I hear my baby saying “mama” gleefully from the playpen. Anxious for attention and snuggles. I hear this as I’m sitting on the toilet with the door open, paying the price for the cup of coffee I just consumed. It’s one of those days as a mom with inflammatory bowel disease. The all-encompassing fatigue is taking hold. I knew this the minute my eyes opened, and I heard Reid in his crib, despite a restful eight hours of sleep. If you don’t have IBD you may wonder what I’m talking about.
Let me try my best to paint a picture for you. My legs feel like complete jelly. My brain feels in a fog. I feel so lethargic; the thought of showering seems overwhelming. I’m not in pain. My stomach feels fine. But, there’s something “off” and you feel it with every part of your being.
As my husband helps me unload the dishwasher, I tell him, “I’m so fatigued”…he laughs a little and says, “well, you’re 34…you are getting old.” I explain to him it’s my Crohn’s. Sure, I may be in “deep remission”, I haven’t been hospitalized with a flare since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015 (*knocks on all the wood), but that doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t impact my daily life. My husband is amazing and never says anything malicious, but unless you live it, you simply can’t comprehend it.
I’m going to be vulnerable here. Please no judgement. The clothes I washed more than five days ago, are still in the dryer. Each day I told myself I needed to walk down 13 stairs and bring them up, but it felt like too much. This morning as my husband got ready for work, needing his jeans…I remembered…they were still in the dryer. I felt like a failure. As I rocked my son in his nursery today, it took too much out of my legs to be in motion. All I was doing was sitting, his little body on my chest. But the rocking felt like too much. As I laid him down for a nap, I went back and forth in my mind about whether I could muster up the energy to shower. I chose to. Mid-shower, I had a brainstorm to sit down on the seat and take some deep breaths while the warm water hit my body. When I stood up, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had put shampoo in my hair yet or if I had washed my face. Literally no clue. These are just a few examples. But this is the reality of being a mom with IBD.
I started beating myself up over the fact that the past two days I may have overdone it. Living in the Midwest, I didn’t want two winter days with temps in the 80s to pass without enjoying them. I knew the fresh air and exercise would be a welcome excursion for my little man and me. Did those two walks with the stroller push me to my limits? What is too much? What is not enough? At 34, you feel lazy when you can’t keep up or have to admit you’re just too tired. You look perfectly fine on the outside, you feel like those around you wonder if you try and take advantage of your disease.
Here’s my advice for anyone with chronic illness, specifically IBD, especially the parents out there.
- Try not to beat yourself up over it. This too shall pass. You won’t feel this fatigue every day. As a matter of fact, days ago I had the music playing and I was dancing around with my son as I cleaned the house. I felt SO happy and so energetic. Focus on those times to get you through.
- Self-care, self-care, self-care. Whether it’s going to get a massage, exercising, sitting on the couch and enjoying some tea or going to Target to shop by yourself. Do what makes you feel at ease. Do something for yourself every day.
- Vocalize your exhaustion. If you don’t communicate your struggles, you won’t receive the comfort and help that you need. You are not admitting failure. You’re not waving a white flag and giving into your disease. Rather, you’re being strong enough to realize, in this moment, on this day, you need a little boost from those around you to get by.
- Ask for help. Boy do I struggle with this. But, it’s imperative. Especially for first-time moms. Being a parent is hard work. Being a parent with chronic illness is on a whole different level. Hold your tribe close and call on them when you need them. You won’t regret it.
- Rest. It’s ok to lay on the couch if you aren’t feeling up to doing chores. It’s ok to say no to a night out with friends. Give your body what it needs. Listen to it. This fatigue is real and by not listening, you’re only feeding into the problem more. You’ll thank yourself later.
I recently came across a statistic this week on Twitter from the Congress of ECCO (European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization) that stated, “Fatigue in IBD is experienced by up to 86 percent of patients with active disease and 41 percent in remission.” It’s crazy how common this is! For people with IBD, fatigue can be physical, mental or a combination of both.
Fatigue has a significant impact on the quality of life and needs to be talked about. If you’re like me and feeling fatigued, I hope you feel empowered to share and do what you can to combat it. Just know you are not weak, you are not lazy, fatigue impacts everyone on this journey differently. And most importantly, you are not alone.