The F word. One of the most weighted and troubling beasts living in the mental landscape that is my brain.
No one likes to talk about it. I try not to complain about it or fuel any thoughts related to the F word, but seeing as its grown to be a dominant aspect of my experience since my teens without any hint of letting up, I’ve decided to turn towards it with the intention of acquiring some wisdom and shifting how I relate to it.
Hence, the creation of this post.
Whole industries exist with the sole motive to cover it up, to scare it away. We all feel it to varying degrees (except for that one guy down the street), intensifying in the afternoon, or sometimes, for weeks, months, and in my sake, decades at a time.
I sip my coffee (and then my post-coffee tea), guzzle some chilled seltzer, lace up my sneakers, put on a smile, and even splash on some chipper music with the hope of snapping out of it, but as of recent, it’s fortitude has knocked me back into bed. I am forced to surrender to its agenda against my will.
I’ve canceled plans, lowered my expectations, and crossed out entire to-do lists because of the f word. My days have become simpler as a result, my choices more deliberate. Working out now looks like taking a walk to the post office (which is a marked improvement from last winter), laying down upon return, and then folding my laundry as a cool down. Very specific relationships and acts of self-care (I’m talking mindful nail-trimming and soaking my feet in epsom salts) rise to the top of the stack of importance. It’s the little acts that now take priority over achievement and anything that might stand out on a resume or pull in a pay-check: a complicated luxury I still reflect on daily.
It’s that same beast that makes something as simple as taking out the recycling feel like climbing a 16-mile hike in 93 degree weather. This feeling can intensify depending on the task, especially writing. It’s uncomfortable and my body seems to resist it, despite feeling quite mentally motivated to get these words out. I now build in space to pause or to take a nap. If I’m being honest, I often step away from my laptop to let tears roll down my cheeks, reflecting on how long this journey has been and how tired I am of being this tired, when I feel I have so much I absolutely need to say and so much I still want to do in this life.
Even before its diagnosis as something chronic and infection-based, I’ve resisted it, battled it, cried about it, and even punched walls because of it, wondering what it would feel like if it miraculously lifted.
I wonder: what would it feel like to not have to fight so hard to just exist? What if feeling and being healthy were simple?
I claw through it and spend most of my waking hours in the web-like cocoon of the F word, managing its impact with creativity, distraction, and sometimes rage. Even writing this has required stepping away, pausing, more coffee, resting, noticing some frustration, and some laughs as I learn to tend to presence of this beast. At this very moment, writing feels like pulling words out of a deep bowl of mashed potatoes and scrabble squares. But, I’m determined.
Fatigue is the beast I speak of, a mysterious and powerful texture that resides in my cells and colors every aspect of my day.
Historically, I have related to fatigue in a number of detrimental ways. I have grown angry with myself, frustrated, depressed, and have defaulted to speeding up and frantically fighting my way through fatigue. I have even added more to my to-do list for the day, to distract, to pretend all is well.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I developed the habit of literally running away from fatigue, increasing the duration of my exercise as I numbed and ignored the cues from my body to slow down and rest. Over the last 15 or so years, this has wreaked havoc on my adrenals and nervous system, perpetuated further fatigue, amplified my emotional distress, and fueled more dysfunction in the already complicated system of my body.
Given my current circumstances, I can no longer run away. I am choosing to look this beast in its maniacal eyes and ask, what are you here to teach me?
As I turn towards this beast, I am learning that my inner dialogue can send me in two opposing directions: my negative thoughts fuel more fatigue and my kinder thoughts usher me to a gentler state of acceptance that eventually serves as an antidote to the sluggish and foggy feelings I initially fought.
As of late, I have increasing awareness of the energetic impact of my thoughts, as some thoughts literally make me feel nauseous and cause my entire abdomen to swell or can instead, remind me to breathe deeper, smile, and even touch the magic, fleeting quality of the moment.
My current intention involves training the softer thoughts into the default mode so that instead of fighting, fuming, and flailing, I can welcome the fatigue as just another aspect of my human experience. I am training to let it stay for as long as it needs to, adjusting my schedule and activities accordingly and with grace.
I am learning to play my cards wisely, as if I have chosen them.
This mental training comes back to the moment-to-moment strategy I speak of so often: thought shifting. First, it means accepting that my thoughts are harming me, and then deliberately choosing better ones that actually feel lighter. The way certain thoughts feel physically directly correlate with the direction they will lead me in. If I begin to feel calmer, lighter, and even a bit more whimsical, I know I’m on the right path. If my belly feels more spacious, I follow. When things tighten or darken, I know it’s time to pivot.
If I’m lucky and have the energy to do so, I can sometimes take this thought shifting a step further. This luxury involves tuning into any wisdom that the fatigue might be vocalizing if I’m willing to slow down and hear it.
I am learning that the beast I grew to detest is actually an injured, harmless creature, looking to be nuzzled, wrapped up in a lullaby, and set down for a nap. It’s asking for me to re-evaluate the pace at which I’ve lived my life up until now, providing a completely different and slower path forward. It’s showing me exactly where I tighten up and grip my way through life, and how much better it feels to soften and soothe.
This beast has shown me how certain relationships give me the energy to sprint up the stairs and lose track of time, and how so much of my moment-to-moment experience of either suffering or joy is directly linked to how I choose to perceive it.
For now, I am learning to tend to this beast, shifting my thoughts, priorities, and actions, which naturally opens space for a kinder and more accepting way to live. What once felt so hopeless now takes on a tone of being actually quite safe and unproblematic, even refreshing with the twists and surprises. I will admit, my late twenties looks nothing like I thought it would and this beast is much larger and more demanding than I expected. Yet, I know this creature is here to teach me to live with even more gentleness and grace.