Sick and tired: handling exhaustion and hypersomnia

One of the interesting nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up in all my mental health research is this: while men tend to be more prone to insomnia when depressed, women can lean more towards hypersomnia. While I really hate lazy gender-based generalisations about health, especially mental health, I think it’s interesting that when people think of depression, it’s often a masculine image they have in their heads.

Some of that is definitely down to how limiting masculinity can be, I imagine, but aside from observing and supporting the experiences of beloved family and friends I can’t speak for the cis-male experience of anxiety and depression. So, in this entry I’ll talk a little about my experiences of how mental illness impacts my energy and sleep patterns, but please bear in mind a) feeling tired does not always equal a diagnosis of depression and b) I’m speaking purely from a place of personal experience.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me describe to you a typical day in my life since my symptoms have gotten worse. I’ll wake up, sore from having slept fitfully. Anything less than 9 hours and I’ll be moody for the rest of the day – I can quite happily sleep for 12 if given the chance. Early in the morning my cognitive function issues are much more pronounced, and I struggle to remember simple, routine tasks or process anything that’s said to me. I get very easily stressed out by any direct conversation in the first hour after waking – I desperately want to be left alone.

I’ll be tired and spacey on my commute, often missing my stop because I’ve completely disengaged from my body. I’m lucky in that by the time I’ve arrived at work, my natural preference to tackle complex tasks in the morning has kicked in, and I work well until very close to the end of the day, when I’m exhausted and headachy, unable to tackle anything more complicated than writing an in-house email.

I cook dinner on autopilot, and then I sit still for hours, tired beyond belief. If I go out to dinner or drinks after work, the socialisation leaves me drained and it takes days for me to re-establish my shaky routine. I crave time on my own like a drug, so tired of preforming my ‘high-functioning adult’ routine that there is no space for other life admin. Most of the time, I’m too tired to consider a shower, too tired to make myself do housework. I cook because in the hour it takes, I lose any energy I could put towards the dishes – these little trades are critical, and I love my partner dearly for helping me to make them. I’m well aware he doesn’t always crave the simple, sauce-in-a-jar dinners I pull together, but we both silently acknowledge that some nights, it’s all I can do to make it round the grocery store and wander home, drained and blurry-brained.

There is a reason for telling you all this, hidden away in my vague sense of embarrassment in my own uselessness. It ties in to an earlier post of mine, discussing how to value your health over your productivity; sometimes, you won’t be able to achieve much, when you’re living with mental illness.

Sometimes, you’ll be too tired to focus. You’ll play games on your phone and procrastinate basic bodily hygiene. You’ll consider rolling from your right side onto your left a huge bloody effort. You’ll leave the house to get ice cream and spend the rest of the day feeling knackered by the energy it took.

There’ll be a voice in your head, telling you it’s laziness. That this is your default setting, and you’ll never amount to anything because of this exhaustion. The voice will tell you that anxiety shouldn’t be so tiring, that life shouldn’t be this hard, that everyone else seems to be getting along fine.

There’s a culture, in life and in work, that tries to make people – particularly, I think, younger people – believe that their worth is tied in to their productivity. The issue I have with this is something I’ve written about before: if you’re moving with ten pound weights strapped to your legs, everything is more effort. Sometimes, it will take every ounce of your energy to do something that, if you were healthy, you could do without a second thought. And that if is important.

I’m not healthy. It took me a long time to come to terms with it, to begin to think of myself as living with a chronic illness and not struggling with some personality flaws (I have those, too, but laziness has never been one of them).

It’s ok if you don’t achieve anything today. It’s ok if you dust your bookshelf, and that’s all you manage to do. It’s ok if you go for a run, then spend the rest of Sunday in your PJs, exhausted by all that adulting. It’s ok if you’re a high-flying professional whose mental health issues are invisible, but you cry in the bathroom twice daily.

If you are taking care of yourself, and listening to your body, and you feel like what you’re doing is the right thing for you? Then you’re doing better than 75% of the general population. Your psychological health, your spirit, are just as important as anything else in your life. I know you’re tired. I know that sometimes you don’t remember what it feels like to have energy, to have swishy shampoo-commercial hair, to not have dishes in the sink.

Try your best, and take care of yourself. In the long run, you’ll be a better employee if you’re not burnt-out, a better partner if you’re not crabby from fatigue, a better son or daughter if you skip a trip to the shops with mum so you have the energy to make it through brunch. Try to find balance, and think about whether all the things you’re anxious about are worth this feeling of sick, aimless discomfort living in your chest.

Let some of them go. Just… let them go.

I love you. Your family loves you, and your friends. We won’t be mad if you need to take care of yourself and can’t make it to town for a coffee this weekend. We know you’ll be good for it, further down the line.

Let me know how you’re getting on.

With love, always,

Tea.

Remember to like, share and comment! Have you been struggling with hypersomnia, or insomnia?

NB: Please note, I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. This blog is intended as a personal diary, and any advice given is friendly and light-hearted – please do not use it instead of seeking professional help. If you disagree with any advice I give, please let me know. Similarly, if you are offended for any reason, please share and I will take your thoughts into consideration. Finally, if you are having violent or self-harming thoughts please seek medical help as soon as possible.

 

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