Lots of people experience fatigue at one time or another. But for healthy people, fatigue is often a transient state; rest a little, and the tiredness usually resolves.
But for those of us with chronic illness, this is often not true.
Fatigue is one of the more common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s also a common symptom for other chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and hypothyroidism. I have three of these four mentioned conditions, so I can attest that fatigue interferes with my ability to get things done much too frequently.
Sometimes, though, normal fatigue can seem like it’s pumped up on performance-enhancing steroids when you’re dealing with multiple chronic illnesses. Picture this — fatigue wearing a cape that says “no matter what you do or how much you beg, I’m here to make sure that you don’t get up and about, or plan to get anything done today.”
This super-duper, mystical-strength, totally-overwhelming-fatigue actually has a name. It’s called “lassitude.”
My neurologist once described lassitude as the type of intense fatigue where even reaching for the TV remote to change a channel would take too much mental and physical effort to make it worth it, so you do nothing. Lassitude can lead to physical, mental, and spiritual inertness.
Lassitude and MS
A quick search of the medical literature reveals a lack of scientific research exploring the effects of lassitude in MS. The National MS Society states that lassitude is a type of fatigue unique to people with MS. The following are characteristics of lassitude that help to distinguish it from “normal fatigue.” It:
- Generally occurs on a daily basis
- May occur early in the morning, even after a restful night’s sleep
- Tends to worsen as the day progresses
- Tends to be aggravated by heat and humidity
- Comes on easily and suddenly
- Is generally more severe than normal fatigue
- Is more likely to interfere with daily responsibilities
What is known about lassitude is that it is not associated with lack of sleep, depression, or physical limitations. Lassitude seems to have no direct cause other than a person’s central nervous system doesn’t function as well as it should.
My Experience with Lassitude
Not long ago I wrote about feeling grateful for feeling fatigued. Sometimes it is gratifying to be able to accomplish work that leads to “normal fatigue.” I’ve experienced this as I’ve been working toward getting a house ready to be sold.
But in the past couple of weeks, lassitude has flown in with its annoying cape flapping in the wind as if to say, “whoa, now. MS is your master, and I’m here to make sure that you have no choice but to succumb to its evil plan of keeping you down and out for the count.”
Life can quickly change. But life with MS doesn’t even need a fraction of a moment’s notice to change things. Looking at the lassitude characteristic list above, I can check off each bullet point. Every single one.
Sleep doesn’t seem to help, although I feel as though I'd love to sleep for about a month straight. Naps don’t seem to help because I can’t always control when I’m alert and when I’m snoozing. I’ve dropped the ball on several projects, just to apologize to those who expect that I’m always able to keep up with everything.
In short, lassitude sucks! The typical suggestions on how to manage fatigue may or may not help.
The only thing that seems to consistently help me when I’m feeling this way is to generously give myself permissions. Permission to leave some things undone. Permission to cancel an engagement with friends. Permission to not be “Super Lisa” for just a little while, as my health is more important.
If I didn’t handle lassitude in this way, I’d truly feel like a failure. And when living with MS, we know that failure is not an option. Adaptation and patience are key.
If you think that your fatigue is more than just normal tiredness, and it’s overwhelming and ever-present, talk to your neurologist. Medication or physical therapy may help to get you headed back in the right direction —to feeling more like yourself. But most importantly, please know that you are not alone. Many of us in the MS community know exactly what you're feeling. Hang in there; it can get better.