One of the biggest symptoms of depression for me is fatigue. And I don’t mean fatigue in the usual way. I mean, we all feel exhausted every now and then.
What I’m talking about is extreme, chronic fatigue. The kind where you go to the doctor repeatedly and they do all kinds of tests on you to see what’s going on – and find nothing out of the ordinary.
The kind that prevents you from participating in social activities or engaging in your very favorite hobby or even holding down a regular job. The kind that prevents you from having a life.
IN SEARCH OF “THE ANSWER”
Over a period of about six years, every time I went to see my doctor (who knows all about my depression), I would complain of extremely low energy and motivation. It was at the point where all I could do most days was pull myself out of bed and go sit in the living room. I would do practically nothing all day, yet I remained absolutely, completely exhausted, both mentally and physically.
I didn’t clean. I barely cooked. Most days, I couldn’t even shower because it took too much energy.
My doctor, bless her heart, was concerned. She tested me for low vitamin levels, thyroid problems, she tested my hormone levels. I even asked her if I might have Lyme’s Disease at one point.
With the exception of very low levels of vitamin D3 (which are now corrected), every test came out perfect. There was nothing physically wrong with me that caused my fatigue.
Now, that can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I was grateful (and maybe a little surprised) that I wasn’t sick. On the other hand, if you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you even begin to fix it?
Finally, after years of trying almost anything, I started to feel better emotionally. After several attempts at different kinds of treatment, numerous trips to the psych unit, medication changes, a lot of internal work, and *almost* agreeing to do ECT again – I found a method of treatment that actually mitigated my depression by about 80%. It’s called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and for me, it works like a charm. (Actually, CeAnne is the one who found out about it.)
In fact, it has saved my life more than once. You can read about it here.
Once I started feeling better, I noticed that my energy level increased immediately. I was once again able to do some of the things I enjoy, such as writing and playing tennis. I was able to do things around the house and still have a little energy left over to make dinner.
(Which is kind of ironic, because I had been taking energy-enhancing meds for several years by this point. I tried Adderal, Modafinil (Provigil), and Armodafinil (Nuvigil). The Armodafinil seemed to help the most, which is to say it helped a little bit, but after a while, it stopped working. In addition, my insurance won’t cover Modafinil (a generic) and it was tough getting them to agree to cover the Armodafinil.)
And over the last 2+ years, I have been able to relax, start laughing again, and participate in my own life.
I came to the conclusion that my depression and the stress in my everyday life were the reasons for my fatigue.
COMPARISON V. EMPATHY
The fatigue that goes along with depression is a special animal. It’s not your “normal” kind of fatigue that we all experience periodically. Yet, some people will forever feel compelled to compare their fatigue with mine. I got tired of trying to explain how it affects every ounce of my being, so I stopped trying.
My fatigue, along with other symptoms, made it impossible for me to work. There’s nothing “normal” about that.
There are few things more irritating than when someone says, “Oh, I know. I have that, too.” Unless they have the same kind of fatigue (or other symptom) you have, they can’t possibly know what it feels like or how profoundly it can affect your life.
That would be like comparing my occasional tension headache to your repeated migraines (there is little comparison, if any). Or comparing how much you “hate” going to the dentist with the overwhelming anxiety and fight-or-flight feelings I get when I go.
I think sometimes, people are just trying to show empathy when they do this. Unfortunately, it rarely comes out that way to me. It sounds more like they’re competing with me. “Oh, you have that? I have it, too (only mine is worse)!”
In my eyes, that’s not the way to show empathy. A better way is to just listen and offer your support to the person who’s suffering.
Certainly, people these days do suffer from fatigue more often then they used to. In today’s world, we often judge ourselves and others by how crazy-busy our lives are. How we got this way probably requires an in-depth analysis of psychological and sociological phenomena; suffice it to say that we seem to be busier than ever these days.
In general, my opinion is that people under-value quality time with their friends, families, and themselves, and over-value being (or appearing to be) busy. Like the more they’re doing, the more successful they are or something.
I’m more into quality time and self-care.
I don’t care that some people think that’s a bunch of psychobabble. They’ll figure it out eventually (if they’re lucky). In the meantime, I know that the better I take care of myself, the better off I’ll be. That makes for higher-quality relationships with my loved ones, as well as much less drama.
That’s a really good thing, because I HATE drama. It pains me to think that a lot of my drama might be self-inflicted, but I suppose that’s the case with most of us.
As a believer in the power of medicine, the strangest part of this for me is that right now, I have more energy than I’ve had in years, despite the fact that I’m not taking any energy-enhancing drugs. I stopped taking the Armodafinil several months ago. That proves to me (and my doctors) that when I feel better, I have more energy. And the more energy I have, the better I feel.
Believe me, that’s wonderful! But it means the opposite is also true: When I’m not feeling well emotionally, I have less (or no) energy; and the less energy I have, the worse I feel because I don’t feel productive.
One of the most common pieces of (usually unsolicited) advice I get is “Exercise helps!” That may be true – I know I feel good when I play tennis (in fact, I feel good just looking at a tennis date on my calendar) or do yoga.
But it doesn’t make it any easier. It may be simple in concept (move your body); however, it is not easy to do. The nature of depression is that it tells you that you can’t do those things. You are incapable. It is impossible. There’s no way you can actually get off the couch and move around for half an hour. Just, no.
Now that’s a Catch-22.
But I digress.
I guess my point is that there is no such thing as a magic pill, nor is a pill necessarily the answer to everything.
The fatigue that often accompanies depression is a real bitch. It sucks the life right out of you. It can keep you from taking care of your household responsibilities, your child-rearing responsibilities, self-care, even from making a living. It must be attacked head-on.
I tend to think of meds as cure-alls (at least, I’m hopeful) but they really aren’t, necessarily. They can help, but the most important thing for me to do is to try and keep my life in balance and my stress level manageable.
Ever heard of the placebo effect? It’s when you’re given a fake pill (a “sugar pill”) and told that it will help you feel better. Know what? Sometimes that works. Hell, I wouldn’t care if every one of my meds was a sugar pill; if I think it’s working, that’s what counts. I’m bound to feel better eventually.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Chronic depressive fatigue really bites.
- It can ruin your life.
- You’d be surprised how much stress affects your abilities.
- If there’s nothing “wrong” with you, and you still feel exhausted, it could be stress.
- By all means, try meds, acupuncture, oils, massage, etc. I hope they help!
- If all else fails, try to add some balance to your life.
- Meds don’t fix everything.
- If you have an open mind, often the right kind of magic happens to help you feel better.
As always, thanks for reading. And remember to Keep it Real!