Key takeaways

As a health coach in a functional medicine clinic, it feels a little vulnerable to be sharing a piece about my own health - specifically my 30+ year experience of fatigue. I do want to share that experience with you, but first, there’s an elephant in the room.

I’m a health coach at a functional medicine clinic. I’m meant to be in perfect health! Well, I’m not sure that’s true, but I do my absolute best to optimise my wellbeing - it's one of the most important things to me. But I am also the bearer of some rather shonky second hand genetics. Not sure if that's how it works, but of my siblings, I got the dodgy genetic Kris Kringle. Can I return them please?

Here’s how the genetic dice rolled in my family. As the middle child of three, I’m the only Coeliac. Thanks to the likelihood that the coeliac genes can make someone sensitive to mould mycotoxins… I got that too. To date, I’m the only one who has had Melanoma. I’m a crappy methylator. My body is a bit daft at using fat for energy. I was the kid with the constant sore tummy, funny bathroom symptoms, aching joints.  

All that said, I was a bright, happy and optimistic kid. In year 6 I even won an award for being the most liked kid! (back when there were no participation awards)

It was in my teens that I started to notice a feeling of ongoing fatigue. At that stage, I needed to drink coffee to help pep me up. Having been a really sharp student in my early years, it became obvious that retaining and recalling information was becoming more difficult. I tended to be the type of person who nestled problems under the nearest rug - we’ll worry about that another time.

By now, anxiety was in full swing as well. Not social anxiety - I had health anxiety. To help you better understand how this particular version of anxiety presented, I remember watching Doogie Howser MD one Friday night and someone on the show had appendicitis and for the next six months every time my tummy niggled, I thought it must be appendicitis. I was terrified! I now know this anxious thinking had my sensitive body in fight and flight a LOT of the time. Also, I appreciate the irony that I work in health after being so terrified of all things health (illness) for years.

Leaving school and heading into the workforce, I maintained a habit of caffeine to get me through the day. It wasn’t until my third decade that I started to learn more about what was actually going on in this body that felt like was constantly betraying me.

I was soooo tired ALL THE TIME. But I still wasn’t paying that much attention to why and I could mostly push through. 

When my daughter was little, I didn’t look forward to reading to her in bed because I knew she would outlast me. And she did - almost every night. Laying down to read was a sedative. Parenting a toddler felt like the biggest job on the planet as I struggled to keep my eyes open. My daughter has put me to bed since she was about seven years old.

At the age of 33, I finally got a Coeliac diagnosis. Prior to that, I’d seen upwards of 10 doctors over many many years and many many visits. Some of them made medical notes like ‘hypochondriac’. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that doctor write that. I KNEW something was wrong. I knew I wasn’t making it up.

After the Coeliac diagnosis, I cleaned up my diet but still didn’t know enough about what my body really needed to feel better (or why I was still sooooo tired). In the 15 years since then, I've refined, explored, refined, explored…all while feeling generally quite pooped. 

If I may, I’d like to share with you some of the things that make a long term fatigue condition so difficult, in my experience:

  • I look well so people expect me to function well - it can be such an invisible illness
  • It's frustrating to know I could be doing a better job or performing at a higher level
  • It’s exhausting being tired all the time
  • It can feel unfair when I take such good care of myself and still don’t feel great
  • It can feel like I miss out on so many opportunities
  • Support isn’t offered much as the condition is invisible
  • The invites stop coming in. People stop inviting you to things (because you’ve said ‘no’ so many times)
  • It can feel lonely
  • If you’re naturally bright, bubbly or optimistic, people don’t think anything is wrong

What fatigue feels like (to me):

  • Walking through mud
  • Not quite being able to reach a thought or articulate the thought I found
  • A general sense of heaviness
  • Perfecting the craft of silent yawning
  • A constant hangover (just the energy part, not the spewsy part)
  • Struggling to stay motivated
  • Guilt for not doing more with close relationships
  • Unmotivated to create plans
  • Knowing if I do something, I’ll have to find plenty of recovery time
  • Sometimes fighting to keep the old eyes open - like there are weights on my eyelids
  • Envy - honestly, sometimes at people who aren’t pooped
  • Not being able to exercise the way I love to train

30 odd years in, I can report that my overall energy is much better than it used to be. I sometimes have a hard day, but I can say that things have greatly improved. I do feel somewhat lighter, but boy do I need to pay attention to my key pillars:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Alcohol (not having any)
  • Supplements (don’t worry what I take, it won’t be what you need)
  • De-stressing (breathing, meditating, painting, walking the dog, nature)

Mindset changes have been game changers for how all of this feels. It means those frustrations I listed above don’t weigh on me because I have wonderful alternatives. 

Tools for uplifting and optimising

Here are some of the thinkings that I employ to shift the heaviness of some of the objections to fatigue:

  • Gratitude - for everything, especially the little things. I can walk, I have a comfy bed, running water, people who love me (that’s a big thing), showers, supermarkets, sunshine, smoothies, snuggles with my dog, my daughter’s laugh (a cracking sound)
  • Reframing ‘I get to’ instead of ‘I have to’ (this nestles nicely into a gratitude mindset)
  • Setting expectations and boundaries with my peers and myself
  • Giving myself permission to adjust pace as needed
  • Working on updating the parts of my belief system of being a pleaser - changing how I show up in my world 
  • I look for clues when fatigue rears so that I’m better informed for how I choose in the future
  • Using the framing ‘I don’t (eat gluten) instead of ‘I can’t (eat gluten). Much more empowering
  • I actually really do have JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). When I cancel a plan, often this feels so uplifting! I know this won’t be true for everyone, but I love it

Even though I’ve grumbled about it and highlighted all of the rubbish elements of fatigue (I see you, fatigue people), I also want you to know I’m grateful for it. Fatigue has been my teacher. It reminds me where and when to pay attention. 

It also means that when I’m supporting a patient with fatigue, I GET you. Like absolutely anything, if you have personal experience, boy can you empathise and really be there for someone doing it tough. 

Fatigue is a personal experience. My fatigue doesn’t look like yours. Yours doesn't look like anyone else's. But we both feel it. It’s there. 

Fatigue is also not a steady state. It doesn’t feel the same every day. Some days you might even feel ‘normal’. Then the next day, it slams you on your butt and you have to adjust your output. 

What I can say about fatigue is this… it is happening for a reason. As with everything, figuring out the root cause is the way forward. Functional medicine is magnificent because every rock is overturned and possible root cause investigated. I wish I had worked with a functional medicine practitioner back in the early days. I know my road to recovery would have been so much shorter.

To be clear, I haven’t worked with any of our practitioners (conflict of interest) but I've continued to learn, implement and importantly pay attention to my body. I’ve worked with a number of naturopaths over the years and learnt something from each of them. 

If you’re reading this and it's not you with fatigue, but someone you care about, I encourage you, the next time you’re spending time with them to invite them to set the pace. Just because it's invisible doesn’t mean it's not there. Just because they laugh or smile doesn’t mean it's easy or they feel OK. What can you do to support your fatiguo amigo? (thanks to a patient for that last bit).

bee pennington health coach wearing teal dress standing smiling
Bee Pennington
Bee, an award-winning health coach at Melbourne Functional Medicine, specialises in mindset, emotional health, and maintaining healthy boundaries. Meditation and breathwork facilitator.
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Bee Pennington
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Have something to add, or want to ask
something? Join the conversation in the comments below and we'd be delighted to chat.
{ "datePublished": "Mar 21, 2023" }