Understanding the effects of fatigue and how to plan your life around it can take a long time.
When Belinda Medlock had a stroke at the age of 47 she thought she would be able to return to her job after a few weeks.
She had recently started a role working with children with behavioural difficulties and was keen to return as soon as possible. However, although she has made improvements, her stroke left her with cognitive issues and chronic fatigue which made returning to employment impossible.
Belinda, who is sharing her story as part of our Brain Drain: Wake up to fatigue! campaign, said figuring out how to manage and identify her fatigue was incredibly difficult.
“Fatigue can be a frightening experience because of the effects it has, it’s like a complete loss of control over your body and it can take a long time to understand. It took me a couple of years to begin to even get a grasp of it,” recalled Belinda.
In those first few months especially, I didn’t realise the difference between physical and mental fatigue. However with time, I eventually learnt to treat my brain as a battery – with some things draining it quicker than others.
Belinda said the key to coping with her fatigue was to recognise the scenarios in which she is most at risk and try to plan around it.
She said: “The more there is going on around me the sooner I shut down. Noise and visual activity drains my battery very quickly, so I have to limit how often I’m in noisy, busy places.
“On the occasions when I do want to do something where it’s busy, like seeing friends or going on the train, I have to save my energy up in the days before so that my battery is fully charged.
“I used to feel guilty for resting so much but as time has gone on I have learnt that it is what I need to do to be able to function. I do everything in small manageable chunks, 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and then rest.
“My rest has to be in complete silence and I do nothing. It took a long time to understand that listening to music or watching TV weren’t helping me to rest, it’s more for my brain to process and therefore is not recharging.”
The impact of fatigue on Belinda’s independence has also been difficult for her to adjust to.
She said: “When fatigue strikes I become disorientated and unaware of my surroundings, speaking becomes very difficult and I am confused, so it makes it unsafe for me to be alone.
“This has an impact on my social life as I often have to say no to seeing friends and going out as I need to be sensible and pace myself.
“A few of my friends who have seen how it affects me understand and thankfully my family are brilliant and recognise the signs and know my triggers. They are really supportive and accepting that I have to do things my way.
“However, there are a lot of people who don’t really understand the severity of it and I get that, it’s complex and very difficult to convey in words.”
Belinda said the worse thing anyone can do is fight their fatigue.
She said: “Accepting that you have do things differently is very important.
“I used to feel like I should be able to push through it and keep going, but that doesn’t work. It’s about adapting, trying to manage it and making the best of the situation.
“I also think you have to try new things and coping strategies so you can find out what works. Through trial and error you eventually work out what will help you manage it better but it will take time.
I try not to be disheartened if something doesn’t work, I learn from it for next time. I suppose the best thing is to be patient with yourself and don’t feel guilty for resting, it’s a necessity.
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