You go to bed at 8 p.m. because you’re so unbelievably tired. You sleep pretty much straight through the night, maybe waking briefly, but nothing to hugely disturb the amount of sleep you get, before your alarm goes off at 7 a.m. for work. That’s 11 hours of sleep. Yet you feel more tired than when you went to bed the night before. How is that possible?
You drag yourself out of bed, because unfortunately you have to work to keep your house and pay the bills, so you take a shower (if you’re lucky, you can manage this), get dressed and make your way downstairs. All of this was hard because it felt like you were moving a dead weight. A body that didn’t want to do any of those things. Putting on your trousers left you breathless and getting in the shower almost made you collapse. You likely also felt a bit dizzy, lightheaded or weak whilst doing these things as well, but you’ve learned to manage them, with enough time and persistence.
As you make your way out of the house, your legs are making their best effort to stop you. Walking to work/your car/the bus stop is draining every ounce of energy you do happen to have left after that shambles of a night’s sleep. You feel sick, your heart is pounding and you’re having hot flushes.
You get to work, and even if you have a pretty sedentary job, it’s going to be a long day. The room feels freezing, even though everyone in the office doesn’t feel the same. When someone opens a window or puts on a fan, your bones ache even more and it makes all your symptoms ten times worse. You struggle to get out of your chair and walk to the toilet. You struggle to get yourself a drink or some food, if you even have the appetite for it. You struggle to type on your computer because your fingers individually hurt and your hands are weak. When the phone rings, your heart stops with the shock of a loud noise. Your reflexes are poor and your arms are absolutely aching with this heaviness that’s like having weights tied to them, but you manage to answer the phone. You forget for a second what you’re supposed to say, then you muster up a “Hello, ___ speaking. How can I help you?” It comes out quiet and often croaky. You feel drained already and it’s only 9 a.m. You’re exhausted in every inch of your body. Your fingers are heavy and stiff.
Mid-afternoon, you get a sudden slump where you feel even worse. Your eyes are now heavier than ever, your blood pressure speeds up or slows down (could be either) and things like backache and headaches set in. They’ll stay with you all day.
After what feels like a 20-hour day, you make your way home, barely even standing anymore. Your body is punishing you without any reason. Yesterday was a normal day. You didn’t overexert yourself and you haven’t done anything to deserve this struggle today.
You get through the front door and collapse on the sofa, just a few feet away from the door. You sleep for a couple hours, before waking up and seeing it’s about 8 p.m., so you make your way to bed and sleep for another 10-11 hours, maybe even more. If you’re lucky, you manage to get some food and drink. The fatigue can make you feel sick, though.
You might sleep through the night, or, despite feeling like you’ve ran a marathon, you might toss and turn, unable to sleep, knowing how awful you’re going to feel the next morning. You’re in despair and can’t bear to think about the next day. Your alarm goes off at 7 a.m. for work. You get up feeling more tired than when you went to bed the night before.
For the rest of the day, it’s a struggle to get anything done. You can’t think straight, and even the simplest of tasks take 100 times more energy than if you weren’t so fatigued. You answer the phone again later and completely forget what you’re supposed to say. You type an email and completely forget halfway through what you were going to type. Someone asked you if you want a cup of tea, and you can’t compute what they’ve asked you. You have this mental block. This is thyroid brain fog.
Most people, when reading that, would imagine this is the life of someone with the flu or a similar illness. Most people only experience a day like this when they’re ill. Not every day.
But this is a typical day of many thyroid patients and/or someone with adrenal fatigue. I have both, and I’ve had many days like this. Adrenal fatigue affects many people with thyroid problems, so those people, in effect, receive double the dose of fatigue. Often this level of fatigue and struggle are signs of a patient who is not yet on the optimal dose of medication for them (this can take a while to figure out), but for some it never really goes away. We’re all so different.
Can you imagine how fed up you’d feel, feeling this way every day? How frustrated you’d be? How much of an impact it would have on your daily life? This scenario demonstrates how thyroid patients typically have no time for socializing or doing anything they enjoy. Our lives revolve around sleeping and trying to stay awake. It’s a struggle to function “normally” and maintaining a job with this condition can be incredibly difficult. Some are even bedridden.
This absolute fatigue leaves you unable to climb stairs, unable to type on a computer at work, unable to get out of your chair, unable to just stay awake – or at least very hard to do so.
It’s more than being tired. I don’t mean “you had a late night and are a bit groggy today” tired, I mean absolutely exhausted. Like you could fall asleep with every blink you take. When getting up the stairs is such a horrendous task that you have to start planning about half an hour before you want to go upstairs to physically prepare yourself for it. And even then, you need someone to help you. I guarantee, if you do not have a chronic illness, you will not know what this fatigue feels like.
A lot of thyroid patients wake up in the morning and no matter how good their night of sleep was, they never feel refreshed. They often feel more tired and incredibly unwell. Mornings can be so difficult for a thyroid/adrenal patient. Everything is a huge effort and they never find themselves “rearing to go.” Many find themselves having to start the morning with caffeine, and it barely does anything – if it does anything at all – to help their fatigue. We get the “mid-afternoon slump” around 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. where we feel ready to drop off completely. People are often unsympathetic and can’t understand why we need to sleep so much, often thinking it’s laziness or avoidance. But little do they know!
Can you imagine your life being ruled by sleep, where everything you do has to be considered alongside your energy levels?
Many thyroid patients say they can only get things done if they have a “can’t stop” attitude. The moment they sit down or rest their eyes, they’re done for the rest of the day, and they pay for it over the next few days.
Before I got my thyroid properly treated and began looking at my adrenal health, completing simple tasks like taking a shower, doing the food shopping or putting the laundry in the washing machine would knock me out. I’d wake up after 14 hours of sleep some mornings, load the washing machine, sit down with a cup of tea and fall back asleep immediately for another five hours.
On weekends, my Saturdays and Sundays were both reserved for trying to get as much sleep as possible. I’d binge-sleep on the weekend, hoping it’d “top me up” for the working week, but it made no difference. I had no life.
With thyroid fatigue, you could get 14 hours of sleep or four hours of sleep and feel exactly the same. At my worst, I felt like a 21-year-old in a 91-year-old’s body! And that is no exaggeration. It’s especially frustrating for those of us who used to be so active. I loved keeping active and exercising a lot, but my hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue stopped me from walking anywhere and working out, which I used to do most days. I was lucky just to get to the toilet upstairs unaided. My ability to keep up work, relationships and housework was diminished.
So you can probably imagine that sometimes thyroid patients living with this have to cancel plans, and sometimes it’s quite last-minute. Though it’s no fault of their own. All they do is sleep and think about sleep and plan sleep, so when they have plans to do something else, it’s usually the light at the end of the tunnel. So if they have to cancel, you can imagine how devastated it makes them. The next time you think they might be making up excuses, being lazy or being a cop-out, please realize that when this is your life, you have no real control and you’re not to blame.