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Chronic Fatigue and Me

Before my experience, I didn’t believe Chronic Fatigue was a real thing. If someone was tired every day and didn’t get up for work, I’d have thought they were ‘just lazy’, ‘had no drive’, or ‘simply didn’t want to work’. A girl had it when we were at school and most people thought that she just wanted to skip exams. My naivety and lack of consideration was purely because I couldn’t relate. At that time, I loved getting up early and going out to work, whether that was on a farm, on the boats or in a café, I was new to the working world and thriving in it.


"...which translates to ‘kissing disease’ and I was semi horrified, I said: “oh no, I have a boyfriend, I can’t possibly have that.”

This all came crashing down in 2021. I had finished an autumn shearing season in Norway and spent Christmas with my boyfriend and his family. During the off-season for shearing, I was milking cows and a general farm hand in the area, usually waking up at 4.30 to start milking at 5. Those times may sound awful for some but once I get into a routine (– earlier nights), I get used to those early morning starts and they become more natural, often I wouldn’t even need an alarm. Over the wintertime, Norway is very dark, the sun is up for maybe an hour and maybe 4-6hrs of dusk in the middle of the day, if it’s cloudy or snowing you don’t see the sun at all. I thought that something was wrong when I struggled to get up and going in the morning, there were cows to milk and I always made it to work but I was in a state of permanently feeling drained. First I started having a nap in the mornings – usually, I was home around 10/11 and would have an hour on the sofa, have lunch and then head out to milk the cows again or do another job. During my first stint in Norway, I’d felt drained and started taking Vitamin D after the advice of another Brit living in Norway, it was almost instant that I felt back to life and bouncing again. This time was different, I was taking regular supplements, eating healthily, maintaining exercise: I couldn’t work it out.


Clipping cows
Klipping cows in Ola's barn

My naps in the morning extended to lunchtime and then past lunchtime, I’d sleep right through until my next milking shift started. Originally, I thought that an hour or two would help, my sleep patterns must’ve been misaligned, and I just needed a couple of hours of rest. What concerned me was even after a total of 14hrs sleep I was waking up for work still feeling totally sluggish. I booked an appointment with the doctor; Healthcare in Norway is brilliant (especially compared to the UK) and I got an appointment the same day. The doctor seemed as puzzled as me and took 4-5 different blood samples to send away for tests; I explained that I was ‘overdosing’ on supplements as a way to try and combat my fatigue – I thought that the worst thing about taking too many supplements is you’ll just pee the excess out. We discussed many things that it could be and she wasn’t overly concerned, she mentioned ‘Kisse Suker’ which translates to ‘kissing disease’ and I was semi horrified, I said: “oh no, I have a boyfriend, I can’t possibly have that”. About 4 days later, my blood test results came back completely clear, the doctor said on the phone that there wasn’t anything else she could do for me. But I was still unbearably tired, I couldn’t sit down in a warm chair for more than a few minutes without dosing off… much to the annoyance of my boyfriend.


One morning we were talking about what it could be and he said that it matched the symptoms of his glandular fever (he’s had it years ago). I was told to lean back and open my mouth, as Ola stuck his phone (with the torch on) into my mouth “yep, you’ve got it, your tonsils are huge”. I then said that the doctor mentioned ‘kisse suker’ but I’d only been kissing him so I didn’t understand why she would suggest that. He burst out laughing, “kisse suker is glandular fever!” to this day it’s still a joke I’m reminded of often. After another appointment with the doctor, another blood test and it was confirmed. One of the common side effects of glandular fever is chronic fatigue. I had asked for some medication as spring shearing season was coming up and was told there is nothing, you have to rest, I was annoyed there was no magic pill I could take.

"The only thing I could relate it to was when I had a brain injury, I didn’t have to relearn how to form sentences and multitask, but everything took so much energy I was in a state of permanent exhaustion."

With the Shearing season coming up I had to prioritise getting right in time for my customers. In Norway Spring Season there’s a very small window in which sheep can be shorn – after the scanner has come and before it is too close to lambing time. Due to this everyone wants to shear at the same time and with 18,000+ sheep between the 3 of us, that’s a big challenge even when I’m 100% well. I was forced to accept that rest was the only form of medication and stopped the early morning milkings. What was quite scary as I slept right through the night until 10 am, a full 12 hours, plus an afternoon nap most days. The only thing I could relate it to was when I had a brain injury, I didn’t have to relearn how to form sentences and multitask, but everything took so much energy I was in a state of permanent exhaustion.


Cuddles with dog
Jane loving all the extra pats

The shearing season came around and I wasn’t ready, spring season is even tougher as it's pre-lamb. The already big ewes are even bigger as they have a belly full of lambs, this can often make them more bad tempered too. My strength wasn’t there as I hadn’t done much but sleep for several weeks, I struggled to shear a full day. Often, I would shear in the morning, sleep the afternoon, take a day off to rest and recover, then wake up to shear the next morning. I am so grateful to my shearing customers who were completely understanding and allowed me to take my time and split the work into two days. Thankfully, we (the team) were able to finish the season with all our original customers having their sheep shorn in good time.

In hindsight, continuing to shear was probably a bad idea however it was too late to get another shearer in (I’d got someone new to cover the north of Norway) and we have a duty to our customers. After the season was finished, we travelled to see friends in Italy for 6 days, fortunately, they were also very understanding and I was often left to sleep whilst Ola went to go and move fencing for the sheep.


Italian Sheep
Ola helping gather sheep in Italy

The joys of chronic fatigue mean that you’re never fully cured, it’s just something you learn to live with. Some days I’ll wake up and feel fine as if I was never ill, full of energy and this can last the whole day. Sometimes, I’ll peak and then dip later on and others I just feel knackered after a full day of sleep. Maybe it’s a sweet dose of karma as I didn’t think that this could be real, I always thought there must be something that the doctors could do or pure willpower. Despite all the willpower in the world, exhaustion does and will creep up on you.


Day to day I feel much better, tiny steps in recovery, I think eating cleanly helps too. The date this was written was just after Christmas and my diet is certainly less than desirable (Pringles are not clean eating!) however I have goals and desires to work on for 2023. There are many studies that stress is strongly linked to performance and one factor to guarantee stress is lack of sleep/rest. Although difficult I must remind myself that to perform at my best, I need rest. I’ll also add an important point that you must not compare the amount of rest you require to other people. Previously I could easily run off 2/3 hours of sleep a night, many people didn’t believe me but I worked 3 jobs at once and loved it, wouldn’t have changed a thing. Post-Glandular Fever I simply cannot, maybe I could for a short period but I would certainly crash if I tried to sustain that. To maximise the most of the hours that I am working/awake I must be fully rested to reach optimum efficiency.


Everyone’s experience with glandular fever varies it seems, I’d be interested in what works for others and maybe even trying it myself – please get in touch.

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