Why Exhaustion Is Not Always As Simple As Sleeping More
Have you ever said, “I’m so tired, I could sleep for a week!” Exhaustion seems like a rite of passage in our fast-paced, hustle more, think big society. But what happens when the exhaustion completely takes over? Is it as simple as taking a nap or going to bed an hour early? Overwhelming exhaustion can be a sign of something bigger churning inside your body. It is up to you to listen to the signs and figure out if you need a nap or something more.
Cycles of Exhaustion
Beginning as early as high school, I remember having periods where I was overcome by exhaustion. In general, it seemed I needed way more sleep than my counter parts to accomplish the same things. After a big push, like the last month of rehearsals and performances for the high school musical, I would simply crash. Here lies Dawn. She will be sleeping for the next week. Weekend naps were my friend, especially in our cold, dark Michigan winters. These cycles continued into college and beyond. Lucky for me, I figured out how to accomplish all the things, even when I really had no energy in reserve.
Searching for Answers
In my third year of college, the exhaustion became overwhelming. I basically felt like I had been hit by a truck 24/7. The only logical explanation was something medical was wrong with me. I went to the doctor, waiting to hear that I had mono, my iron was dangerously low, or my thyroid was completely out of whack. The response I received – Everything is normal. Your health is perfect. Maybe you need to adjust your schedule. What?!?! It was impossible to sleep more than I was sleeping. I was not going to drop out of college. The only logical answer was to keep going because there was nothing wrong with me.
The Cycle Continues
As the years passed, my body would cycle through periods of extreme exhaustion followed by periods of being mildly tired. Through my own research, I found out about a condition called fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and fatigue. After an immense amount of reading, it seemed a probable reason for my ups and downs on the fatigue meter. It is very common in migraine sufferers and people who experience physical trauma through injury or illness. My migraines started when I was ten, and I had issues with shoulder dislocations that were finally remedied with surgery. The more I read, the more boxes I checked off, the more I leaned toward fibro being my problem.
Sometimes You Need to Look Deeper
Around my 40th birthday, I once again found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and generally feeling like crud. My hair was falling out. I was gaining weight that I couldn’t lose. It occurred to me that it was time to see what the medical experts had to say. Once again, I received the “everything is normal” answer. Why go to doctors when they always tell you everything is fine when it is clearly not? My mom came over after receiving my “all is normal” text. She stood in my kitchen and asked, “Honey. Do you think this could be depression?”
Energy Ups and Downs
For the first time in my life, I said, “Yes, this could be depression.” People in my past brought up depression, but I did not feel sad; so, I pushed the thought away. Turns out if you look deeper, depression is about so much more than being sad. As a person who lives with chronic anxiety, I am deeply familiar with feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and emotional. Anxiety is the up energy. Depression is the down energy. It has a lot of the same symptoms, overwhelm, irritability, volatile emotions, and can also manifest in physical symptoms like exhaustion and pain. The body cycles between the two, like waves rolling up to the shore and back out to sea.
Fibro vs Depression
Which came first – the chicken or the egg? This is how I feel about fibro and depression. Does fibro cause my depression? Does depression cause my fibro? In the larger scheme of things, does it really matter? The answer is no. I am just a lady, living my life, learning from all the information in front of me about how my body works. I know winter will be hard. It is cold and dark, and neither are good for my overall health and well-being. My body will hurt. I will be more tired. It is a season where I need to listen to my body and give it what it needs. Water, healthy, unprocessed food, and movement are essential in keeping me at my best. When I fall off the health and wellness train, I can feel it.
Listen. Learn. Adjust.
Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted is not a rite of passage; it is your body screaming to pay attention. Listen to the screaming and look for answers. Seek out medical treatment. My tests were normal, but yours could say something different. Mental health matters as much as physical. If you receive the “all clear” medically, look deeper. It could be short-term circumstances wreaking havoc on your mind and body. Make a plan to care for yourself in the short term.
If the cycle is a long-term problem. Know that what you are feeling is real, and there are many people who are ready and willing to help. I’ve found chiropractic care, prescription medication, and therapy to be immensely helpful in my own journey. It is also necessary to simply adjust to how I am feeling in the present moment. It is not a crime to rest. Give your mind and body grace and allow them to recharge.
Permission to Take the Nap
My story may not be your story. If you are in a season of life where exhaustion is around every corner, please take the much-needed nap at every opportunity. Caring for our mental and physical health can be as simple as taking a nap. If you are on a journey to discovering the deeper cause of your exhaustion, know you are seen. Don’t give up. Take one step in the direction of finding answers. Then take another. Find the path that works for you, wherever it leads. You are worth taking the long road into the land of something better.
Photo by Valeria Ushakova from Pexels