Dear Student Body,
My friends think I don’t want to see them anymore. My parents think I’ve disowned them. And if I fail this last semester, it is definitely not my fault. I swear! Okay, so I may have clocked enough hours on Netflix to make it send me multiple “Are you still alive?” prompts, but it’s still not my fault.
It is the fault, however, of a little condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome. If you haven’t heard of it I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. Most of my doctors barely know what it is. It’s a very misunderstood condition, which makes explaining why it’s not my fault that I forgot to take off my slippers and put on my work shoes before leaving the house even more difficult.
Here’s how it works – it’s kind of like there are clouds in your mind and small weights attached to your limbs. Every thought and every movement takes an excessive amount of effort, and each effort drains the little energy you do have.
The specialist I saw believed my brain was akin to an iPhone 5 battery. When most people sleep, their battery packs recharge all the way to the top. You wake up, you have 100 percent battery and it slowly declines throughout the day, right? Not so for those of us enjoying the whimsically random symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Sore muscles, despite the marked lack of exercise? Yep, chronic fatigue. Needing to wear sunglasses for night driving in order to avoid the bright lights? Yep, chronic fatigue. Forgetting your phone number half way through giving it out in a voicemail? Okay, that one happens to everyone, but I’d like to think that it only happens on an extremely occasional basis for most people. Not so with chronic fatigue. I’ve even constructed obsessive rituals for myself to ensure I don’t do things like leave the gas on, burn my house down and roast my tiny cat alive while I wander about the streets in search of chocolate, blissfully unaware of the inferno blazing back home.
We are never fully ‘charged’. We are never fully prepared for, well, anything. To try and make up for it, we plan our weeks with the military precision of a US drone assault. There are lists to remind us to check our lists. Phone alarms, Google alerts and emails to yourself that read, “Dear self, do not forget to wash your underwear today. Also, eat something other than cheese”.
Side note – this was the year in which I discovered aged cheddar. Maybe there is a God.
Life becomes a cycle of re-washing out your only pair of sweatpants, because you’re too tired to give a rat’s arse about your appearance. Watching the entirety of “Scrubs” for the eighth time, preferably with cheese-coated chocolate in your face. Life becomes very confusing, especially when trying to navigate the cluttered halls of academia.
Turning up to any class before 12pm is a mission. Actually contributing to class – like, with words and stuff – is even more of an effort. Frankly, what comes out of my mouth before 12pm will only add to the impression that I’m not all there – because I’m not.
Let’s not even talk about work. I think I should be given an award just for making it in and not falling asleep on shift. That’s what the staff awards should be about – making it in when you nearly fell asleep on the drive over.
I’ll tell you one thing though. Chronic fatigue cures any worries you may have about what your friends think of you.
At the risk of sounding bitter (which I am), when you have an illness that isn’t understood in the least, where half the GPs you come across will doubt its legitimacy, you can bet that your friends will doubt it even more. There is an equation that comes into play here.
Take one friend losing it at you because you’ve bailed on a night out in a noisy pub, surrounded by noisy people, because you just can’t deal with that much stimuli. Add one face-to-face confrontation, and what you get is a bizarre, one-sided argument. Your friend yells at you, but in all your emotional exhaustion, you can’t really give back.
You kind of come across as a bit of a psychopath. You just can’t muster the energy to engage with the emotional state of your friend, who now takes it as a further sign that you don’t care. The truth is, you are trying to muster up some kind of emotional response but there’s just nothing. It is as depressing as it sounds.
At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be much for chronic fatigue sufferers to do but manage it and learn to trust themselves. To trust that, even when everyone is holding expectations for them, even when everyone their age is able to do two or three times as much as they are. To know they are doing the best that they can, and to trust that they know what their bodies need.
It’s a lesson we all need to learn in the end, but life has moved it up in the schedule for those of us blessed with such debilitating illnesses.