I usually enjoy a full schedule. Starting near the beginning of 2016, though, I felt too tired to keep up – and I was embarrassed about it. There’s a running joke that non-moms don’t understand what it’s like to be tired. Mothering is famously the hardest, most unrelenting job on the planet, so their claim to tiredness is understandable.
But as a non-mom, my exhaustion brought with it shame and embarrassment. I didn’t have kids yet. I didn’t have the right to be tired.
Dishes piled up, laundry piled up, lists of people wanting to get together piled up. I could probably rally for a special event, but otherwise, very little outside of what had to get done got done.
The Shame of Tiredness
My world shrank with my energy, and I became increasingly embarrassed about my diminishing capacity. I dreaded Mondays, because that meant grocery shopping, and grocery shopping was exhausting. Sometimes I would skip it. I regularly cancelled plans I because I wasn’t up to interacting with people or else didn’t think I would be sufficiently alert to drive home.
Trimming back on my long-term commitments was humiliating. I didn’t feel like I had a real reason for going back on what I said I’d do, because despite how I actually felt, non-moms apparently weren’t really tired.
I remember when I stopped serving in the nursery at church. I said that it was because I had too much on my plate (true!), but out of embarrassment, I omitted that I had pathetically little on my plate.
Still, I wasn’t waving the white flag.
People say “capacity is a state of mind”, so I tried to mentally expand my capacity. I read books like I Know How She Does It and The Compound Effect, but no amount of mental stretching actually stretched my physical capacity.
So I started running again, thinking being stationary was making me sluggish. After the endorphins spike, my exhaustion settled in again like fog. I changed my diet repeatedly, too, eating more of this and less of that.
I became more consistent with studying my bible, thinking that if I could fill myself up spiritually, I would be filled up with energy, too. While I felt more emotionally stable, I was still physically drained.
I also sought professional help – both mainstream and alternative. A holistic medicine practitioner suspected parasites, but couldn’t confirm. One doctor attempted insurance fraud. Another insisted I was depressed. Yet another doctor scoffed at me when I asked to be tested for parasites, saying that there are thousands of parasites and she wasn’t going to run thousands of tests (I learned later that’s not how it works at all).
The string of useless or condescending “professionals” was exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
Not only was it another thing in my schedule, but every time they asked why I was there, I felt so embarrassed to say, “Umm. . . because I’m tired.”
I didn’t have any right to be tired. Not without kids.
Eventually, I found a doctor that was amazing. She did some tests and quickly found the problem: My vitamin D was a whopping 12.8 (should be 50-70, I think).
Vitamin D affects both your energy and your mood; it made sense! I’m extremely light skinned, so sun means sunblock – which inhibits Vitamin D absorption.
After a conversation with my doctor and a Vitamin D supplement recommendation, I was on my way!
I wasn’t crazy, weak, inadequate, or pathetic. I was Vitamin D deficient! Praise the Lord!
My Vitamin D deficiency was the physical problem.
But I think the real problem is that the road to this knowledge was way longer and way harder than it should have been. I treated my tiredness as an inverse measure of my worth. Instead, I should have seen it for what it is: a symptom.
Types of Tiredness
Tiredness can be a symptom of life stages like motherhood, work deadlines, or a performance-week in theater. In these cases, there’s often something to point to that makes it “worth it.” My cousin has month-old twins, and she would never say that tiredness is too high a cost for her little ones – they’re worth it!
Tiredness can also be a symptom of a mismanaged life: too much work, not enough exercise, a poor diet, all work and no play, etc. I learned a lot about these while looking for solutions. Personally, I think this is a great category to be in; even if the tiredness doesn’t seem worth it, it is within your control to change! (My top resource recommendation is the Compound Effect).
Then finally, tiredness can be a symptom of something unknown or yet unfixable. I think this last category is emotionally the hardest. When I was in it, there was nothing making the tiredness worth it, nothing I did helped, and I was self-conscious about what other people thought about my abilities and capacity. I was in this category for a year and a half, then I received a solution (praise God!), but a lot of other people don’t get an answer or solution so quickly.
From Shame to Symptom
I’m close to someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a ridiculously understated name for the physical havoc it wreaks. He hesitated for a long time to share publicly what was going on with him, because people sometimes mistakenly equate his tiredness with laziness or wimpiness. This is a man who just prior to getting sick was working 64 hours/week as a fire fighter – full time with Cal Fire and paid call with a local station. I promise you, he doesn’t have a lazy or wimpy bone in his body.
While anyone who knows him should know he’s not a wimp, I completely understand his hesitancy to share! Because, even after going through something much smaller, I felt it too! I was hesitant to tell my church that I was too tired to serve, and I even dreaded telling doctors why I was visiting their office. I was totally embarrassed about my capacity, scared that I just might not have “what it takes” to make it in this fast paced world, and self-conscious about what they might think of me.
However, if my symptoms were stomach ulcers or random bruising, I wouldn’t be embarrassed – I would seek out the help I needed! I would stand up for myself against doctors who said I was just depressed. I wouldn’t be ashamed to tell people that my physical state prevented me from participating in my former commitments.
But I was ashamed. I gave into the social media posts saying that mothers hold the only acceptable licenses to exhaustion. The posts in this blog, for example, are all ones that I saved as they came across my feeds organically – I didn’t search out any of them.
So many people are sick with tiredness, and yet we see so few causes as acceptable. That’s crazy! If someone sneezes, it could be a cold, allergies, or just some dust up their nose. We don’t say, “Unless you have allergies, you don’t have any right to sneeze.” That’s insane.
But we do it with tiredness.
There are a million reasons to be tired – life stages, life imbalances, and physical imbalances, etc. While some of these have a light at the end of the tunnel or a solution, others don’t (yet). People are still living with the symptom of tiredness.
It’s not fair that in addition to feeling like they’re living a fatigue-induced half-life, they also need to feel shame for it.
I know that I’m going to try and be a lot more sympathetic to anyone who is feeling overly tired – whether that means helping out a mom, or giving grace when someone isn’t up to following through on plans they made.
Tiredness can be a debilitating symptom, and it doesn’t need to be earned through motherhood.