I’ve gone from sleeping 6-7 hours a night for years and years, to needing more than 9 hours a night. Some nights I need 11 or 12 and still wake up feeling tired. This on top of occasional nanna naps in the afternoons. It takes a huge effort in the mornings to open the eyelids and if I don’t get a shower and a coffee then I probably spend the first hour of every day sleep-walking.
No doubt it’s another effect of the chemo and, maybe, the high blood pressure caused by the chemo. It comes with its aches and pains, inability to concentrate, and the frustrations that go with both. I think it’s given me some small insight into how chronic fatigue sufferers might feel. Friends of mine have been struggling with fatigue for years and years. Some have given up any hope of life ever being different. Some are barely able to lift themselves from the bed, and time with family and friends leaves them exhausted. It’s difficult to know how to offer support sometimes, because a visit or phone call can deplete their already limited energy. One friend told me it takes days to recover from half an hour with a well-meaning visitor.
There’s also the difficulty of an illness that people can’t see and very few understand. Just go to bed earlier. Start exercising more. Change your diet. Snap out of it. It’s all in your head. I reckon you’re making it all up. This is some of the helpful advice that people get given. And then there’s often the person with the success story. My friend visited this specialist, started on that diet, discovered acupuncture, went to such and such healing service, moved to the beach… and now everything’s ok.
The reality of this life is that sickness, sadness, and suffering are all part of our experience. We ache and groan as we long for things to be better. But the truth is that things don’t always improve. More often than not they get worse. Old age sees our breakdown and decline. We don’t heal as quickly, illnesses become more complicated, some things become permanent. Our body struggles to recover, our mind isn’t what it used to be, and our spirit eventually loses the will to live. Sometimes it seems like life is one long tragedy. It might start well for some, but it always seems to end badly.
What a pessimistic post! Is this what fatigue does to me?! Let me presume to share a few thoughts with those of you who are struggling with fatigue.
Don’t give up hope. Maybe there will be a change for the better just over the horizon. Perhaps someone will understand what’s causing it. Maybe there is something that will help, even a cure. Keep looking, keep on trying. Pray. Talk to God. Ask God to take away your pain and suffering. Ask friends to pray for you or with you.
When everything feels dark and hopeless, cry out. Let your family and friends know how much it hurts. Ask for help, comfort, love, kindness. And call out to God. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Maybe God wants you to depend more on him. If it’s not his intention to take away your suffering at this time, then ask him to help you trust in his grace. Ask him to strengthen your trust in his goodness. Ask him to help you draw near to him for comfort, even if he seems so remote.
Are there things you can do in your fatigue? Do your energy levels let you get up from time to time? How can you best fill that time? Is it your family who needs you most? Are you able to encourage others in your weakness? Can you spend time praying for other people? Can you make a list of things that you can do when you’re down and others when you’re up? Have you asked how God can use you in your frailty? Maybe you could brainstorm some ideas or chat to others about this.
But don’t compare yourself with others. “At least there are people who are suffering more than me!” How does that help, really? “Why do I suffer so much when those around me do whatever they please?” Self-pity, jealousy, anger, bitterness will only make things worse. There is one who is well acquainted with suffering, who understands what you are going through, who can help. His name is Jesus. He was betrayed, rejected, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. He took the punishment we deserve in his body and paid the price. He endured all this in confident hope that God would raise him from the grave, as the first fruits for all who would follow after him.
Focus your hope on the future. Not just for this life, but for eternity. Keep your eyes on Jesus and remember the promise of a day with no more pain, suffering, fatigue or death. As your earthly body decays remember that God has in store a new, complete, and perfect body for all who trust in him. There is hope. God guarantees it!
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
(first published in macarisms.com on 8/3/13)