a mild case of fatigue

Posted by on February 27, 2008


There are several points of discouragement and mystery occupying my thoughts right now. One is that I have had a mild sore throat now for over two weeks, and just about everyone I know has been sick at least once this February, and it is getting to the point where I’m almost afraid of going to the grocery store, lest a flu virus on the cart handle jump up into my nostrils, or stick to Esme’s little fingers and travel home with us. Every morning I wake up thinking that this will be the day that my sore throat will be gone; I swallow and find it still there.

I have also been thinking a great deal about fatigue. I was at a gathering of women last week– all mothers. My friend Kristy arranged the get-together, and there was a lot of talk and sharing stories of birth, children, and childcare. Listening, I started to realize that motherhood, although universally demanding, does not necessarily leave a woman feeling as if a huge alteration in her health and well-being has taken place since before the birth. I don’t hear this coming from the stories of other women, many of whom are happily pregnant with their second child. I read some things last night about a thing called adrenal fatigue, which can hit a person after a major life event–whether good or bad. Death, the loss of a job, and, of course, the birth of a child were among the things that could trigger such chronic fatigue and adrenal maladjustment. It made sense to me, because it isn’t really the tasks of motherhood that I find exhausting, such as diaper changes, putting down for naps, picking up toys, or mashing up sweet potatoes. It isn’t about Esme, or motherhood itself, which I love. It’s physical. Childbirth itself, breastfeeding perhaps, and the new patterns of sleep have somehow changed me–my internal chemistry, hormones, or what have you. I don’t feel horrible every day, but I never feel more than just o.k., and never wonderful, and it is only now hitting me that this is not quite right, and I should look into what I can do to get back to normal. Perhaps a mild case of fatigue is almost more insidious than a severe one, because it passes under the radar, and after a while its sufferer forgets what it was like to live without it.

A pre-bedtime routine to help me get into bed earlier, remembering to take my daily vitamin consistently, a probiotic perhaps (one friend just tipped me off to that), more raw foods, more fresh air, more sun (oh…wait…no sun to be had), less caffeine, zinc, vitamin D, and a host of other potentially health-giving supplements I cannot really afford to buy from our dear local health food store “The Garden Patch.” Healing begins to feel like pulling myself up by the bootstraps, or toiling up a steep mountain trail, with a backpack full of colloidal silver and magnesium.

But I am trying to remain undaunted; I am trying to take it all seriously, even though, deep inside, I am beginning to hold a more fatalistic view of life and death. I hope it is alright to discuss this, as it is so fresh and terrible. News of the death of a woman who I knew as an acquaintance when I lived in Boston stunned and grieved me a few days ago. The evening after I heard the news, I could not sleep for thinking of her in disbelief and sadness. She was about my age, with a husband and four-month old baby boy, and among the most vibrant people I have ever encountered, and yet she collapsed and died quite suddenly, due to a hidden heart defect. This in contrast to my ninety-two year old grandmother, who suffered three strokes, did not feel quite well for years and years, and yet lingered on and on for so long before she died, just has me bewildered.

I remember a few years ago when the mother of one of my friend’s in Orlando died, also suddenly, in her early fifties. I loved her mother, but after her death my mind kept seeing her kitchen, where there were always bottles of vitamins, herbal supplements, and health foods on the counter and in the cabinets. Somehow this made her pre-mature departure that much more poignant and troubling to me–the thought of her kitchen.

The air outside the window I am facing right now is absolutely dense with a wall of snow blowing sideways. Esme naps in her crib beyond and I should be trying to take a nap too. So many obligations to my body, and yet intangible, invisible, incorporeal thoughts are far more demanding, and on most occasions I am obliged to exorcise them into written words before I can succumb to sleep, which is why I stay up later than I should, staring into the glow of a computer, over-stimulating my retinas, no doubt. I always think I want to be a writer, but the more I read books, the more I suspect that writers are not exactly the healthiest people, probably subsisting on coffee and cigarettes, and preferring nervous, psychic energy to the energy that comes from whole grain bread.

Why won’t my sore throat go away? Is my immune system in such bad shape? Why can’t I care for my body the way I care for Esme’s, protecting her sleep routine with vigor, and fretting over her vegetables, breastfeeding her long past the pediatric recommendation? I have passively accepted my low-grade fatigue for so long now– about a year and a half– carrying on with the basics of housekeeping and childcare, but feeling exhausted at the mere thought of things I used to enjoy, like thirty minutes on an elliptical machine. I hope that I can learn to care for myself better, although sometimes the litany of self-care responsibilities presents itself as a burden whose very weight may just cancel out its benefits and leave more tired than ever.

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  1. Anonymous
    February 28, 2008

    I don’t have any ideas, but I just have to say reading your post was such a relief: I’m feeling about the same way right now… If nothing else, I could use some sun. Stupid February.

    Kind of the wrong time of year, but it reminds me of a line from a WCW book – “Make my bed of witch hazel twigs, said the old man, since they bloom on the brink of winter’

  2. Jenny
    March 1, 2008

    Julia,

    I totally hear you. I am so fatigued at present–the flu knocked us all down for two weeks here and I can barely summon the strength to move.

    So now I’m thinking about laying down somewhere, although Natalie is still awake. But perhaps I could listen with just one ear and luxuriate in a moment of stillness.

    About health and sudden death–my friend Tawyna is here and we were talking about exactly the same thing–how shocking it is when vibrant healthy people die suddenly. I just don’t know what to think about it, but I am comforted that we are on the same page despite the physical distance between us.

  3. Ser
    March 1, 2008

    I had a very rough first 18 months with Luke. I think it was the mothering stuff and a really challenging child (different than your situation, it seems) but also a lot of general fatigue and illness. So I’m sending sympathy, thoughts and prayers your way!

    I remember, when getting sick for the eighth time, deciding I would try EVERYTHING in my power to beat it: probiotics, grapefruit seed extract, a neti pot, etc. I don’t know if anything really helped much, but I felt better for trying.

    Also–and this is funny, given your post–I think the thing that actually finally helped was running. I began running regularly when Luke was about a year old and kept it up for the next several years (my knee hurts a lot now so I do more stuff at the gym) but somehow the combination of the routine, the getting out of doors no matter the weather, the doing something for myself even if Luke was crying in the jogging stroller (with a rain cover) at the time, and the exercise worked wonders for me.

    Hang in there!

  4. Julia
    March 1, 2008

    Thanks, all. I do think part of this is the time of year– February– and that it will pass.

    Jenny, I find it comforting to be on the same page too. My friend Manuela and I have been talking about death a lot and sometimes we wonder if this isn’t a little crazy. So, it helps to know that we’re not the only ones who are thoughtful about these things.

    Ser, it helps me to hear your experience with Luke. Esme is a pretty easy baby, all things considered and minus her perpetual night waking habit that she still hasn’t totally grown out of. I do think I need to do something specifically cardio, and that if I can just get my heart pumping I’ll pull out of this energy slump.

  5. anna j
    March 8, 2008

    You know, as much as it sounds like a bit of an escapist cop-out, there really are times when a change of scenery does a world of good . . . I had been sick with whatever it is that everyone’s been getting, had it almost go away, and then right before I left had it threatening to return. But since arriving here I have felt so incredibly healthy, soaking up the sun and not being fazed by frustrations of the move that would have had me in tears just a week ago. Come to Cayman–come, dearie!

  6. Lynn
    March 8, 2008

    You might consider that you could have a case of postpartum hypothyroidism — low thyroid. About 30% of the cases continue on to permanent hypothyroidism. Happened to me — about 6 months after my son’s birth I was so tired I couldn’t even be bothered to see a doctor. I thought everybody was exhausted by having a child. Fortunately my clever midwife figured it out at a one year checkup and I have been on daily thyroid medication ever since. Life would be nearly impossible without it. Go ask your doctor to be tested; it is a very simple blood test and treatment regime. Feel free to ask me if you have questions. And if the test turns out negative, all the better — best wishes and hopes for a speedy spring.

  7. Lucy
    March 10, 2008

    For what it’s worth, what you’re describing is exactly what I fear most about being a mother. I already feel like my body is being drained of all its vitality and strength, and I think “wow, and I still get to sleep through the night!” I wonder if the mothers you’re comparing yourself to are, say, 26 years old? Feel free to compare yourself instead to this 34-year-old who already feels like this process is going to kill her.