Coping with Chronic Exhaustion

This is the third morning in a row I have woken up after a full night of sleep and am still exhausted. If there is one element of fibromyalgia that bothers me most, this lack of restorative sleep is it. I can plan to go to sleep early or on time, sleep a full eight or nine hours, and still wake up in a fog, feeling like I am still sleep-deprived. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

While many doctors may explain this lack of restorative sleep differently, here is how I understand it. In people with fibromyalgia, they often have chronically low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is critical to regulating the sleep cycle. With low levels of serotonin, it is harder for the body to go into Stages 4 and 5 of the cycle. These are the very stages responsible for healing the body and regulating the immune system. In a typical night, I wake up often and rarely reach the deep sleep of Stage 4.

Given my reality, how do I then manage to go about a productive day when I am chronically exhausted and sleep-deprived? And what about when I’m on the road travelling the world? It’s not easy, but I do manage, sometimes more successfully and other times less so. Some of my strategies:

– I allow myself a lot of time in the morning to get moving and push away some of the morning fog. If I need to leave the house by 9am, I’m setting my alarm for 6am and taking the morning slow and deliberately.

– I eat as healthy as possible. When I am low on energy, I need the energy boost from whole-grains, lean protein, and vegetables. For breakfast I am especially fond of oatmeal with flax seeds; my own homemade muesli of rolled oats, almonds, flax seeds, dried cranberries and a little milk; rye bread with cream cheese and smoked salmon; and any egg dishes.

– I always avoid super sugary drinks that give me a brief sugar rush, then crash my energy levels for the rest of the day. Soda (or pop as I would call it back home) is as especially bad culprit.

– I exercise, no matter how stiff and tired I am. Often I feel so lethargic, I have difficulty motivating myself to move. I have to self-talk myself through the first few minutes of exercise and then I begin to feel a little better. My favorite form of exercise on these days is walking – low-impact on pain but huge on results.

 – A few times a week I take an afternoon siesta to recharge – short nap and cuddle up with a book or movie.

– I write everything down. When I’m feeling unusually tired and foggy, I am likely to forget things.

– When traveling, I follow these same guidelines, adjusting as necessary. I picnic or cook for myself in a hostel kitchen. I almost always prepare my own breakfast. I walk everywhere. I give myself permission to take a break from sightseeing and nap.

This is what works for me. I may not be able to always control my sleep cycle, but I can control how I respond to the situation.


About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
This entry was posted in Living with Fibromyalgia, Staying Healthy, travel with fibromyalgia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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