Beating the Fatigue Monster

Day 2 of RA Blog Week and we’re talking about managing RA fatigue – as in how do you do it? I’ve learned over the years that managing my RA-related fatigue is both proactive and reactive. On the days that I’m well rested and have more energy, I do things that will make my low energy/high fatigue days easier to cope with.

Sundays tend to be good days for me, and so I usually do some meal prep for the week – this is the proactive part. I prepare small meals, bake and portion out healthy snacks. This week I made protein muffins to have with my coffee every day as well as a big pot of tortilla soup to reheat for dinner for a few nights. There’s also cut up veggies, trail mix and apples. I also did all of the laundry and dishes just for a good measure.

Eating healthy is paramount for me in coping with fatigue and inflammation. When I eat like crap I feel like crap, and so I go to great lengths to eat “clean” as much as possible while eating a largely vegan and gluten free diet. And water – I drink lots of water!

Exercise is another way of proactively managing my fatigue. It may sound counterintuitive, but regular exercise can help with endurance, balance, weight loss, and general well-being – all of which are important for chronic patients! My current routine is to work out after work which gives me more energy in the evening for cooking dinner and other household tasks.

As much as I try to take a proactive approach, chronic fatigue is a complex and systemic type of exhaustion that affects your whole system instead of just a certain body part.

 “People battling the chronic fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis often describe it as a deep tiredness or slowing down, akin to the feeling someone else might have while recovering from the flu.” {Source}

When the fatigue really sets in, all I can do is try to rest as much as is reasonable while balancing other commitments. Today I slept in until 9:30 before starting work, because I physically couldn’t move from bed before then. Other days I wake up feeling good, but I’ll hit a wall later in the day. When I do I’ll try laying down for an hour to regroup, or taking Penny for a walk to get some air.

Which leads me to my next, most radical coping strategy…

In July I took a job working from home full-time.

It wasn’t hard to make the decision to leave my previous firm – the environment was so toxic that it did untold damage to my health in the three years that I was there. But, after eight months of job hunting, I found myself with two very competitive job offers. In addition to my current company, I received an offer from one of the most premier tech companies in the city at a salary nearly 10% more than where I ended up.

This was a pivotal career move for me, and I was looking to play some financial catch up after years of being paid below market. The lure of the salary and lucrative benefits was undeniable, and I agonized over the decision for days – barely sleeping or eating until I signed an offer letter.

Working for the tech company would’ve meant long hours in an incredibly stressful, high pressure and competitive environment. It also would’ve required commuting nearly two hours round trip on the T each day. On bad days that kind of trek leaves me spent by the time I even sit at my desk.

While well-meaning family members encouraged me to take the money, I made the ultimate decision to prioritize my health and well-being.

Two months later I am confident I made the right choice. Working from home affords me the luxury of sleeping in a little bit later, and conserving energy and stress previously expended on dealing with my commute. I have the flexibility to optimize my working hours to the times of day I have the most energy, and to take regular breaks to eat, take short walks with Penny and even lay down and rest on my worst days. The leadership at my company also empowers me to take the time needed for all of my doctors’ appointments, Orencia infusions and even advocacy commitments for the Arthritis Foundation! While I never got to have these conversations with the tech company, my gut tells me that they likely wouldn’t have been as generous and accommodating with my unique needs.

There is no “one size fits all” solution for managing RA-related fatigue, but for me, it means a commitment to a healthy lifestyle as a means to improving my overall health with the hopes that doing so will alleviate some of the symptoms of my RA.