Crossing The Threshold

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Chronic Fatigue and the HSP

There’s pattern which repeats itself pretty much each time I find myself home alone for a few days - which with the presence of the COVID pandemic is not that often right now. It goes something like this,

I drop my wife off at the airport - living on an island, that is usually the start of the home alone period. On the way home I run a few errands, pick up groceries, and perhaps go for a walk. Over the the days that follow, as commitments are crossed off my todo list and I get into my bachelor rhythm, I notice a weariness start to creep over me. It is more than just feeling tired. It is a fatigue that seems to come from deep within my bones.

With my home life running quieter, and with nothing planned socially I find myself just resting. A phrase comes to mind - I “sit deeply”. I am perhaps reading or writing, or just sitting and watching the world outside. As I do so I feel exhaustion rise up from my body calling me to rest, and so rest I do.

As I say, this is a pattern. Whenever I find myself spending time alone for a prolonged period of time, the weariness manifests. I want to explore here what has brought this about, so first let me step back and give some context.

Pushing myself too far

Weariness and exhaustion have had a presence in my life for many years now, I am going to say for two decades. I used to push against the fatigue. I was aware of its presence, though due to peer pressure, that is me wanting to be seen to be able to be keeping up, I would deny its presence and try to push through. “Keep going, keep up with others, don’t show any signs that you are not up to the job (read weakness as my self-imposed put down).” That was the place that I lived in, measuring myself against those around me.

More importantly, and with the benefit of hindsight, I did not have a context for how I was feeling and so put my feelings down to something wrong with me. I think if I understood the reason for my feeling fatigued and had the support behind me, I would have acted more responsibly towards myself much earlier.

So, how was I feeling?

This is maybe not an easy one to answer, as at the time I wasn’t clear myself! Tired and weary, yes. Another symptom was a racing heart. I use to describe it as feeling like I had put my heart beat through an amplifier. There was this intensified beating happening in my chest and “yes,” it was uncomfortable. I could also add to these symptoms a pain in my left wrist, as if a lot of pins were being stuck into the wrist. So there was physical pain and discomfort, but no cause that I could relate these symptoms to…and so I just pushed on.

Eventually my discomfort became too much and I went to see a doctor, however the visit was not of any help. My vitals all checked out fine, and I came away with no diagnosis. Dissatisfied and now desperately wanting an answer I went to see separately a Tibetan doctor and an Acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist. From those initial consultations I choose to receive treatment from the acupuncturist/herbalist, but in their own words they both gave me the same diagnosis. It was,

that I was pushing myself, physically and mentally beyond what I could cope with, and that I needed to stop and take a look at what I was asking of myself. My batteries were drained and needed replenishment.

Relief

When I heard those words, I had a sense of relief.

I believe that deep down I knew what was going on with myself, but that I was sitting in shame (see below). With so many around me being able to operate in a different way to me, I felt as though I had to step up - whether I could or not. These doctors were giving me permission to own my pain, physical and emotional, and to step back and take a look at what I needed and who I was. They gave me permission to stop and take stock.

That diagnosis pulled the wind out of my sails. I collapsed. The next two years were spent receiving regular acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I owe that doctor so much, and regularly think of my gratitude towards him. I rested a lot and paced myself. Some days I could not get up from my sofa. I just lay there. This was fatigue, not tiredness. Like the fatigue that I spoke of at the beginning of this article, it ate through to my bones. Although no formal diagnosis was given, for those two years I now say that I had chronic fatigue.

I believe that the seeds of chronic fatigue still rest within me. I now allow myself to rest or sleep if I need to. I am so much more in control of my energy levels now. If I do feel a drop in energy manifesting, I wind things down as soon as I can. Some previous symptoms can still arise, but I take them as warning signs and use them as a signal to slow down.

So what was going on with me?

To what do I put my exhaustion down to? I identify as an introvert and highly sensitive person. I don’t let knowledge of these traits in my personality run my life, but they do inform me. I now understand where overwhelm and exhaustion are coming from when they manifest in me. I now understand the ”why” if I don’t feel like engaging in some social activity while others around me do. I understand and I listen to my needs, and don’t let shame run my life…quite so much. I used to not only not listen, but also not understand what my needs were. I told myself that I should show up just as those around me were showing up in the world, and so pushed myself to keep up with them - shame was running the show. This was not only a physically exhausting thing to do, it was emotionally and psychologically exhausting as well. As I increased the demands on my body and mind, with my reserves slowly disappearing as I wore them away, so fatigue crept up on me.

Once I started to learn about introversion and high sensitivity, I was given a context for what gave rise to my limits. With that understanding and finding a supportive community, I started to change my behaviours.

Shame

Shame is a focus on self. It is feeling bad about who you are because of what you did or didn’t do. It is equating your’s or others’ judgement of an action you did or didn’t do as a reflection of who you are as a person. Brené Brown says,

shame is a fear of disconnection,

and,

shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.1

That makes total sense to me when I look back at what I did to get myself into such a fatigued state. For me shame and lack of understanding not only corroded self belief, but also personal health. It was driven because of fear of being judged and with that, of being left out.

The blessing behind that, the silver lining is what I learnt about myself, and about shame and self-worth. I can now look back at that time of chronic fatigue with a sense of gratitude, of lessons learnt.