I’m terrified of being tired. It’s the first sign of illness and a trigger of a cascade of traumas for me after fighting for two years to recover my health. The fear I feel when my energy flags is more than mere phobia. It’s the kind of gripping all consuming fear that stops all other emotions from surfacing. It’s a fear that stops joy and anger. It stops my my breathe and chokes out my chest if I pay it too much mind.
I’m already shedding unbidden tears probing a little at the edge of this fear. The fear that exhaustion will never lift sits in my body, scaring me into believing I’ll be trapped forever.
I’m more afraid of fatigue than I am of pain. Pain is complete and totalitarian yes. It limits your world sometimes in the extreme. But pain is not an enemy that cannot be overcome. When pain spikes or throbs I’m equipped with tools to combat it. It’s not that pain isn’t terrifying and all consuming. I’ve written about the challenges of chronic pain. How it robs you of your right mind. But it isn’t an enemy that extracts complete victory either.
I feel I can fight back. Light pain can be tossed out of my consciousness with mindfulness exercises. Even a slight self inflicted pinch can deflect pain. If it’s unbearable there are pharmaceuticals on hand. It’s not that I don’t find pain to be consuming, I do and it is, it’s that it doesn’t feel impossible to conquer. I have tools with varying degrees of efficacy that let me retain my agency with pain.
With exhaustion I have nothing. I fear exhaustion is an enemy I cannot best. There are no tricks for my mind that give me a boost of energy or remove the obstacle of feeling leaden. The tiredness is too complete to be overcome by mantras. There are no drugs for exhaustion. Stimulants can drag me out of bed but the crash afterwards makes it clear the effect was extracted under duress.
A doctor doesn’t mind giving opioids for a patient with spinal swelling but telling them you are tired doesn’t do much. What could they even give you? Caffeine? Aderall? Of course you are tired they say, your body is fighting inflammation. In this moment, I’m overcoming an infection and a poor reaction to anti-virals. An inability to crawl out of bed is a given. Nothing can be done. I just need to ride this out and hopefully it will lift.
But I’m afraid of the tiredness that has taken hold of me this past week. The fear that all of the work and money I’ve put into recovering my help might have been for nothing lingers. I logically know, and doctors confirm, that I’m simply fighting an infection and we had a slight complication with the medication. They say I’ll be feeling well a few days. They asked me to stay in bed for a few days. But I cannot shake the fear that it it’s permanent. The fear that I’ve lost all my progress is real. I just hope I can convince myself that feelings are not facts.