alt=a person staggers toward bed, greatly fatigued

Explaining My RA Fatigue

Last updated: March 2022

There’s 1 symptom of rheumatoid arthritis that I struggle with, regardless of my disease status. Even on my best days - days after my IV treatment when I feel like I can move more freely and without hesitation or ache - I am still incredibly challenged by the fatigue that comes with this disease.

RA fatigue is no joke

I have such a hard time, not only living with this facet of RA, but of explaining it to the people in my life.

For some reason, it’s so much easier for me to say to my husband or my daughter that I need to lay down because my knees are hurting, because I need my heating pad, because I need my pain medication to start working. It’s much more difficult for me to say I need to lay down because I’m too exhausted to think straight.

But that’s the truth, right? My experience with RA fatigue is thick. It descends down whenever it wants, and it lasts as long as it needs. Sometimes it's late morning, sometimes it's mid afternoon, sometimes at the end of the workday. It doesn’t really matter what time the clock says or how much sun remains in the sky - when the fatigue sacks me, I feel like I’m suddenly standing in thick mud. Every step forward is challenging. I’m completely consumed in a matter of minutes by brain fog and lethargy, and the only message my body seems to be sending to my conscious brain at that moment is that I must, must, absolutely must lay down immediately.

There is no other solution. Nothing that can rejuvenate me, that can replace my lost energy or remove the mind-numbing fog that has taken over inside of me.

Explaining RA fatigue feels impossible

When RA fatigue hits, I, for all intents and purposes, am rendered useless. So why does it feel literally impossible to communicate or explain to the people closest to me?

Why do I feel an overwhelming compulsive need to justify this exhaustion in a different way than I share or explain the physical pain, discomfort, swelling, and stiffness that RA leaves behind? Why do I feel defensive about my very visible need to rest?

The level of fatigue I experience in relation to my autoimmune diseases is much higher than what I felt before I struggled with these conditions, before I was on an immune system suppressing medication for these conditions, and is much higher than I imagine a "healthy" person feels when they are short on sleep.

I don't want to appear weak or soft

But, in another sense, I've come to understand that saying I am exhausted and struggling with fatigue feels to me like a weakness, like a character flaw.

Society makes individuals today, mothers especially, feel like they earn a badge of honor for pushing through exhaustion, for working the longest hours, for sleeping the least amount of time. Saying that I can't compete, that I need to stop, that I need to rest - it feels like a softness I'd just honestly rather not show.

Do you struggle with RA fatigue? Do you find it challenging to explain or justify to your partner, your friends, your family? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

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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.

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