Americans speak of illness in the terms of war. Dealing with cancer is almost always referred to as a fight or a battle. When a patient dies the obituary often states that death occurred only after a heroic struggle. I would submit that with chronic, painful conditions this endless fighting is a losing and costly strategy, particularly when it comes to dealing with the overwhelming fatigue that is so common among the chronically ill.
When I first became ill, I continued to cling stubbornly to the activities I’d always enjoyed—work, exercise, an active social life, the theater. The consequence of trying to maintain this busy life was that I kept getting sicker and sicker. Finally, when I started to listen to my body and rest when my body was telling me it needed to rest, things began to stabilize and then slowly improve. I learned my mind was sharpest early in the morning, but by mid-morning I needed to go back to bed for a while. Any errands or chores were best done midday. If I wanted to make dinner and enjoy an evening with my husband, I needed to rest in bed in the late afternoon for an hour or two. I learned that my energy tank often hovered near E, and I had no reserve tank. I spent a lot of time in bed for a lot of years.
I feel that making friends with fatigue was a way to honor and respect my illness and integrate my emotional and spiritual self with my physical self. It was an act of making positive peace with the reality of my new life. When I failed to pay attention to fatigue, my symptoms flared and my body let me know the rules hadn’t changed. Sometimes it was worth it to overdo a bit, and pay the price, but most of the time I complied. I learned to love the quiet and my rest period became a cherished time for contemplation and reflection, and ultimately transformation. Once I quit fighting my illness, fatigue became not only my friend, but also my teacher.