Different breeds of tired
Categories: Mental Health
This post is all about terminology. I’ve said before that language is a fickle thing and that some words -in this context, referring to mental health- have different connotations in casual conversation, e.g. “I’ve been feeling anxious for my job interview” is not the same as someone with diagnosed anxiety saying they’ve been feeling anxious lately. And, as I’ve also said before, that’s fine. That’s how language works, not going to get in a huff about it.
What this post is about is actually my own terminology. I don’t mean to change the English language, it’s more just communicating more effectively with those around me.
The primary word that prompted this blog post is “tired”. It’s used all the time, but for my life, there are several types of tired that may appear the same, but are very quite different to be experienced. For example, I know what “all-nighter” tired feels like; the physical inability to want to close my eyes, the feeling like my eyes have something mildly sour continually subjected to them, the weird feeling in the head, like it’s filled with pudding. That’s very different than all-day-skiing tired. It’s more physical, but there’s still the aspect of being “exhausted”, feeling your brain want to turn off.
The three types I deal with on a regular basis are:
1. “Everyday stress” tired
Again, the word “stress” is used casually, so I would technically call it “Nervous-system-strained”, but that’s a mouthful, so “stress” is a good shorthand.
This one’s easy to identify for me; it’s what I feel towards the end of the day at work, and it manifests physically and mentally. The “droopy eyes” I mentioned earlier, a lesser ability to think clearly and succinctly, a general sluggishness. However, upon walking into my home -or any “safe place”, which I define as “nervous-system-feels-comfortable”- and do something that’s relaxing or familiar, the symptoms lessen greatly, if not go away completely. It’s the “tired after a long day at work” tired, but that doesn’t mean you absolutely take a nap when you get home.
2. “Normal” tired
The common one where you just didn’t get enough sleep, haven’t had coffee in the morning, or what you feel when it’s past your bedtime. You yawn (which I have to say more about later).
3. “Sedation” tired
This is the one that trips people up. I know what the others types feel like as well as other ones I have not mentioned. But, as someone who has experienced it first-hand over a great deal of time, I can definitely say that it is something different.
The best way to describe it to other people is the word: “sedated”. If you’ve ever taken melatonin, or been put under by anesthetic, that’s what it feels like. It’s not something that wears off on its own or can be taken care of by sleep (again: I’ll get to that later). It is literally (or, because I have no science to back it up, only experience and comparisons, at least my educated guess) my brain exuding chemicals that tell the rest of my body that it needs to go to sleep. Sure, some of the symptoms show up in other forms of tired, like the droopy eyes, but it feels much different, and from my learning of Somatics, it’s from a different source. And, not-so-coincidentally, it is identical to I how I felt all the time (to a much higher degree) at the height of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which, in the end, I found to be almost certainly linked to my PTSD more than anything environmental.
It deserves its own blog post, but the common concept of “fight or flight” has (at least) one more: freeze. I won’t go into the details, but the main Somatics person I go to has reiterated the point to me over and over: “It takes just as much energy for your body to shut down and freeze”. And my empirical data backs that up. Which leads to my next word.
Much more simple, there are two major types of sleep I’ve found:
1. Restorative sleep
The whole fact that we need sleep to live. You wake up feeling refreshed.
2. “Crashing”“ sleep
This is the next step to Sedation: my body isn’t trying to be restorative, it’s trying to just shut down. And spending energy to do that. And -I would argue- that despite the common conception of sleep, Crashing is not restorative. In fact, it’s very common for me to wake up feeling much worse: both in terms of how rested I feel and my mood.
People really don’t get this one, especially with the concept of tired. A family member, if she notices I’m tired (in reality, Sedated), will say "Maybe you should sleep”, not knowing that there are two types of sleep: the “good” sleep, and the “bad” sleep. And I’ve discovered that there are absolutely no benefits to the bad sleep. Crashing never helps my system. Sometimes I feel it’s unavoidable, but many of the techniques I’ve learned are to help stave off the feeling of Sedation or at the very least, the following Crash.
This one’s more just for me.
1. Sleepy yawn
If you’re Normal tired, you’ll yawn and feel more tired. Everyone knows this one, and everyone assumes it’s the only meaning behind yawning.
2. Awakening yawn
Again, bringing in Somatics, yawning is seen as a release of energy. (Or at least it can be.) If I feel myself crashing, one of my go-to's is to stretch, to push on a wall, or even do something as simple as signing (to engage the vocal chords). Even meditation can produce it. The difference is that after a good yawn, I will feel more energized. But more than that, I’ll feel less sedated. It’s a very good sign, to those who know Somatics and to me.
Upon my journey of self-discovery, being able to recognize these has helped me to better react. The hardest part about Sedation is that it nullifies my ability to think clearly, even remembering obvious things like taking my meds, eating, or asking for help when there are those who would. But better to know the enemy than to not. Similarly, while I still do Crash some days, I can (a) see it as a sign of increased sustained stress, and (b) know that it is something to be avoided. It’s not “I’ll just take a nap”, it’s “I know this, and it will only make me feel worse”. And, perhaps most helpful, recognizing the yawn has helped immensely in that it is a very tangible sign of reward. I’ve done what I call “yawned it out” during some stressful situations, going from complete shutdown to normal, or even slightly above, because if I practice my skills and yawn once, I know it’s working. It’s positive feedback. And when a large part of depression and immobilization is the diminished ability to perceive anything positive, that’s really damn helpful.
The strength to fight the “bad” aspects of these when my body is shutting it self down is another matter, but -as they say- knowing is half the battle.