Facing Fatigue

About three months after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I realized that I was more tired than I had ever been in my life. I was tired of my joints hurting and making it hard to do everyday things. I was tired of doctors and specialists. I was tired of blood tests. I was tired of experimenting with new medications like I was some sort of guinea pig. And, perhaps most of all, I was so very tired of being tired.

It was then that my husband and I decided to take a break and get away from it all. Without much planning we packed our bags, hitched up our little tent trailer, and drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a weekend of camping. It was September and we thought it would be nice to see if the aspens had changed color yet. We were not disappointed! The aspens were honey golden and absolutely glowing in the sunlight. Standing in the grove I took several long, deep breaths. I felt just the tiniest bit better.

We knew that I needed to take it easy for the weekend, so instead of hiking we mostly enjoyed the beauty of the park from our car. We drove up a single-track dirt road to the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet. The view was breathtaking and we watched a rainstorm drench Denver far below us. On our way back down from the visitor’s center, we were lucky enough to see several herds of elk traveling across the valley. It was mating season and the elks were “bugling,” a crazy sound that falls somewhere between a high-pitched scream and a squeaky swing set. We sat by our car and watched and listened to the elk for an hour or two. For the first time in months I started to feel a little less weary.

Unfortunately, about twenty minutes into the ride home on Sunday afternoon, I realized that my body had completely run out of gas several hours before. I hadn’t realized it, but I had been accidentally running on fumes – and all of a sudden there were no more fumes. Despite my best efforts to take it easy I had still gone past my new tolerance for activity. Fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. And, without the glowing trees or gorgeous scenery to distract me, the swelling, curling, aching, and throbbing in my joints only magnified. It didn’t help that in our spontaneity I had neglected to pack the prednisone my rheumatologist had given me. I had missed two doses over the weekend and only realized how much I would pay for that mistake when it was too late to do anything about it.

By the time we got home I felt physically and mentally destroyed. I dropped like a stone into bed and lay there, joints throbbing, feeling absolutely smothered by fatigue. I couldn’t believe it. I had once been able to hike all day carrying a heavy pack, but now two afternoons of driving around looking at pretty trees and elk had turned out to be too much for me to handle. It was a very low feeling.

For most people, the word “arthritis” brings to mind joint pain and, for some, maybe issues with mobility. In fact, I probably thought the same thing when I first heard the term myself. But now I know from experience the fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis can be almost as incapacitating as the joint pain itself – and sometimes even more so. Learning to live with fatigue can be a long, complicated, and frustrating process.

I can say that in the past five years of living with fatigue, I have become much better at managing it than I was that particular weekend. These days I pay much closer attention to my body so I am less likely to get blindsided by fatigue. Based on experience I try to arrange my day to accommodate how I am feeling. I always try to get good sleep and I am constantly working to find a balance between staying active and overtaxing myself. If I find that I am more fatigued than usual, I talk to my doctor. And when I start to feel frustrated by my lack of energy, I try to remind myself just how far I have come.

How do you cope with fatigue?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (14)
  • lpritchard
    1 year ago

    Do you have any idea if autoimmunity plays a part in the fatigue, or purely the effects of RA?

  • tulugaq
    3 years ago

    It was such a relief to read this article and comments…my RA pain is well-controlled (well, reasonably: I live at about a 4-5 without analgesics most of the time), but my biggest problem has been fatigue. My rheumatologist just advises me to get more sleep, so I’ve been adjusting my behavior to deal with the constant fatigue, thinking that maybe it’s all (mostly?) in my head.

    I’ve learned, after 7 years, to schedule ONE thing each day. After a necessarily busy few days (I exhibit at craft fairs, for example), I need at least a day, maybe two, to do nothing and recharge.

    Thank you for helping me realize that what I’ve been experiencing is “normal” for RA. It doesn’t make it better, but at least I know I’m not an outlier.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lynn~

    I also find that it helps to remember that I am not alone!

    ~Mariah~ (Site Moderator)

  • Karla
    4 years ago

    Two and half years after diagnosis, the fatigue is what I stuggle with the most. Medications, changes in diet, nothing seems to help. It is better than it was, but I still find many evenings after a full work day, I can barely handle making dinner. If it weren’t for my son, I would probably exist on cereal, lol! My GP told me recently that being 50 probably is not helping my situation any. I hate that my life revolves around my energy, and that I cannot get things done like I want to. A few months ago I was off work with carpal tunnel surgery, and I found I felt much better when I didn’t have to set the alarm clock. My only hope now is that when I retire, hopefully in 17 years, I will feel better.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Karla~
    It does take some time after diagnosis to figure out the best ways to manage fatigue. I am seven years in and sometimes I feel like I am still learning! But I think it does get better with time – especially if you can keep facing forward and taking things one day at a time!
    Best,
    ~Mariah~ (Site Moderator)

  • W. Casper
    4 years ago

    The fatigue stops me in my tracks. It is extremely frustrating to be so tired.Its like having a dead battery. I struggle on a daily basis with managing the fatigue that can be so overwhelming some days. I find myself needing a nap or rest time almost every day just to get through the rest of my day. It makes it hard to plan things and to stay on track when I get so wiped out.The rest does help but sometimes I need more rest than I have time. It seems to help me to add in those rest times as part of life just like lunch or bathroom breaks.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi W. Casper ~
    I understand what you mean about feeling like you need more rest than you have time! But I think you are right that planning time to rest can be a good method for dealing with fatigue.
    Best,
    ~Mariah~ (Site Moderator)

  • Nes
    4 years ago

    Yes it is a bugger! Having to slow down my norm has been very hard. I have been lucky this week because we are on holiday in Scotland. I was fearing the worst but have managed to keep up an amazing pace at doing things…I planned 3 days of downtime when I return home just in case my body decides it needs to sleep it off before heading back to work. When it hits I am so tired I can barely move, making myself do everything is exhausting in itself!

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Nes~ Planning downtime after a vacation is a great idea! Hope you did ok and enjoyed your holiday!
    ~Mariah~ (Site Moderator)

  • Dawn Peel
    5 years ago

    Thank you for writing about your fatigue. Your story mirrors my own. My inability to be as active as I once was is one of the most devastating aspects of RA. And being tired of the pain and tired of the tired hits the nail right on the head.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Dawn – I agree that sometimes the fatigue seems worse than the joint pain! Hang in there and remember that we are here to support you!

  • Starr
    5 years ago

    I used to suffer from the constant fatigue even more than the pain. I would have to sit in my chair, sometimes for 2 hours, before I had enough energy to even take my boots off. I sometimes couldn’t keep myself from going to that dark spot, where I felt like I was just sitting in that chair, waiting to die. Luckily, now, I have found an all-natural supplement, that helps me control my pain, basically ended the fatigue and morning stiffness. I could’t be happier about that. I’ve only been on them 4 1/2 months, but my rheumy is happy with my test results, so I am very cautiously optimistic!

  • Becca Cole
    5 years ago

    Can you share what the supplement is, please?

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    So glad that you found something that works for you! Hang in there!

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