Toxic Fatigue

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Thanks to the blog “Purple Thoughts” for this entry. I have read it before and it is well worth printing here. Hope it educates and explains it better than I can.

 

THE TOXIC FATIGUE OF LUPUS

BY GLORIA ROSENTHAL

Almost all lupus patients have heard the phrase “But you don’t look sick” and we cringe inside, knowing the speaker’s words do not convey the speaker’s true meaning: “You can’t be so sick if you look so well”.

The fatigue that comes with lupus elicits the same reaction. Try to explain the feeling to a friend and the response is often “I get tired, too”. I want to pounce on those words and say “tired? You get tired? I want to screech that the fatigue that comes with lupus is as unrelated to a “tired” feeling as a hang nail is to a broken arm. Calling toxic fatigue a tired feeling is like saying a major flood is a minor trickle of water.

So let’s talk, first about what lupus fatigue is NOT. It is not a tired feeling. It’s not a “want to take a nap” feeling. It’s not a “lazy day, think I’ll take it easy” feeling. It’s not a “wish I didn’t have to do this” feeling. What it is: is a full-body exhaustion that makes you feel as if you have no bones, that if you didn’t have skin wrapped around your body, you would melt down into nothingness like the Wicked Witch of the West. Or that you are a melting candle, except a candle has a wick and there is nothing in your body that feels that solid. On the other hand, your bones can feel so heavy that lifting your arms to wash your hair in the shower is a chore akin to a weightlifter hefting a 200 pound barbell. His task is easier, though, because as soon as he puts the barbell down, he’s through. But after you’ve soaped your hair, you have to rinse it. That means those bone-weary, heavy arms must be raised again and after the shower, these “barbells” must be toted around all day long for they cannot be discarded like the weight-lifters toys.

Eating too, is an exhausting habit, especially restaurant dining. There must be something in the atmosphere and a three course meal that makes the lupus body say. “Hey hold on there, why are you lifting a fork so many times?” or “You broke off one piece of roll and now you want to exert that physical activity again for another piece?”

Am I exaggerating? Of course, but just enough to get a point across, a point that the fatigue that accompanies lupus is not like any other feeling. It is indescribable, but I know that as these words are read by my fellow lupoids, heads will bob up and down in instant recognition, though that frantic activity (head bobbing) will create yet another bout of exhaustion.

How do I handle this extreme exhaustion? If I’m home, I get into bed when it hits though the toxic feeling that accompanies the fatigue makes me think that once I do that, I will never be able to get up again. However, experience tells me I will come out of it and will feel better when I do. I never refer to this melting away as a nap; it’s my afternoon “coma” and my husband tells me it is almost impossible to wake me. If he must do so, it some times takes ten minutes of gentle shaking (and maybe one minute of bulldozing tactics).

If I’m not at home when it hits, and I push through it from sheer will, it will be with me for the rest of the day. Even if I give in to it later, even if I crawl into bed after it has been with me for hours, I will not shake it. Years of dealing with it has taught me why this is so: the fatigue that comes with lupus hits hard and wants to be pampered but it knows, better than I do, just how much coddling it needs. If I bow to it, I’ll revive. If I don’t, the fatigue shakes its finger in my face and says “Okay kid, you asked for it; now it’s the rest of the day for you”. And so for the rest of that day, I am that wicked witch, that melting candle, that weightlifter. I try to work around it. I tell my good friends they have to pick up for lunch out. If I drive to them in the morning, later, with fatigue as my passenger, I will have a foot that’s too weak to depress a brake and arms not strong enough to turn a wheel. Some people understand, some never will. Perhaps this will help the ordinary fatigued person see that there is nothing ordinary about lupus exhaustion. I’m glad I’m finished here, because my body is warning me that a bout is coming and I’d better be going. My bed looks inviting and my fatigue will thank me for “putting it there” by giving me a few good hours later on.

Reprinted from News & Views Number 45 – March 1995 Lupus UK.

European Lupus Erythematosus Federation

For a print friendly version click here  THE TOXIC FATIGUE OF LUPUS

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