Twitter user PJ Palits recently posted a thread about why being “tired” is often the go-to response when someone with depression is asked how they’re feeling. Twitter is often a silly, argumentative, or even stupid place, but there are times when conversations and ideas flow between people in beautiful ways.
For those who don’t use Twitter or don’t like its format, I’m presenting PJ’s words here. I strongly agree and feel my experience is well-described by what they have to say. Not all of it resonates with me 100%, but an overwhelming amount does, and I think it is well-worth your attention. I also want to add that PJ isn’t being hyperbolic with these examples; that people all around you, very much including myself, experience these feelings, thoughts, and stressors.
Thank you for reading, and for seeing things from another perspective.
Allow me to explain Why Mental Illnesses Can Make People So Tired.
Chances are, if you know someone with a mental disorder or disability, you might have asked them or thought, “Why are you tired?” Not many people ask me if I’m OK, but when they do my answer is always the same “I’m fine, just tired” — and people seem to accept that reply. For me, “I’m tired” is not a complaint or pessimistic. It’s merely a fact of life.
Allow me to explain why a person who is constantly battling their own brain and societal expectations may feel so drained. These are people whose brains are stuck in overdrive and have a great amount of difficulty unwinding to fall asleep at night. For the “average” person, it takes seven minutes to fall asleep. Imagine crawling into bed exhausted and it takes the average of an hour to fall asleep, instead of seven minutes. Every nap and bathroom break and the brain relaxation delay begins again.
These are people whose sleep is frequently disturbed and who spend their nights tossing and turning instead of resting. Sometimes they’re awoken by noises, pain, an inability to keep body parts still, by loud noises inside of their heads, vivid dreams and many other reasons. These are people who wake up feeling, at best, slightly more rested than they were when they crawled into bed in the first place — like a battery that has been damaged that never seems to recharge properly. These are people who for decades don’t feel rested after their slumber.
These are people who put an immense amount of effort into focusing on the task they’re supposed to do or perform, while their minds are trying to carry them down other paths or while they are struggling to remember just what those tasks are. These are are people with working memory issues who — from school age on into adulthood — lack the skill to remember multi-step instructions in a world where they’re just expected to know how to do it.
These are people who are in a constant war with their own brain, people who are battling their own thoughts and fears; hearing every day from their brains they aren’t good enough, strong enough, skinny enough, that people don’t like them or that they should have done better; just to list a few things. These are people who are in a constant war with other people’s judgment and lack of understanding.
[People] who are often asked questions or who hear comments like, “Why are you always tired?” “Just suck it up deal with it,” “It’s just a lack of discipline,” “It’s all in your head,” “Stop being so pessimistic” and “Stop being so lazy.”
These are people who experience sensory overload that mentally exhausts them. From the clothing they are expected to wear, the food they are expected to eat, the noise around them, the sights engulfing them & the odors surrounding them, these people’s senses are constantly under attack.
These are people who are exhausted from self-advocating to people who don’t understand and don’t care to understand. These are people who spend most of every day dealing with fears that others sometimes find silly and irrational.
It’s like living on a rope bridge swaying in the wind over a canyon while you’re afraid of heights, and hearing, “I don’t understand what you’re complaining about, the bridge is secure. Suck it up and deal with it. I can do it, so you can too.” These are people who are struggling to communicate their experiences because communication is a skill that needs to be taught and exercised.
It’s like those who don’t have a strong artistic talent being instructed to create a sculpture using the items around you to present how they currently feel within the next five minutes. These are people who expel a large amount of energy trying to understand body language and emotions. It would be like showing you a picture of my cat and expecting you to identify what he’s feeling based on his facial expression and pose within minutes, multiple times a day.
These are people who are tired from the side-effects of medication, or self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of their diagnosis and the expectations of society. These are people who are struggling w/their brains to differentiate whats real and whats not, because their brains present everything to them as reality. These are people who have physical manifestations from their mental struggles because being on high alert takes a physical toll on a person.
These are people whose muscles ache constantly or whose muscles are tired from being tense too often, who get frequent headaches or migraines, whose appetite is affected and whose immune system becomes impaired… just to name a few things.
When someone tells you they’re tired, sometimes you need to look beyond their answer. Are they tired? Are they physically tired and need some sleep? Or do they in fact need you. Do they need somebody to look them in the eyes and tell them they’re not fine but that you’re there for them? Do they need someone to realize they’re not OK and to offer them a hug? Because I know when I say I’m tired, that’s what I need.
So please, the next time someone with an invisible disability says that they’re tired, please don’t treat them as if they’re lazy or irrational. Instead, imagine living your life on a rope bridge over a canyon, or imagine how you would feel if someone jabbed you and woke you up several times a night for just one year, and the physical and mental impact it would have on you.
I beg of you, on behalf of all of us fighting our own silent battles, please be patient and empathetic. Just because you don’t experience it doesn’t mean that it’s not a reality for someone else.
I’d like to thank you again for reading the above; I know it was lengthy. It’s often easy to try and hide the impact of my own limitations and situation by thinking “so many other people have it much worse.” And while that is true and that everyone’s situation is different, my situation has a profound effect on me and I have to consciously try not to compare it to others’ stories or circumstances.
Writing about depression is hard. It’s really hard. It’s admitting a vulnerability, a weakness, that can incur the distrust and even ire of friends, co-workers, bosses, and members of the community. One of the big reasons I section off everything in the Self-Reflection category from the main blog feed is the fear that someone will read something therein contained and then look at me differently, treat me differently, negatively. At the same time, I feel it’s important to get my words out there, at least as far as my blog, and to be able to stand up and defend, explain, or express what I can about them when asked.