At the beginning of June, I noticed something that hit me like a ton of bricks. It was that familiar, gnawing, edgy fatigue. I returned from teaching each day unable to move, feeling like every little task required insurmountable effort, and wondering how I was going to do what it took to get my kids in naps without snapping on them so I could collapse. I looked this last intense year full in the face and thought- here we go again.
It’s a good thing God has had me thinking back on times of suffering and appreciating all they taught me about God, His world, and myself. It’s time to remember, re-apply, and petition God for what He wants to teach me during this season.
Fatigue Used to Seem Normal to Me
One of the first words I learned in Russian was “устала” (oostala)- the word that means “tired.” As dear friends and I teamed up with followers of Christ in Ukraine to lead summer camps for orphans in Ukraine with Little Lambs Ministry in the summers of my late high school/early college life, we quickly understood what that meant.
The Ukrainian and American leaders greeted each morning as the sun barely began to rise and tucked in each day after it had set with a time of prayer and praise. As we breathed in the dew saturated air, thick and hot, and sat yawning on the damp, wooden benches with their bright, primary colors peeling off, we would greet each other, asking, “How are you?” to the familiar reply of “Oostala.” God did great things each summer with some very tired Ukrainians and Americans. For me, even as a youth, tired was a normal part of life.
Boundless Tiredness and Burnout
Flash forward to my Junior year of college, a seemingly boundless tired feeling had consumed me. I felt like an ox strapped up to a heavy cart. I was pulling and pulling that cart. Up to my shoulder blades in mud, I was pulling and pulling and feeling like I could barely move.
I had carried too much stress for too long, and my entire stress system had collapsed into adrenal fatigue which turned into chronic fatigue. But I didn’t know what that was or how to get better. My doctor checked me out each year and offered sleeping pills, which I was afraid of due to their addictive nature, so I politely declined. I dredged on through the mud, pushing and pushing a body that just couldn’t push, running on smoke for four years before I’d get any insight into what was happening to me and how to get out of it.
How Had I Gotten to This Place?
In my Intro to Psychology class, we had to fill out some long questionnaire about stressors in our lives. I remember just scoffing at it- so many of the items applied to me that it wasn’t even funny. By the degree of stress the survey calculated I must be in, I should be close to death or something- but as far as I could see, I was fine!
I quickly added other forms of stress to the list:
- Taking a full, academically rigorous course load- and then adding some classes and auditing others on top of that.
- Doing my required weekly ministry each semester- and adding a couple more on top of that.
- Carrying the pain of many people I cared about- family members with mental illness and alcohol addiction, friends, my little sister in the Big Brother Big Sister program in Cabrini Green and her whole family, the elderly folks lonely and forgotten in the building where I lived, the homeless people (many of which had mental illness) that my friends and I were investing in.
- Loving deeply and losing some I’d loved (to heaven and to other places on earth)
- Moving a lot
- Traveling a lot
- Not sleeping (years of insomnia)
The list I’d filled out was ridiculously long, but these stand out as the strongest that seem to have affected me.
I am just intensely passionate about so much, and I’m so darned driven and perfectionistic, that it is easy for me to create stress for myself out of nothing.
My Fatigue-Filled Years
Through my college years, I noticed these things to increasing degrees:
- Lack of energy
- Exhaustion, but inability to sleep
- Continued fatigue, even when I slept
- Increased effort required to do every day tasks
- Lack of hunger, but hypoglycemic reactions if I didn’t eat well enough
- Brain fog
- Decreased memory
- Decreased tolerance
- Overall burnt-out feeling
How Did I Recover From Adrenal/Chronic Fatigue?
After I burnt out my Junior year, ran on smoke my Senior year, and returned home, I scaled back everything. I lived with my mom for a year, and worked for a family I knew well. The mother in that family had been a mentor to me, but had passed away from brain cancer. So, I homeschooled the kids for a while, drove them to their Christian school after that ended, cleaned their house, got their groceries, and cooked. It was a low-stress job working only 30 hours a week.
I focused on:
- Sleeping well- going to bed by 8 or 9 (10 at the latest) and practicing good sleep hygiene.
- Taking supplements recommended for adrenal fatigue.
- Exercising- If my 80 year-old great uncle could walk for miles every day of the year except the 3-4 he was in the hospital for heart trouble, by golly, I could at least walk.
God healed me.
How Did I Get Here Again?
The last 10 years or so have been largely free of that life-crushing burned out feeling of fatigue. I think it has been a progression back into it.
I have had the general tired of a pregnant woman/mom of young kids for the last 6 years. I can’t think of many parents of infants and small children that aren’t tired. I know my years of baby incubating and feeding took a toll and had me tired. But it wasn’t the knock-down-drag-out complete exhaustion that hit me this summer.
In June 2016 I had a couple surgeries to repair some of the damage having huge babies had done with my hypermobility (genetically, my ligaments and connective tissues are like stretched out rubber-bands, making my muscles do extra work and leading to joint injuries, hernias, prolapse, etc). I had too many organs protruding from too many stretched out spots and some things needed put back so I could function as normal.
The Worst Pain of My Life
One of those surgeries required major recovery- and hurt worse than anything I’ve ever experienced (more than very painful child deliveries-yes, even the 4 hours of pushing and consequent c-section-; more than a reoccurring back injury). Yet, as I was in the worst of it, God gave me incredible confidence that- He’s brought me through so much-He’ll bring me through this, too.
Paying the Bills for My Big Fix
I was scheduled to teach (and began doing so) a week after the surgeries- but I couldn’t even stand up straight until about 3-4 weeks out. During the weeks after my surgery, I was thinking up ways to do what I love and make money at it to help pay off these somewhat unexpected surgeries. I wanted to homeschool, so, what could I manage while homeschooling?
- Write those 2 books on the theology of God for kids that I am passionate about
- Continue teaching for Missouri State University (MSU)
- Help with Curriculum Projects for MSU
- Start a business in my field (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
Why not do it all at once? (and after major surgery)
So, I started headlong into writing the 1st 3 chapters of my books I was proposing, starting a website for my business, starting my first course for my business, working on curriculum projects for MSU, teaching for MSU more, and spending more time on this blog. All the while, I was enjoying homeschooling and learning to cook and eat better (which takes a little longer than the out-of-the box, preservative-packed, high fructose corn syrup filled solutions our country has come to know and love).
I knew it was a lot. I knew I could only do all of that at that pace for a season.
That Season is Over
That much at that pace ended the first week of June 2017. My brain went foggy and I couldn’t remember the names of people I saw regularly or people that played key roles in my life further back. I couldn’t count on my short term memory to remember anything, so that fleeting remembrance of a bill I need to pay or a person I needed to call had to be written down immediately. My ability to multi-task, which I have long depended on as a busy mom of little kids, was temporarily gone.
Ox Up To Her Shoulders in Mud
I was tired- that ox-stuck-in-the-mud-pulling-the-cart kind of tired. During a week-long class I taught in early June, I came home each day around noon unable to move. I would look at my kids wiggling in their seats at the dining room table asking me a string of questions, and my heart would sink. How on earth was I going to patiently manage lunch and get them the next step into naps? Why on earth is it painfully hard to pour milk and then heat of the plate and then clean up the spilled milk… Each step was such a chore.
So, if you noticed a lag on my blog earlier this summer- this is why. I’d been writing blogs every day almost. I’d lie in bed and write mental blogs of things I’ve been learning about how to engage deeply with the Lord and with those you love. I’d been writing blogs in my mind about how to improve relationships, love God’s Word more, parent sons with respect, delight in the moment, and so much more. But I had had no capacity to put them down on paper other than a jot here and a note there.
Investing In Yourself
I’ve been reminded of what an important investment it is for those we love when we invest in caring for ourselves.
By pushing myself from dawn till late every day with no rest, neglecting things I personally enjoy that help me rest, feeding my kids and forgetting to eat enough myself, and just plain doing too much too hard, I became incapable of even doing normal daily stuff my family needed me to do.
Getting Back on Track
By making eating well(and supplementing my deficient adrenal system), rest, and sleep major priorities, I’m getting back on track. I’ve felt better the last month than I did at the beginning of the summer. I’ve been finding that I have more to give when I take care of myself.
No way am I giving up on any of my dreams. I’m just pacing myself to reach them more realistically. This summer I focused mainly on teaching, and it went well.
I am much more careful with prioritizing, and that is helping. My top goal is my writing, and after that, the others take tiered steps down from that. For example, if my books move forward, they will be my only focus for the season until their done. That way I can do an excellent job on them and love my family well at the same time. Prioritizing well makes achieving goals manageable.
Best of all, God has been teaching me what it means to Carry Yourself Light
My desire is that through this blog, you will be inspired to:
- engage deeply with the Lord and those you care about
- embrace wholly, bringing your whole self to the table to connect with others, and
- delight lavishly, celebrating the consequential and minutia of life.
So, if you’re tired
I encourage you to dive deep in your relationship with God. He will carry you moment by moment as you depend on Him. And take care of yourself. Pushing and pushing (at least in the experience of this one person writing to you) often leads to an even worse exhaustion.
Take breaks through your days to delight in the good that God has placed in your life. Laugh every chance you get. When you start getting snappy, take a 10-minute time out to do something that refreshes you. And keep first things first.
Take a little time to sip life slowly and enjoy it.
Have You Ever Had Life-Crippling Fatigue?
What did you do to recover? What did you learn about God through it? Please share in the comments below and encourage others that might happen upon this and need fresh ideas.