? That’s fatigue. That’s what I felt many days. But I had pain for 8 years before that ever started. So it wasn’t only from the pain.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, and I believe the fatigue started after a bout of mono when I was 20. It was minor back then. It got worse and worse over the years, but it wasn’t until my early 30s that it became disabling. I couldn’t work at all – even the idea of part time work was laughable. Some days I couldn’t shower. Many days I couldn’t leave the house. It was bad.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you know I’ve worked hard to fix the fatigue. It’s improved bit by bit, not all at once. Each thing helped. My new diet helped. Reducing pain helped. Improving sleep helped. Various supplements helped. Changes to my lifestyle helped. More diet changes helped. More sleep changes helped. Everything helped a little bit, and it added up to more and more improvement. Life felt manageable. Then last month something changed.

I didn’t notice at first. I thought I was having a good day. But that turned into several good days. And then a good week. I used to have 3-5 recovery days per week at my worst. As I improved that number went down. But lately I noticed that I was having even fewer of those days. And when I did have one, I didn’t have to rest nearly as much. Maybe I couldn’t run errands those days, but I could often do little chores around the house.

Then I realized I was doing more per day. Whereas a short time ago I could only do 1 activity per day, suddenly I could run an errand in the morning and still feel up to doing something in the afternoon! What the….? Ok, this wasn’t every day, but it was more than once, and that was shocking.

Then the most shocking thing of all: in the last week I’ve been waking up naturally between 6am and 7am every day and I actually feel ok when I wake up! That has never happened in my entire life (except when I was on Prednisone, of course.) Until recently I rarely woke up before 8:30, and that was with an alarm. Now, after reading in bed for a while, I get up and feel…. not bad! Feeling not bad in the morning is a big deal when you have chronic illnesses!

I think I might know what’s causing this. I started a new supplement to help stabilize my breathing for the sake of sleeping better. This seems to have calmed my sleep apnea and I feel that I’m sleeping better. Even on the nights I don’t use my sleep machine as long, I still get more benefit.

But could that be it? It seems so…. simple. Of course, it isn’t simple at all. I’m sure it wouldn’t be working if I hadn’t changed my diet, changed my life, started using the sleep machine, started those other medications and supplements, and all the rest. Still, could that be it? I haven’t changed anything else.

But the fatigue isn’t all gone.

And that makes sense. It’s not that the fatigue is gone and I’m all better. It’s that the brutal fatigue is gone and it’s been replaced by something else.

I’ll use a cell phone battery to illustrate what I mean. Before, my energy was like a cell phone battery that wouldn’t fully charge. It would only go up to 30% many days, 50% others. But the higher it was, the faster it would drain. Cooking dinner would use twice as much battery as it would for a healthy person. Sitting upright and watching tv used up battery energy. Sometimes it would drain quickly for no apparent reason.

The most striking difference is that now I wake up with my battery at 80% every day! This is amazing! Watching tv doesn’t use up battery energy at all! Cooking dinner uses up the battery a bit, but not nearly as much as it used to. In fact, no activities use up the battery as much as they did just 2 months ago.

Before I would go to bed at night with the battery at 3%. I could barely drag myself to bed. Now it’s at 15%. I’m tired and sleepy. I’m ready for bed. But if something important suddenly came up, I could take care of it.

This is incredible! It’s a world of difference from where I was such a short time ago. I can do more in a day and it isn’t as hard to do things. I haven’t had that dragging feeling. I haven’t felt like someone stuck a vacuum into my side and was sucking out all of my energy. Sure, I haven’t experienced 100% battery (which is what I assume my peers feel when they’ve slept well and aren’t sick) but that’s ok!

It’s only been a few weeks and I don’t know how long this will last. I want to enjoy it, but I don’t want to overdo things. At the same time, while I have more energy, I also have more pain (hello, Spring!) I took a walk earlier. I had the energy to walk further, but my joints strongly disagreed. So be it. I don’t mind. I still can’t believe I took a short walk and didn’t have to collapse as soon as I got home. Instead, I was able to sit and write this way-too-long post!

Please wish me luck. I am really really hoping this is the start of a great new health chapter in my life! Changing the fatigue like this wouldn’t fix everything. But it would be good enough for me!!

September kicked my ass

September 29, 2014

Here’s the thing about chronic illness: it’s unpredictable.

And here’s the thing about life: it too is unpredictable.

And sometimes the unpredictable chronic illness shit coincides with the unpredictable life shit.

That’s what happened to me. That’s why this blog has been so quiet lately. And that’s why September kicked my ass.

It started with my typical CI issues flaring up. Then I had a surprise when I had an unusually large amount of blood drawn and I got light-headed and started to black out. Bad pain made everything a bit worse. The fatigue was really horrible. A sleep study stressed me out. I had to chase doctors more than usual. I had insurance-related financial worries. I had a looming deadline to send in the paperwork for my SNAP (formerly food stamps) application. And then, just when I was completely overwhelmed, a loved one died. I was devastated. I was stressed out. I was running around trying to be with family, attend the funeral, sit shiva, and help clear out his apartment. As you can imagine, my stress, fatigue, pain, and nausea all got even worse.

Now, September wasn’t all bad. I started dating someone and things are going really well. I’m processing my grief. The sleep study went well. The symptoms have been improving. Still, it wasn’t my favorite time. I mean, I wasn’t even blogging regularly! That tells you just how badly the month had gone!

October is just a couple days away, and I’m hopeful that it will be a better month. I’m starting a new sleep apnea treatment, I’ll continue dating the guy, I hope to find time to cook, and the transition to autumn that was probably responsible for a lot of my September symptoms will be complete. It won’t be perfect, but surly it must be better?

The thing about chronic illness is that, like life, there are ups and there are downs. September gave me more than my share of downs. Now I’m really hoping for some ups! So screw you, September! I’m moving on, to bigger and better things!

The “Is it worth it?” analysis

June 29, 2014

I went dancing! I haven’t been dancing in ages, and I hadn’t planned on going any time soon. But there was a street party and it looked awesome and I was with friends…. so why not? And when I say “street party” I mean a serious street party. A2014-06-27 20.36.49 major road was blocked off. There were spotlights on roofs and funky colors displayed on city hall. The music ranged from club remixes to motown to disco to whatever else you can dance to. There were congo lines in the street. A beach ball was being tossed around through the crowd. And the weather was cool and pleasant and I felt decent. So why not?

Well, I’ll tell you why not. Because pain. Because fatigue. Because sick body. Yeah, that.

But it looked like so much fun! So I asked myself, “Is this worth it?” And then I continued to ask myself that question every five minutes for the next 2 hours. Sometimes I came close to going home, but then I decided it was worth staying. The question wasn’t whether or not I’d feel horrible later or the next day. I knew I would. There was no question about that. But if I never did anything that made my symptoms worse, I’d never do much of anything (including typing this right now.) Some things aren’t worth the extra pain, fatigue, nausea, etc., but some are. And this was.

The "Is It Worth It?" Graph

The “Is It Worth It?” Graph

At a certain point, I knew I was reaching that point where it wasn’t worth it anymore, so I headed home. The fallout wasn’t too bad. I felt lousy the next day, but not as horrible as I’d have expected. I’m still recovering, but it’s going well. And I have no doubt: it was totally worth it!

Feeling too sick to remember how to feel better

May 30, 2014

If I get a cold, I know what to do. I know to drink decaf tea. I know to eat certain foods. I know which medications to take and when and why. But the second I have a fever, all that good knowledge gets lost somewhere in my brain and I forget what I’m supposed to do. When I talk to a friend or my mom, though, they remind me. Too bad they don’t know what to suggest for my extreme fatigue.

Even in my lousy state, I knew it started with all of the extra activity on Saturday. I did a lot that day, moving and being alert almost nonstop from 7am to 3pm, and I assumed that was the cause. Or maybe I ate something I shouldn’t have when I went out to lunch on Saturday. I was careful, but you never know. In the haze, I knew I shouldn’t push myself. I watched a lot of tv, read, watched movies, read, watched more tv, and read some more. I left the house for groceries and for a medical appointment, and felt much worse after each outing. It bothered me so much that no one knew why this was happening.

Except someone did. I did. Or I would have, if only I could have thought clearly. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly. I knew there was a metaphorical strip of gauze over my brain, obscuring the information inside. Thank goodness I was able to peak under the gauze for just a moment last night. That changed everything.

Last night it occurred to me that I could take an Isocort tablet. Isocort is a supplement that can be used to help treat less severe adrenal insufficiency. At one point I was taking 5 tablets. When I eventually weaned off of it, my naturopath told me to take it occasionally as needed (and we discussed what “as needed” meant.) Thankfully, I had a fair amount left, since it’s since been discontinued. I almost never take it, but last night it occurred to me that I should. However, even in my poor cognitive state, I knew better than to take it at night. Thankfully, I knew enough to take it out and leave it with my other pills where I wouldn’t miss it.

This morning I wanted to try getting by without the Isocort. Ah, what a state I was in to think that could happen. I finally took one tablet around 1pm, knowing I still had time to take more in the afternoon if I needed to. I didn’t need to. By 3pm I was feeling much better, and at 3:30 I went out for a short walk. It felt so good!

More than the physical improvement was the cognitive improvement. The gauze lifted, and it all made sense. I should have taken Isocort preventatively on Saturday. I’ll do that the next time I’m in a similar situation. I overdid things on Saturday and that caused my adrenal gland to go on vacation for a bit. While it was lying on a beach in Malibu, I was suffering. Taking an Isocort or two on Sunday would have helped me to recover more quickly. Resting so much was the right thing to do, but I needed to support my adrenal glands also. Without that support, they weren’t about to return from their peaceful vacation away from my overwrought body. And of course, each extra bit of activity, each outing, only made me feel worse as my adrenals retreated even further.

Today is Friday. It took four days for me to realize that Saturday’s activities were the trigger to my recent downturn. It took another day to realize what I should do about it. And it wasn’t until I felt better that I figured out what really happened. So the question is, what do I do differently next time? Obviously I should take preventative measures, but usually I don’t know I’ll need to. By the time I would figure it out, I’m no longer thinking clearly enough to do it. I can write down a list of things to do the next time I feel fatigued, but that only works if I remember to look at the list. I don’t think I can trust myself, so I’ll do the only other thing I can think of: I’ll tell my parents and a few close friends what to suggest the next time I tell them I’m fatigued. With any luck, at least one of them will suggest the right thing and I’ll take that advice. But if I don’t, and if I write again about a downturn involving fatigue, I hope one of you will point me back to this post!

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