SINGAPORE — As a student, I would often burn the midnight oil to complete my assignments or study for exams.
Instead of months-long semester breaks, I now only had the weekends to look forward to.
As work piled up, the fatigue carried over to the weekends as well.
I would cancel social engagements and spend my weekends preparing for upcoming deadlines instead.
And when the next week came around, the routine would repeat itself all over again.
I started to ask myself: Was this the reality of working life? Is this how I would feel forever? And if I already felt this tired now, how would I have the energy to raise children in future?
‘TIRED OF BEING TIRED’
A doctor once attributed my fatigue to iron deficiency, a common affliction among young women, but iron tablets did little besides giving me constipation and nausea.
The fatigue remained and I eventually realised that I was mentally drained from work — a result of being a “kancheong spider” who is constantly anxious about work.
As it turned out, this sense of exhaustion was not just a personality quirk. A quick survey among friends revealed that others felt the same way, too.
My cousin, who recently entered the working world, believes that her fatigue stems from the daily grind.
Unlike academic life where you have clear goals to work towards, there are none at work. New targets come in just after you have vanquished one.
Another friend said that she feels a strong social pressure to keep busy and ends up feeling “like a loser” if she does not do as much as others.
Several others said that the blurred lines between work and personal hours working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic had added to the fatigue. One even went as far as to say that she was “tired of being tired”.
A SYMPTOM OF OTHER ISSUES
Counsellors that I contacted for this piece said that it is not uncommon for people to feel this way.
Mr Praveen Nair of Raven Counselling and Consultancy said that exhaustion can be episodic such as from staring at a screen for too long. Or it can be chronic, where it is prolonged and has an impact on every facet of life.
It is normally a symptom of other issues, rather than a condition or disease.
It can be caused by medical disorders such as vitamin deficiencies, workplace-related issues such as burnout, lifestyle-related factors such as poor diet and sleep, and psychological conditions such as stress.
In Singapore, fatigue is typically caused by a combination of the above.
Singaporeans, especially, tire out because of workplace-related factors followed by lifestyle-related factors, Mr Praveen added.
Ms Sophia Goh of Sofia Wellness Clinic said that the pandemic has also exacerbated this sense of fatigue.
“We might set goals like going on travels, getting married or getting a promotion, but these goals might be completely out of control because of Covid-19,” she said.
Dealing with this sense of perpetual uncertainty — where there is uncertainty over even when the uncertainty will end — can lead to long-term emotional exhaustion, she added.
At least one study suggests that Singaporeans are sleeping less and sleeping less well as a result of the pandemic.
Mr Praveen said that the best and cheapest way to tackle fatigue is to have a balanced diet and enough sleep.
People should also try to be less sedentary, reduce their screen time on electronic devices and strive for work-life balance, he added.
For fresh graduates getting used to working life, he suggested that they do up a three-year plan to chart their life trajectory. This will help to remind them that there is a purpose to the grind.
Likewise, Ms Goh suggested that working adults assess if their current life situation is aligned with the values by which they want to live, beyond the academic-driven targets that Singaporeans are used to most of their lives.
Although I value the advice given by the counsellors, I recognise that any effort one takes to manage his or her fatigue depends on one’s job and circumstances.
For example, it is challenging to draw a clear line between work and personal time when I have to work around the schedule of my interviewees.
It is also near-impossible to disconnect from social media when you work for an online news website.
Ironically enough, the pandemic has allowed me to manage my fatigue better in spite of the longer working hours.
With work-from-home becoming the norm, I am able to save on travel time. The pandemic has also given me the perfect excuse to get out of obligatory social meetings, giving me more control over how I plan my days.
I have been able to channel my free time into activities that alleviate my fatigue, such as sleep and exercise.
However, I am aware that this is a temporary fix to a problem that I had to deal with long before the pandemic.
With working from the office set to resume in the months ahead, at least to some extent, I will have to tackle the fatigue that plagued me once before.
WILL I EVER STOP FEELING TIRED?
For this column, I turned to my supervising editor, who has spent 15 years in this field, to ask whether this feeling of fatigue ever goes away.
She, too, had felt very tired when she first started working, eventually hitting rock bottom when she became a mother.
“I didn’t know what tired really was until then,” she recounted.
But it was the push she needed to turn her life around. She started exercising regularly and eventually made other changes to her lifestyle to manage her fatigue, such as eating healthily.
Ultimately though, it will take time for me to get a handle on my fatigue, she said.
“I spent years training myself to listen to my body. The more you do it, the more attuned you are to your body’s needs,” she added.
Over time, it will become easier to identify what is causing my tiredness and how to alleviate it, such as getting more sleep or eating regularly, she said.
As to my fears of whether I will have the energy for a family, she said: “If you start taking care of yourself now… you’ll have a head start in understanding your own needs, which I’ve found is a very important foundation before you can take care of a child’s needs.”
Knowing that someone in the same field has managed to tackle her exhaustion gives me some assurance that it is not impossible for me to do so either.
But until I get there, I will just take a little nap.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Navene Elangovan is a senior journalist at TODAY, covering environment and education.