I want to talk today about, for want of a better word, a thoroughly un-glamorous topic particularly in relation to mental health; fatigue.
Here’s a recurring scenario; most nights, I set my alarm for the next morning with the intent of springing out of bed as the music hits, and bouncing from the breakfast plate to the shower to my desk in short order, ready to crack on with my day and tackle that lovely big to-do list I’ve assembled – which believe it or not, I’m normally very motivated to plough through.
The following morning without fail, I’ll wake up feeling like I have a) not slept at all and/or b) taken a German suplex from Brock Lesnar. Aches, sore and super uncomfortable. My alarm will go off, and somewhere in my brain I’ll remind myself of last night’s pledge. But my heavy body will stay rooted in bed. I’ll roll over and check social media. That ‘quick check’ will become ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty-five, sixty minutes plus. My dad will even bring a cuppa tea in. Much appreciated, but sometimes even that will go cold before I’ve even managed to haul out of bed.
And I really do mean haul.
Fine, I’ll have some breakfast, that’ll wake me up. Not so much. Back to social media, browsing Facebook seemingly on auto-pilot. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll be well aware of what I promised myself I’d do today. But the distant shouts are lost in a fog. By this point if the rusty cogs in my brain have started turning, it’s to become engaged in some Twitter drama or daunting headline I’ve read. Forget that to-do list sitting whistling nonchalantly on my desk. I’ll sometimes look down and see the words on the page, but good luck having them still make sense once they’re in my head.
A hot shower might help wake me up. And generally, it does.
Brush teeth, shave, get dressed, do some chores. Holy shit, some momentum!
But then I sit down and confront that to-do list, and it all grinds to a halt again. Literally. My brain will genuinely feel like treacle. Inspiration and clarity get lost in the fug. So it’s back into Twitter auto-pilot again. Where, strangely enough, I’ll have all the motivation in the world to rant about certain things or get involved in lengthy back-and-forth conversations. Occasionally, a panic will set in as I look at the clock, promise myself ‘I’ll get working at the top of the hour’ and realise the top of the hour came and went ten minutes ago. This will sometimes be followed by a full-on existential crisis, as the old poisoned parrot pipes up again; you’re wasting your life away, you’re worthless, just sitting on your arse procrastinating while everyone else gets on with their lives, what’s wrong with you?
And then I STILL don’t get working. I know deep in the pit of my stomach I’m wasting time. I know it. So why can’t I change it? How the hell is it so hard to start? And even when I do manage to start something, and hell, even manage to FINISH a task – after many distractions, natch – why do I just feel more slothful after? Where’s the momentum?
And so said cycle continues, as night follows day.
Leaving the house is sometimes helpful, for example if I have to go somewhere or choose to go for a walk, or as I’m doing now sitting in a corner of my local Beefeater with my laptop. But that presents its own problems. On Monday I had a jobcentre appointment in the afternoon, so took my laptop with me in the promise of finding somewhere to sit and crack on in order to kill time before my bus home later after the appointment.
One foot on the bus, and the anxiety attack hit. And it’s always the same one if I’ve left the house and no-one else is in. Did I check everything? Did I leave the gas on? Did I leave a tap running? Did I switch everything off? Am I going to come back to find a house flooded, on fire, ransacked? And as irrational as this all is – I already went round the house THREE TIMES before I left – logic doesn’t defeat anxiety in the same way it does depressive thoughts. So I tried and ride it out. Which I did, successfully. Great, right?
Except once I was in town, I was absolutely exhausted. Heavy shoulders, yawning, feet filled with lead and a treacle brain even thicker and hard to penetrate than normal. Getting the bus into town has left me physically spent like I’ve just run a marathon. Seriously? Bang goes another attempt at a productive day.
I bring this all up because for me, this might well be the most frustrating part of my mental health. For years, I thought I was just world class at procrastination and the laziest sloth around – and on point one, I don’t deny it for a second. But is there a reason for this? Is my brain on lockdown because everything that lies ahead feels so scary that it’s not worth processing? Or is it so exhausted from previous battles that the energy just isn’t there no matter how good a sleep I got? Hence, the title of this piece. How comes I know exactly what I want to do and when I want to get up, but my body just will not co-operate?
How can crawling through a day seemingly doing next to nothing be such friggin’ hard work?
And trust me, I’ve read thinkpiece after listicle about improving one’s productivity. B vitamins, exercise, organisation, drinking water. Some have worked, sporadically – if I can even manage to drag myself into putting such habits into practice, and normally they fall away after 2-3 weeks. Sometimes I’ll have a great day, and be able to hit that streak of ticking off item after item on my to-do list. Normally it’s when I’ve tricked my brain into only realising I’ve got daunting things to do after I’ve started doing them. But such moments are like catching lightning in a bottle. And my bullet journal has been useful in some ways, but even then, drawing out spreads and putting thoughts & plans on paper can sometimes feel like I’m asking myself to move mountains. And of course, all that time spent auto-piloting around Facebook watching my friends (seemingly) effortlessly go to work everyday, crack on with stuff, get those big breakthroughs in their lives and careers, hang out with pals and live their lives is…hardly helpful to a brain which likes to remind me over and over again how long it took me to merely get up that morning and how useless I am as a result.
Like I said at the top, this is perhaps not the most glamorous (if you can call it that) aspect of mental health discussion. But for me it’s becoming the most important. A body and brain permanently running on empty, possibly as a result of said brain not working properly, means anything else becomes far more difficult as a result. And any attempts at self-confidence are repeatedly undermined when the most menial tasks or attempts at making oneself feel good feel like 60-minute Iron Man matches back-to-back.
Is it a mechanism against anxiety, or a result of anxiety attacks being pretty exhausting to ride through? Is it a refusal to confront things that will bring up depressive thoughts, or a result of biting back against depressive self-talk for so long? Is it something else altogether, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a deficiency of some kind, or an Aspergers trait which expands a lot of mental energy on certain things?
It may be none of these, it may be all of these. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than being asked what I did with my day, and inspite of a huge amount of energy being expended, having not a whole lot to show for it.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve had similar battles with mental exhaustion, and what helped you out. For now, I’m about to make myself a cuppa tea and reflect on the irony that I sat down and did something productive by writing a post about not being productive. *insert chin stroking emoji here*