Friday, June 22, 2012

Facets of Energy or the Lack Thereof

Are you drained? Fatigued? Tired? Weary? Worn out? Wiped out? Exhausted? Chances are if you have Crohn's, Colitis, or some form of IBD you have used all of the terms above. No matter what you do, you cannot seem to get any extra energy.

Is it mental or physical? Ask any bystander that has been around you or anyone else with IBD and their first thought is most likely mental. If someone has good health and ample amounts of energy, they cannot fathom someone actually being devoid for so long. The truth is that those bystanders are half right.

Now that I have dispensed with the information that any pain management expert already knows, let me move on to the real intent of this blog post: not all energy is the same. Sometimes the obvious needs to be said aloud or stated in a blunt manner to fully hit home. Too many people use the same sentence to describe every single type of lack of energy, "I'm tired." It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks we are slacking off and should get more sleep rather than playing around. That sentence, while it does describe a lack of energy, relates directly to a necessary bodily process: sleep. If you think your lack of energy due to Crohn's or Colitis can be cured by sleep, please continue to use that overused, catch-all sentence. Otherwise, learn to differentiate the different ways your energy is lacking.

If that seems a tad cryptic, let me go on with my own perceptions and how I describe my lack of energy on a daily basis. First and foremost, I only say, "I'm tired." when I need sleep. It is a bit difficult to be so pointed at first, but with practice it can be done. If my body is not requiring sleep, I think about the following:
- Does it feel like a lack of energy or not enough energy?
- Can I move freely?
- Can I perform a work task?
- Can I perform a fun task?
- Do my muscles hurt?
- Is my mind clouded?

These questions help me figure out what is going on. That first question is a tad odd, but it does set the tone. I started to think of very esoteric items in very concrete terms so that I could better diagnose myself. Translated: if your body is a glass that holds energy as a liquid, is the glass empty or is the glass too small. The glass being too small is the easy option. It means you can get up, move, perform tasks, but after a short span of time you become worn out since you have used all available energy. This only requires you to get a bigger glass. Having determination to move beyond this state of being worn out causes your glass to fatigue. Done properly, your body will rebuild you a slightly bigger glass every time. If only our lives were so easy and singularly layered. If your glass is empty, though, you are drained and must find a way to refill it. This is not caused by a lack of sleep, this is caused by a lack of proper nutrition. Your body is not absorbing anything and you need to figure out some way to get nutrients to your body. In the beginning, most of us will say both rather than one or the other.

Asking oneself if they can move freely is a way of determining just how physical or mental the energy deficiency is. If you can move but your muscles are sore then you are not lacking for mental energy and we move back to your body being overly fatigued. Rest your muscles to allow them to rebuild and continue the process of breakdown and rebuild. If you can move slightly but it is difficult to concentrate to keep them moving, your mind is exhausted. Yes, I am saying it is mental. Yes, I am saying there is something wrong with you. No, I am not saying you have a mental illness. Your brain is the biggest consumer of resources in your body. If it isn't getting nutrients or calories, then it is not going to work. If it is over stressed with worry, pain, or doctors visits, then it is going to give out. This is why you aren't sleepy; it has nothing to do with your body needing sleep.

Work, in this context, can be a job, career, chores or any sort of necessary responsibility. In asking myself if I can work, I am looking mostly at my mental energy and slightly at my physical energy. If I can work, then I do so. When I find that I cannot work, I see if I can perform a fun task. Anything fun relates to anything that  lacks responsibility, is for relaxation, or done for personal enjoyment. Whenever I find myself unable to perform a work task but able to perform a fun task, I know that my mind has become weary from lack of energy.

After getting through all the harder questions, I ask myself if my muscles are hurting when I am moving around. I may have touched on this previously, but it is important to know if your muscles require more attention. In most cases, your muscles will be fatigued due to over exertion. This starts a downward spiral for us since we will do less which means our muscles atrophy which causes us to wear out and fatigue much sooner.

Finally I ask myself if my mind is clouded or not. I try to ask myself the easiest question last so that I can make it through all of the harder questions. If my mind is cloudy, it takes quite a bit of willpower to push through the cloud. In this state, I could sit and watch the wall for hours without once feeling tired; my mental energy has been wiped out.

I would love to say that we only experience one of these at a time, but the truth of the matter is that we experience several at a time. Having the mental fortitude to push through any of them is tough but a necessary quality that can only be accomplished by learning to differentiate and tackle each lack of energy on its own terms. I can see some people getting mad at reading this. People that say, "You can't think or push your way through everything like a bull in a china shop." I completely agree with this; sometimes the best plan-of-action with a certain lack of energy is inaction. If your muscles are worn out, you can mentally push through it. If your muscles are fatigued, though, mentally pushing through is possible but you may cause more damage than good.

Learning to push through any lack of energy is a necessary skill that all of us must acquire in order to live in this world. What must also be learned -- at the same time -- is when we must stop. There are always going to be natural limiters on anyones body so that they don't do themselves harm. When you hit these natural limiters, you are at failure or near zero energy. You can push through this with enough mental fortitude, I have done it. I don't recommend this, though, since you can hit catastrophic failure. When your muscles or your mind are in a state of catastrophic failure, they are at absolute zero energy. There is no way to push through this and you actually do yourself harm when you hit this level. 

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