Today I took my two younger children out to a farm park. When I got back I spent an hour painting furniture. Then I cooked our dinner.
Just an ordinary day in the life of a mum, right?
Yup. Except that by dinner-time my arms and legs were trembling with tiredness, and it was all I could do to eat. By the time I’d put my daughter to bed, I was so tired even breathing felt like an effort.
Because although, in one sense, I am an ordinary mum, in another, profound sense I am not. I am a mum with a chronic health condition.
My Crohn’s disease is in remission. I am so thankful for that. But while that means I am very happily living without daily diarrhoea and sickness, it doesn’t mean I get to live without some of the other symptoms … tiredness and bowel pain being two of them.
It’s the tiredness I want to focus on, because it is the one symptom that is so hard to explain. When people say, “I’m tired,” it can mean so many different things. Having a newborn baby introduces a whole new level of meaning to the phrase! Having two toddlers at home is yet another dimension! I’ve experienced the desperation and horror of both 🙂
But living with a chronic condition … this is a tiredness so profound that it can feel hard to breathe.
For me, right now, the worst thing about it is the lack of understanding from other people. My husband is wonderful, believes me when I say that I am too tired to pick up the toys on the living room floor, too tired to read, too tired to clean.
Not everyone is so kind.
I know what ordinary tiredness feels like, and how, most of the time, it can be pushed through. Or how, if you just sit down for ten minutes, it passes. But this is not like that. It feels as though the bones in my arms and legs have turned to lead. Moving them is hard work. It feels as though my rib-cage is weighted, as though when I breathe in I am having to lift bricks resting on my chest.
It gets me down. Very down. Because I don’t like my house being a mess. I don’t like not cleaning the kitchen sink for two weeks because by the time I’ve done the basic essentials like emptying the dishwasher and cooking dinner, I’m out of energy. I don’t like telling my kids I’m too tired to play with them. I don’t like choosing a freezer-to-oven meal yet again because the healthy, home-cooked option is too hard. I don’t like saying to friends that going out in the evening is too much at the moment.
It makes me sad and angry that just taking my kids out for a couple of hours leaves me wiped out. I hate what this condition has stolen from me.
I get upset that my weight has crept up and up over the past two years because when I’m down I eat, and I have no spare energy for proper exercise. I joined a weight-loss programme last year, but decided that the stress and extra work of preparing meals from scratch was making me tired and irritable, and though I loved the impact on my body, I decided that, right now, being there for my kids is more important than how I feel about my body (and fitting in with a cultural stereotype of what is beautiful).
This is not meant to be a complaint. I’m writing this so that, if you too are living with a chronic condition, you have something to show those who do not understand you. Sometimes it helps to read something by a third party.
So if a loved one or friend of yours has just shared this with you, read more into their ‘I’m tired’ than how you feel after a long day’s work. Instead, remember the last time you were properly ill, and the first few days of recovery (when you’re well enough to be out of bed, but doing ordinary things leaves you wanting to crawl back into bed). That’s the level I (and your loved one) live at most days. We can manage ordinary things, so it looks like we’re ok. I can hoover my house, clean my bathroom … but then I have to stop and rest, or I’d have nothing left for my kids when they come home.
I’m constantly having to choose, to make sacrifices, to conserve my small allowance of energy, making it stretch. I make choices most people don’t have to weigh up: Do I sort out the pile of laundry or take my toddler to the park today? Do I go to the supermarket or arrange to meet another mum and toddler? I want to do both, but I know it will be too much.
Sometimes I choose something knowing I will suffer for it (like today), because I’m sick of this tiredness ruling my life. But I can only do that so often.
And what makes it 100 times worse is when people don’t understand, don’t even try to understand. It leaves me drained and upset when people judge me as a failure, assume I’m lazy, weak, ill-disciplined … and I have no opportunity to correct them. When people ask how you are, you can hardly launch into a long explanation of how you feel, so “I’m quite tired at the moment”, has to suffice. It barely scratches the surface.
But it humbles me, which is a good thing, and I am learning to rest in the fact that God knows I am doing everything in my power to please him. I am learning to be happy that he understands, he knows. But every now and then, someone else’s complete lack of understand really, really hurts.
So if you know someone with a chronic condition, be kind. Remember times you have felt like even ordinary life was too much, and how frustrating it was for you, just for two or three days. Let the person have a little moan every now and then, maybe even cry on your shoulder. Leave out the judgement on their house, appearance and life choices. Perhaps they hate having crumbs on the floor as much as you do, but don’t have the choice of whether to leave them another day or not. Have a bit of compassion for them. Because now you know what they mean when they say, “I’m tired”.