Post-viral fatigue basically imploded my life last year. I was a busy multi-tasking girl balancing a career in publishing with postgrad study as well as playing lacrosse, doing boot camp, having a social life, heading home to the farm every other weekend and whatever else I was trying to squeeze in to the month. Yeah, I hear you, no wonder I got sick. But that was my life, every minute allocated, even if it was just assigned to watching the latest episode of Homeland with my housemate, and it worked, I got everything done, I was insanely productive – true, I was a bit of an anxious mess – but it was just the way it was.
Cue nasty mystery virus and post-viral fatigue and I was back at my parents’ place doing nothing but sleeping, complaining about the pain and watching endless hours of TV.
So I lost my social life, all satisfaction from my work and study and contact with most of my friends as they lived in Melbourne. That’s one recipe for a spiralling depressive cycle, or at least a fair amount of anxiety about how the hell I was going to get better.
I’m writing this just over a year since I first came home to sleep 15 hours straight and the only reason I am not wallowing in self-pity is a very delicate mental balance I keep in my head. It takes a lot of self-control not to throw a tantrum about all this (who am I kidding, a tantrum would take far too much energy!) and not to feel totally despondent but somehow I manage it. How?
Well, that’s a backstory, because I’ve previously dealt with depression and anxiety in my life and have sought help from psychologists who really taught me how much influence your thoughts have on your feelings. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m a somewhat stubborn girl who sat there with a scowl on her face thinking this all sounded like crap. I just wanted a quick fix to make me feel better, but over the years I’ve really learnt how to control my thoughts and not let them influence my emotions.
What sort of thoughts? Oh, here’s a few off the top of my head: I’ll never get better/my life is shit/I’ll have to live with my parents forever etc. etc. I know very well that these thoughts aren’t helping me and I reach up with a mental hand to grab on to them and throw them as far away as possible. Because me wallowing isn’t going to lift me out of fatigue, give me energy and stop the headaches and nausea, it’s just going to make me more tired. In conversations with my doctor (who draws wonderful stick figure diagrams of me running in to walls) he has listed the things that impact the most on fatigue:
- Mental Exertion
- Depression and Anxiety
- Drugs and Alcohol
- Temperature Variations
The weird thing is, my doctor told me that mental exertion and depression/anxiety are more fatiguing than physical exertion. So if I’m not walking 5km to work each morning and I’m not running anywhere and trying to have a healthy diet and regulate my sleep and drink lots of water and get monthly massages and drink hideous green potions then I’d better keep an eye on what my brain is doing. Seems like a no brainer to me! See what I did there? Wow, I must be bored today…
Now, in a way, I’m lucky as I’d already realised how helpful psychology is, I didn’t need to be convinced of it, so when this all happened I made a Def Con 4 Code Red call to my psych and we started talking (after I recovered from walking up the stairs to her appointment room).
So, with this balance in mind (and don’t get me wrong I do still have moments of total despair and despondency and sit in front of a sad movie eating chocolate and hating my life and wondering if this is all psychosomatic) I try very hard to keep things in perspective:
- No, I do not have cancer, and through friends and family I have seen just how horrific and scary that can be. I don’t have motor neuron disease (the Facebook ice bucket challenge gave me a daily reminder of this). I am not going to die from this, and I’m not going to deteriorate. Yes it’s shitful, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.
- The doctor thinks I will get better, it will just take time, so getting frustrated isn’t going to magically speed up the clock. Also I am sooooo much better than this time last year; I couldn’t have even sat at the computer long enough to type this back then.
- I do live with my parents again after seven years of independence but they live in an amazing place in the country and we (most of the time) get on very well. I’ve lived in a series of less than appealing apartments and share-houses in Melbourne that were fine but not exactly full of light with large gardens and a view. Mum and Dad’s is a beautiful big house with a view all the way to Geelong, a river to walk along (read shuffle in many layers of clothing), pets galore and right now it’s springtime and the hills look like someone has taken a highlighter to them and all the blossoms are blooming. So, really, not such a bad place to convalesce. Also, my mum is a waaaaaay better cook than me!
- I do miss my friends and being able to whip around the corner and watch Offspring together, or meet for drinks or brunch in whichever fun Melbourne spots we want and this has probably been the hardest one to deal with. But, being close to Geelong I’ve reconnected with friends living there, I get to see way more of my brother Mike, and the friends who I really value have still kept in touch and we have brilliant catch ups whenever I make a guest appearance in Melbourne. I’ve also learned that I can be alone, I don’t need a companion/talking-buddy/walking-buddy all the time (they wear me out anyway), I can just hang out in my own company, and that’s a pretty good thing to realise.
- I don’t have satisfaction from my work in publishing but I’m also not stressed out of my mind! There are no deadlines in my life other than to be dressed by midday and in bed by 11pm; these aren’t stressful, they’re achievable. I am really enjoying writing again (in the periods where the brain fog has lifted) and I am being creative in other ways by baking far too many cakes and biscuits and slices (much to my mother’s protests as she can’t resist them) and I really am getting better at doing nothing, just being still – it’s actually quite hard for a type-A gal like me!
So, at the end of this fatigued period of my life in all probability I will be a happier, saner, more balanced individual so that my post-fatigue life will be far better for this snoozie period – I hope so, otherwise I will throw a bloody tantrum!