Fatigue can be hard work!

Just as I suspected last week, I find myself writing a new post, on a Saturday, ironically also the hottest day of the year so far in the UK. The reason for this is that I have had either medical or working appointments that have completely filled up the last two weeks. All of the good stuff were ‘one off’ opportunities, that wouldn’t come again, so I decided to commit to them. Luckily, my health held up and I managed to do some very interesting and fulfilling things.

In many ways, it has felt like the ‘old days’ (before cancer.) My life was never boring, different people and places everyday. There was always a new challenge to look forward to. The major difference now, is that I have to make allowances for my health. Something I never even thought about before becoming ill.

Due to my illness, life planning has become tricky, but with the exception of something unexpected turning up, I am able to organise things. I am now aware of what I can and can’t do, and how long I can do it for. I know when I need to rest, to make the most of my time. My life is a continual balance of both drugs and time. If something happens to upset the equilibrium, I have to be careful.

One thing that is a major issue for a lot of people with long term health conditions is fatigue. It is very difficult to find the cause of it. Is it because of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a long term regime of drugs, the psychological/emotional side effects of your situation, or a combination of all? Who really knows, but the effects can be very debilitating.

Fatigue, affects us both physically and mentally. Sometimes the physical effects are obvious in our appearance, but often they are not. Some of us are lucky enough to avoid the dark circles/ bags under the eyes, the ‘lived in’ look on our faces, the wrinkles that start appearing. I guess, I could put all those things under the premature ageing process. If people see clues of fatigue, they might have a slight understanding of what is happening for you.

However the issue is if you are looking reasonably well! When people see you looking ok, they seem to think that you have somehow got better. From discussion with many of my fellow patients, they find it tough, in a social environment. Not because they don’t enjoy socialising, but because it uses up a lot of energy.

Each of us has a public and private persona. When we are in public, people expect us to be, the person that they perceive us to be. If at times we are feeling unwell, people really don’t want to hear that, so you expend a lot of energy trying to be as natural as you can. They expect you to join in with all the social chit chat, which on a lot of occasions is tough. Being unusually quiet and withdrawn, seems to encourage more people to start asking questions, and the process continues.

The alternative to this scenario, is to not accept invitations to do things. This in my opinion will only make things worse in the longer term, as you may become more withdrawn. I find it particularly difficult to strike a balance, as previously, I was a ‘social animal.’ There was nothing I used to enjoy more, than being in the company of different people in different environments. Now, I have to think about an invitation. How long is it for, what will I be doing, what time will it finish?

Unless you have experienced fatigue, it is very difficult to understand it’s destructive effects. It is much more than tiredness! Some is caused by physical issues, IE blood problems, or treatment issues, but another major cause is mental. If your brain is like a fog, it can be very difficult to function properly. Even thinking straight can be exhausting.

Just ‘being you,’ can be more difficult than you might imagine. There are days, when you just don’t feel able, to put on the ‘public mask.’ Here I see another benefit of social media. You can still be in contact with people, without the effort that face to face contact can become. Please don’t think that I am suggesting that it is a substitute. In fact far from it, more complementing our lives. The importance of communication, and sharing experiences, cannot be underestimated, in whatever way we can manage it. 

In my own life, it is the many invitations which I receive, that motivate me, and get me out of bed in the morning. Although at times it is difficult. I could easily find all sorts of good reasons, why I shouldn’t, but my family and friends gently coax me through. They understand the ‘new me,’ and don’t get upset that I might want to leave early, just happy that I went in the first place!

I am lucky, being surrounded by very supportive people in all areas of my life, who now understand the issues of fatigue. But it has taken us all a long time to get to this position. I couldn’t imagine life with out my ‘team.’ This often makes me think of people trying to deal with these sort of issues, without that kind of support. You can’t just take a tablet, and they will be gone. It can be as destructive to your life as the disease itself.

These kind of issues seem to fall into a ‘grey area.’ They can effect everyone differently, therefore there is not a simple way of dealing with them. The concentration  is rightly on the disease, but the side effects seem to be forgotten at times. 

If you know someone affected by cancer, it might be difficult to understand, but at times, it can be tough for them, just to be the person you think they are.


  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I know exactly where you are coming from. I need to plan my time religiously & know my limits. But it’s the fact people think I look ok when really my battery is so flat sometimes I struggle to hold eye contact let alone a conversation at the end of a regular day. I go out less, do less, but feel ok about that with the help of Twitter. Good luck with your treatment

  2. Hi Fay

    I know how common this issue is, but it is very hard for people to understand it. That is why I decided to write about it. Your story sounds very similar to mine in many ways.

    You are right about Twitter. It is a brilliant way of keeping in touch with people, as and when u can, without overloading yourself. There is also a fantastic amount of support on there too.

    Thanks for stopping by and posting your comments, and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog. Good luck with your journey too.

  3. Oh Chris, you’ve just written down exactly how it is. Apparently I look amazingly well and it sometimes seems that everyone is queuing up to tell me, always certain that this is exactly what I need and want to hear. It so is not! Every time I hear it I just feel a little bit more pressure to work that little bit harder to be the relentlessly cheerful life-and-soul-of the-party person they perceive me to be, while I find it exhausting sometimes to keep up with simple conversations. It can make me feel very sad, lonely and isolated, but trapped in the “haapy face I’m so used to projecting to the world, very few people ever seem to acknowledge how really tough this sometimes is. Thanks for putting feelings into words so well . yet again xx

  4. Hi Yvonne

    That is exactly it in a nutshell! Like you, I am known for being busy, and having fun. People expect you to be that person, which is very difficult, if you don’t feel up to it! Also the frequent greeting is, “you look really well!” People seemed to feel they have to say that, even if you know you look terrible and tired.

    It is very tiring being trapped in a ‘happy face!’ That uses up energy we don’t really have. I have now cut down on a lot of my socialising, but my friends understand. Hopefully I can pick it up again when I feel up to it.

    Your situation is different, with younger children etc. I admire what you do, and how you get through. You have so much going on. It’s what drives you and makes you the lady you are!

    So pleased we have met each other through social media, and can share our experiences for mutual benefit. Thank you so much for your thoughts 🙂 Chris

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