Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar. Part 1.

It's Thursday. This time last week I came home for lunch after spending the morning at the church as usual, and I slept. For three hours.
I had been having a great week: nice drive to Yass (an hour away) on a lovely sunny Monday; productive day Tuesday planning worship, finishing off a translation of a portion of Acts, pastoral visit and a walk to the post office in the afternoon; a long walk and a hearty breakfast with church folk Wednesday morning, lunch with more church folk, and more work on the translation in the afternoon.
Thursday was an early start for the midweek prayer service, but I can usually perk up after coffee. I yawned my way through the whole morning, feeling myself skidding towards a crash.

I have written of the chronic exhaustion that plagued me throughout the PhD years. Debilitating financial stress a major culprit, and for many years before those three alone. No doubt 20 years of living with depression didn't help, either.
Muscles, inflamed, ached through the tendons to the bones. Thoughts became clouded, concentration impossible, memory flaky. I could sleep for hours through the day and still get eight solid hours at night. Lethargy like a lead weight making every task laboured.

This would last for days, sometimes weeks.

I had so many blood tests at the end of 2016, I felt like a pin cushion.

But no clear diagnosis. A referral to weight management, one step on the chronic fatigue management plan. A prescription to improve pheratin levels to help oxygen get through the blood better. But no clear diagnosis.

The prescription helped. The stress was relieved through a generous loan to ease the financial burden. And the pain subsided, the energy returned.

I had a good season of rest after the thesis was submitted, six weeks of waiting for the viva with no money to spend, so I watched netflix, walked the Meadows, recovered.

I was careful during the season of transition in Adelaide, didn't rush around trying to see everyone, conserved my energy for the demands of a new city, new job, new life, to come.

I have felt the tiredness of all the newness in Canberra, certainly. But I was taken by surprise this time last week, when I slept for three hours in the afternoon, then eight in the evening, and in spurts between work during both Friday and Saturday.
Sunday I managed to get to church to lead the two worship gatherings I had prepared, after I had a good long cry in the shower. The pain, the frustration, released so I could be present for the congregation.
I was spent after the first service. After the second, I could barely stand, and wanted only to curl up in a ball and burst into tears again. Every fibre of my being ached and I felt so very ill.

Monday I found a doctor (the new things continue for a whole year, or thereabouts, when you move to a new city). I was aware that I was sitting hunched in the chair in her office, crippled by the pain of inflamed muscles, though I'd taken anti-imflammatories an hour or so before. She prescribed stronger anti-inflammatories, and three days in bed. She heard me tell of the experiences of these episodes of exhaustion in the past, the tests in Edinburgh, and wondered with me at what all that ruling out of diagnosable things might mean: chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. But still no diagnosis. I forgot to ask, actually.

So I will carry on trying to manage it based on the approaches other people have taken with chronic fatigue. I've cut caffeine right down already. I suppose the diet will have to lose other fun things like sugar and wine, or at least cut them right down, too.

Energy will need to be monitored, carefully: which means I will do what I hate to do and pull out of commitments if I find I have not the capacity to fulfil them when the time comes. More, though, I won't commit to so much, so as to conserve energy for the commitments I can not break.

I will try to remember to be kind to myself, not hating my body for doing this to me, not being too disappointed in myself for what feels like unreliability, not giving in to the fear that others are judging me weak, inconstant, hypochondriac. I don't like the thought of my colleague having to cover for me. I don't want my congregation to regret calling me, feel like I am an absentee minister.

It is hard to live with silent illnesses. I recall other children mocking me as putting it on when I asked to go to the sick room with a migraine, which would later see me throw up and sleep as the only way to recover. I recall being accused of using my back injury as a convenient excuse, or that God would only heal it if I got myself 'right' with God. I recall the shame that used to prevent me from naming my illness, depression, and I still will leave the room rather than listen to ignorant opinions about suicide.

I will be kind to myself, for I have learnt the importance of taking care of myself if I am to be present in the caring for others, as is my calling. I have learnt the importance of nurturing the health of the individual for the sake of the health of the community, of us all, fully human, only with each other.

And I will tell my story, in hope that it will encourage us all to respect and protect our energy, and to take good care with our health overall.


Heather said…
You are heard.
It sounds very hard.
Ellie said…
I hear you! Sending hugs over the airwaves.
Nicole Mugford said…
Thank you for sharing your struggles. I am wrestling with what it means to be real and honest in my own life while being in ministry. This is a really helpful example of living with struggles and joys and ministering to others in the midst of it all.

Hope you get the rest and answers you need.
Much love to you in all of that.
Phil Rodda said…
Thanks for sharing Sarah. Sharing is so important. It is healing. It is gutsy stuff that every human has to go through. In sharing others can learn how to take care of themselves. Thanks. Phil

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