Why I’m so tired (all the time)

During the shut downs and restrictions of COVID-19, some people learned to bake bread or took up embroidery or learned a new language or started playing cards. I’ve added a new hobby, developed a new skill during this time too: snoring. Apparently I’ve now become a person who snores. It’s not that loud or consistent, but my husband has certainly noticed. His strategy to get me to stop, as practiced by spouses of snorers throughout history, is to nudge me enough to get me to change positions and stop. The other night, I woke up to the palm of his hand pushing into my forehead. I asked him about it in the morning, inquired why he’d punched me in the face while I was sleeping, and he said, “I can’t always tell which part of you I’m touching when I’m reaching out in the dark.”

The other morning, he reported that I hadn’t snored the night before, or at least he hadn’t noticed. We talked again, as we have been, about how weird it is that I never really snored before and now suddenly I am. I have no idea what may have triggered it. The night before that, I had slept terribly – he had eaten leftover pizza for dinner, which gave him heartburn and made him really thirsty, so he’d gotten up three times in the night, which I almost never sleep through, wonder what he’s doing and if he’s okay and how much longer I should wait before going to check on him, (I had an uncle who died under similar circumstances, got up to use the bathroom in the night and collapsed and was found later by his wife, and I’m nothing if not pessimistic), and Eric had shook me awake at least two other times that I remember, so I woke up tired, struggled to make it through the rest of the day. Eric suggested that maybe I have sleep apnea; maybe that’s why I’m snoring, why I don’t sleep that great and am “tired all the time.”

There are plenty of other reasons that I might be “tired all the time.” It’s a compound issue with a lot of moving parts, with the conditions and causes constantly shifting.

I have an auto-immune disorder. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, to be exact. This can be caused by various things and aggravated by others, but for me it’s a hereditary condition, meaning upon being born there was really no way I could have avoided it. It impacts my body’s natural hormone levels, especially those related to my energy levels. I can trick my body into leaving my thyroid mostly alone by supplementing with synthetic hormones to replicate a functioning thyroid, but it’s not a cure. Some people claim you can “heal” the disorder, cure yourself through the right mix of diet and supplements and lifestyle changes, but my lived experience shows that even with the optimal treatment and attention, I am constantly at risk for low energy and fatigue no matter how hard I try to control it.

I have been perimenopausal for 11 years now. Every year, my doctor claims this is the year I’ll go fully menopausal, but my girl stuff just keeps on humming. And yet, I still get to enjoy all the consequences, including hot flashes and sleep problems. Again, this issue is directly related to hormone levels, causing fluctuations that can cause mood swings and fatigue.

I have complex-ptsd. In particular, the hypervigilence or hyperarousal related to this condition keeps me on-alert, which can make it hard to concentrate, hard to rest, to relax or sleep. For me, this gets especially difficult after dark, with the worst being after I go to bed. I can have a really hard time falling asleep and I startle easily, wake up because of sound or lights others would sleep through, and then I have a hard time falling back asleep. If my anxiety brain decides to join the party, sleep becomes almost impossible.

I am living with burnout. The longer I’m retired, the more I realize that it wasn’t just the final couple of years at my CSU job that I was burnt out. Most likely I was for the entire 19 years. That’s not something that goes away quickly. In her book The Joy of Burnout, Dr. Dina Glouberman gives the classic signs of burnout, saying that, “Of these, exhaustion is the most defining characteristic.” She also says that for her, it took SEVEN years to get her full energy back after she burnt out. It takes time and patience to recover. I’m trying to give myself both.

I’m a highly sensitive introvert. This is like being an introvert on steroids. My nervous system is a super processor. Sensory input can be overwhelming (sounds, smells, etc.), and moving around the world, adulting and doing what needs to be done, engaging with other humans and their stuff, leads to chronic stress which leads to fatigue. In particular, I am affected deeply by the suffering of others – human, animal, and environment. And it doesn’t have to even be real. It could be on TV or in a book. This is complicated by the constant access we have to information about what harm is being done, the hurt experienced. I want to fix it, make it better, and even if I don’t know what to do, I can’t stop thinking about it, feeling all the grief and rage it triggers, the weight of it. It’s exhausting.

I live with chronic stress and pain. There are many causes, tangled up and interacting, a sticky web. It wears me down during the day and makes it difficult to get good quality sleep at night.

I have lived with depression and anxiety my whole life. Primary symptoms of these states of being? Loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, fatigue.

I have experienced some MAJOR life changes in the past few years. I lost my Buddhist sangha. I retired. I lost my teaching gig. Sam and Angela died. Every single one of these could be classified as a major life event, a major source of stress that has the potential to negatively impact my overall health and well-being, to make me TIRED ALL THE TIME.

We are currently living through a global pandemic, environmental crisis, white supremacy, and the lingering impacts of the last administration. I feel like I don’t even have to explain this to you. In this regard, I’m guessing you are as tired as I am, kind and gentle reader.

Any one of these causes or conditions have the capacity to wear me down, but combining the way they do can be crushing. I’d argue that the better question, better than “why am I so tired all the time”, is how do I even manage to get out of bed every morning?

Even with all this, I’m not giving up. I’m cultivating patience, honoring what I need, staying tender and keeping my heart open. I’m not giving up, but I might need to take a nap — every damn day.

8 thoughts on “Why I’m so tired (all the time)

  1. MJ

    I get asked, “How do you feel?”
    Exhausted, so, so, exhausted, indescribably weary. It’s just the truth.

    You seem like the only person who gets it, because you feel it in your marrow too. I appreciate your vulnerability, your sharing, it really helps me be tender with myself. And, I’ll hedge a bet that many more are in the same state, just not willing to admit it, or feel it.

    Maybe Ringo is our teacher, look how he plays, how he has fun and just how much rest he indulges in so he can have even more fun in the future.

  2. Rita Ott Ramstad

    I can relate to pretty much all of this. Your writing helps me know it’s not “just all in my head”—whatever that means. And encourages me to make choices that align with who I actually am (as opposed to who I think I am or want to be).

  3. Krissie

    Jill at this time of life “horror-mones”can be blamed for a lot of symptoms. I did a lot of blood work at this time of life and was shocked at how low some of my vitamin/ minerals levels were. Maybe having tests done would be a good start and see if that gives you any clues. If that came out ok then at least that base has been covered.

  4. Pingback: Why I’m so tired (all the time): Part Two | A Thousand Shades of Gray

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