Fatigue is one of four big problems that come with depression (the others are low mood, withdrawal, and concentration problems. Of course, there are problematic sub-categories as well). They all undeniably suck and the low mood can be a killer, literally, but the fatigue hits hard.
It’s in depression’s nature to drag you down. It’s not called “elevation”, after all. Depression kills sleep and appetite so the energy that trickles away doesn’t get replenished. This is unfortunate; it takes a shocking amount of energy to hold out against the demands of the disease.
Think of it like drowning. In movies, when people drown there’s splashing, flailing, coughing, and shrieking. In the real world, drowning is quiet. All your energy is being used to keep your head above water. There’s little left for anything else.
When you’re depressed, all your energy is directed at the fight. Staying out of the pit becomes the primary focus.
You don’t start out fatigued, it’s never my first symptom, but it comes, and quickly. Falling takes energy.
Depression whispers, “I’m coming.” You refuse. You dig in your heels. You fight back. You grab hold of the walls and try to keep yourself suspended. It works for a bit but the pull is severe and unrelenting.
You relax for a second because your arms are giving out but instantly slip a bit more. So, you reinforce your defenses and push back harder. But the stores are getting depleted and you’re getting tired and the depression means replenishment is problematic. Nutrient consumption falls off because eating becomes uninteresting. Sleep? Forget about it.
Little things start to get hard and are abandoned. You’re still washing your face, but no moisturizer. You still exercise because you know it’s good for you and will help but you only manage fifteen minutes. Then ten. The five. Dressing gets hard so you cut back there too. You change the shirts but wear the same pants, day after day because new seems pointless and difficult. Already worn is sitting there, easily accessible. You decide that pajamas are appropriate evening and day wear and people wear worse to the grocery story anyhow. At least you’re still going out.
From the outside it looks like giving up but inside you’re still fighting. All the energy is going to the unseen battle in your head. Nothing is left for the superfluous and everything becomes superfluous. If you’re really unlucky, the energy well runs dry. But most of the time you hold on. Most of the time there’s enough to get you through to the other side, even if it takes a helping hand.
Eventually it cycles back up. You get a good night’s sleep. Your mood lightens. You like your family and friends again. Walks up to the mailbox no longer seem daunting. Your mitochondria are getting busy.
The fatigue of depression isn’t laziness and it isn’t giving up. Some of it is biochemical, some of it is mood, but much of it is the natural consequence a prolonged and difficult fight.
Remember that when the inside voices turn nasty, when they berate you for being lazy and lethargic as mine are wont to do. There is a reason everything is hard when depression is raging.
After all, even expert runners get tired in the middle of the race. Which makes keeping up training in the off-season that much more important.