Oh, To Be Young and Chronically Fatigued

#ableism #ageism #chronicillness

I want to talk for a moment about the intersection of age and ability, in the admittedly limited way in which I experience it.

I have chronic fatigue. No, not diagnosed. Does it matter? I’m exhausted almost all day every day, no matter what I eat or how much I sleep or what I do during that day or how much stress I’m under at the moment. All I ever want to do is sleep.

In some situations, I can be very active; I like walking, biking, swimming, dancing, and probably a lot of things. In other situations, I can barely walk a mile without feeling like I’m going to collapse. Stairs are always a challenge, even just one flight. Even when I lived in a fourth-floor walkup and made that climb every single day, it never got any easier. That’s how I knew something was up. If you exercise every day, aren’t you supposed to get stronger?

Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details of my fatigue; I only started giving them because people don’t believe me when I simply say “I have chronic fatigue” and often don’t believe me with all the details, either, so if you respectfully disagree that I have a problem, just stop reading, I guess. My “condition,” whatever you want to call it, is one of those things that I try to avoid talking about unless it becomes an issue. It becomes an issue when people ask me to do things that I can’t, or when people make casual but (in my opinion) inappropriate comments like “You look so tired” or “Why do you look so tired.”

I’m officially a Young Person in my 20s, which means that people look at my accordingly young appearance and assume that I must feel as great as I look. And so I dread telling anyone over 30 that I have chronic fatigue, because they inevitably start with:

  • “But you’re so young!”
  • “Wait till you’re my age!”
  • “How could you possibly have fatigue at your age?”
  • “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “At your age you should have all the energy in the world!”

That last one is what kills. Yes, that’s the fucking point. I should feel better. I should have energy. But I don’t. That’s why I have chronic fatigue. That’s literally the whole point.

My other favorite is when they say, “If you feel so bad now, what on earth are you going to do when you get to my age?” Why do you think I’m fucking terrified of getting older, to say nothing of getting old? Do you think I’m excited at the idea of feeling even more fucking shitty? Do you think I have this figured out? How am I supposed to do that when the only advice I ever get is “eat more vegetables” and “exercise more”? (Already tried both.)

A lot of times, older people (by which I mean, older than the person they are currently speaking to) like to think they have some sort of monopoly on poor health, pain, fatigue, and suffering. I don’t really care to speculate on the psychological appeal of this, but suffice it to say that I don’t get it. When I’m struggling, it brings me comfort to know that other people share those struggles and understand. It brings me no comfort to loftily proclaim that nobody can possibly know the True Depth Of My Struggle, least of all because they’re not Old Enough.

Medically speaking, people my age can very much have chronic fatigue for a variety of reasons (the reason it’s so hard to treat is because there can be so many potential causes, and some aren’t really treatable anyway). This isn’t an Old People Thing or a Middle-Aged Adults Thing. Y’all don’t own fatigue and I’m pretty done with having to fight these ableist and ageist attitudes when I’m already exhausted.