We’re used to lining up every day on the metaphorical racetrack and sprinting off to achieve our to-do list; work, kids, shopping, exercise, trips, ’omelette Tuesdays’.
With fatigue, after those first few steps we find ourselves flat on the ground. The harder we sprint, the further we fall.
The rules of the game have changed, but our mind and body hasn’t. We still want to act in a certain way, even though we have clear evidence that it’s harmful and overwhelming to us.
We’re learning the new rules from scratch about what we can and can’t do, and we’re having to listen to our body and learn to trust it, possibly for the first time.
As a result, our recovery is naturally uneven. It involves peaks, crashes, dips, plateaus and everything in between.
It’s like riding a horse that’s only partially responding and feels like it’s careering all over the place. It can be very upsetting and disconcerting when you’re experiencing it first hand.
Perhaps counterintuitively, it’s a sign that you’re on the right track.
Dips and crashes are a central and inherent part of recovery. Horrible thought they are, our own experience is the best teacher.
From this we learn the limits of our body’s capabilities: what we can cope with at the moment, and what we can’t.
It took me many, many times of going through the same crashes to start to really listen to what my body was saying. I didn’t want to hear it, even though in hindsight the message my body was sending was clear. I didn’t want to accept that I was limited, that I couldn’t cope with things that I could previously.
This was true for the peaks of my energy as much as the crashes. As soon as I had enough energy, all my old thought patterns would come back - things I’d like to achieve, stresses, worries, pressures I put on myself. I’d rush off and try and satisfy these patterns and would inevitably crash as a result.
But in these dark moments lies a huge opportunity. It’s possibly the biggest chance we’ll ever have to make a fundamental change to our relationship with ourselves. We most likely wouldn’t make any such change if we weren’t forced into it by chronic fatigue.
We can treat it like an experiment. Every time we dip or crash, that’s really valuable information. Something was out of balance and it caused us to crash. So now we can start to figure out what it was, and try something different next time.
Sustainable long term change means habit change.
New habits take time to figure out and bed in, and old ones take time to shift. The rollercoaster of recovery is how we learn the impact of our established patterns and habits and get the info and impetus to start making the changes needed.