It’s Like Going Up Everest With No Oxygen : On Living With Fatigue

At the end of 2016 I publicly apologized for being such a shitty friend, for being such a shitty freelancer, for being such a shitty pretty-much-everything else.

2016 had seen me become the shadow of the shadow of my former self. It had started as a beautiful year; full of so much promise, full of so much hope, full of so much good stuff, all that good stuff that you think won’t ever happen to you, and then when it does, life really lives like a beautiful work of fiction. My writing career was on the up, and I could practically touch my goal – to be a full-time freelance by the time I turned 30.

I had my bi-polar pretty much under control, and being on planet earth was something I really wanted to experience. But then, mid-year, I was swallowed up by a chaos I thought I’d left far behind, and existing became something so fucking difficult.


Fatigue like I’d never experienced before set in, and everything became a struggle. The motivation that made me me vanished. The enthusiasm that I carried with me wherever I went evaporated like a ghost caught in sunlight. I was losing life so fast it should have terrified me, but I didn’t have the energy to care.

Logging into my Outlook account to look at my emails was draining in itself, actually replying to anything was like going up Everest with no oxygen. I just didn’t have it in me to do it. I didn’t have it in me to do anything.

Getting out of bed in the morning took a colossal amount of effort. Once I was up, I’d eat some cereal, make some tea, then be back into bed before I’d had the chance to take a mouthful of my brew. That’s when I knew things were really bad – when I couldn’t drink my tea.

Sometimes I’d sleep until mid-afternoon, then stumble around in a daze for the rest of the day, mumbling incoherently and doing things like forgetting to turn the oven off, or putting my clothes on inside out, or forgetting to brush my teeth until it was time for bed again.

I felt lost, afraid and worthless. I’d always prided myself on keeping on top of my communication. I’d always met deadlines with work. Not being able to reply to people for days, weeks, in some cases months had me wanting to disappear into the forest and not come out. Not being able to work to the standard I had set for myself damaged my soul. It was almost as bad during the manic periods. Unable to sleep I was endlessly restless but unable to focus and do anything constructive.

This quote from Martha Graham sums up the experience well…

‘There is a fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration; there are daily small deaths.’

…as does this one from Sylvia Plath…

‘I feel occasionally my skull will crack, fatigue is continuous – I only go from less exhausted to more exhausted & back again.’

I envisaged people saying ‘don’t trust that Katie Metcalfe, she’s fucking useless.’ After 30 years of building up my reputation – both as a writer and a friend – I felt like it was as vulnerable as Arctic ice. There was nothing I could do but brave the storm and wait to see which faces would be there when the clouds cleared.

The clouds have started to clear now. I’m finding my footing again and feel supported. But fatigue is still something I need to deal with on a nearly daily basis, and it can impact me in some fucking ridiculous ways like…I’ll start to put my makeup on, then, before I’m even half done applying my foundation I’ll think ‘I can’t finish this.’ Or, I’ll want to wear something different, but don’t have the energy to decide what, so I throw on what I’ve been wearing for the past three days. Or, I’ll start washing my hair and already dread the energy it takes the dry it. Or, I’ll go to bed in my clothes and makeup because taking them off is just too much.

But I have a plan to weave in some coping mechanisms to make existing with fatigue that bit easier:

I will…

  • Go to bed at the same time every night – 11.30pm (Hard because we’re re-watching American Horror Story : Murder House…)
  • Wake up at the same time every morning –
  • Avoid the TV and my laptop right before bed
  • Actually get out in the sun

While I’m counseling myself to think positive and adopt bravery like never before, I think it’s important to share this quote from Alyssa Reyans.

‘Bipolar robs you of that which is you. It can take from you the very core of your being and replace it with something that is completely opposite of who and what you truly are.’

Just because you can’t see the hurt and the torment and the sheer fucking hellfire of a mental illness doesn’t mean it isn’t there.



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