(DISCLAIMER: This is my experience with chemo side effects and is not the same for all who undergo treatment)
I never knew that I wanted to be tired. I wanted to feel that drag in my step after pulling an all nighter working on homework. I wanted to feel the pull in my eyelids as I chugged a coffee and trudged to my morning class. I am a night owl and I always have been. I thrive in the evenings and late at night when my mind can wander and expand on its own accord. I could spend hours working on one project or another and never lose steam until the sun rose. Once I completed that all nighter my second favorite activity was coming: dreaming. I love to dream. To know that my subconscious is still trying to surprise me around every corner of my own mind is an incredible thing. And when I wake, I will still be tired but satisfied and ready to go. That sensation of tired meant that I worked hard and I accomplished my goals I set out for myself. That sensation meant that I would get to sleep really well the next night because I earned that sleep.
I never knew that I was using the word “tired” wrong. No. Not wrong. Too lightly. I never knew that there was a spectrum of tired. There’s the tired that you want and then there’s a tired that exists that you can’t control. It is so extreme on the spectrum that it hangs precariously off the edge of the tired scale. Any little puff of air will push it right over. This is how I feel every other week. Uncontrollable exhaustion. I never knew that there should be a new word invented that is stronger than “fatigue” or “exhaustion.” Exhaustion is not strong enough to describe the sensation of needing to sleep after chemo (or I assume any other medical treatment). The sleep after chemo is empty for several days. There are no dreams or knowledge of time passing (even though you’ve been out for almost 19 hours). You can’t focus. You’re unmotivated. Your body is weighted down so heavily you’re unsure if you will ever leave your bed again. Being awake for more than a couple hours is a challenge. I never knew how badly I wanted to be awake. I never knew.
I know now.
I know now that it’s important to take care of yourself. To listen to your body and give it what it needs even if it isn’t what you want. If that means sleeping for 22 hours or stretching out sore muscles, then that’s what you do. Maybe it means you have to take some cold medicine to prevent the sniffles. Whatever it may be, listen to your body. You can’t ignore symptoms of illness because that cough could be a lot more than a cold. I know that when you take care of yourself, you will feel better. After a few days of intensive sleeping after the chemo, I become a functional human again and I can be awake and do what I want to do again. I don’t know what would happen if I were to push my body past its limits and I don’t want to know. That’s dangerous. Not just because of chemo but because a person’s body can only take so much stress before they collapse.
I know how to prioritize now. I know that my body and health come first. Resting and healing is more important. My education can wait. This blog can wait. It’s not that I won’t get to them, it will just take a little longer than normal. But I will get there.
I know that whatever it is you’re trying to push through isn’t worth the risk. You only have one body. Pushing through illness and exhaustion is not worth it. Go and rest. You won’t perform your best when you’re feeling sick. Go and take care of you. Everything else can wait. You will get there too.
Until next time,