Five Reasons Why Living With a Mental Illness Makes Us Exhausted

February 7, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Recovering from mental illness often makes us feel exhausted. This blog explores five reasons why mental illness makes us so tired.

I came up with this topic when I was in a state of serious depression--less than a month ago. I was certain I would never become well. Those of you who live with a mental illness understand this on a very deep and personal level.

While I was glued to the couch I started thinking about how much time I spend exhausted--some days less and some more. Mental exhaustion and physical (or both) can define a large part of our lives.

Without further explanation (coffee in hand) let's explore this topic.

Why Does Mental Illness Cause Exhaustion?

I want to make this easy to digest; a bit easier for me to write. Today is shaping up to be one of my not-so-infamous exhausted mornings and soon afternoon. Point in case: Let's make this easy on both of us!

In no particular order. . .

1. Psychiatric Medications

Yes, I know, this is obvious. My telling you that psychiatric medications cause exhaustion is something you have probably experienced and you also know that this nasty side-effect dissipates after some time. Or it does not and you move on to the next medication. Yay!

2. The Negative Impact on Sleep

Mental illness, particularly when chronic, impacts our sleep-cycle. We sleep too much or sleep too little, and this directly affects our ability to function and our level of energy.

3. Recovering From Mental Illness is Exhausting

Recovery itself is bloody exhausting! In my opinion, it is more exhausting than sleep and medication combined. Recovery takes a huge amount of mental energy and physical energy--add psychiatric medication and trouble with sleep and it can be hard to get through each day.

4. Learning About a New Diagnosis

First, you are told you have a serious and often chronic mental illness--that in itself is exhausting. Then, like a rotten cherry on the top of melted ice cream, you have to learn about the illness; the impact it will have on your life and the changes you will need to make to ensure you can recover.

PS sorry about the cherry metaphor. I'm sort of certain it's lame, but I'm exhausted at the moment and I'm not a huge fan of cherries and ice cream.

5. Learning About and Practicing Self-Care

I write about self-care, touch on it at the least, in pretty much every blog. And it's not that I like talking about the same thing but it's because self-care is important.

Learning to sleep, eat, exercise, communicate and not isolate keeps us sane. Oh, and avoid alcohol and drugs! Please! Learning how to do these things can be hard; it can feel impossible. It is, yes, exhausting.

I'm sick of the word exhausted right now but I believe it's important to validate why we often feel this way: to recognize that it's normal and will not always define our life. It's part of recovering from mental illness. It's part of the journey we take to find a place of stability. A place of, at the very least, relative peace.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, February 7). Five Reasons Why Living With a Mental Illness Makes Us Exhausted, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

February, 7 2013 at 8:46 am

I think this is one of the most misunderstood facets of living with a mental illness. People who don't have mental health issues don't realise that, like any illness, it is tiring! You're constantly exhausted. When my depression was at it's most severe, I could do a day's activity but it would take three months to recover from that one day! Nobody understood why I was so lethargic, and so I was constantly called 'lazy'. I tried to explain that mental illness carries physical symptoms, but because I looked fit and well, nobody could understand what reason I had to be tired after sitting around for months on end doing nothing.
And, yes, recovery is also exhausting! It can take the whole day to just get up and brush your teeth! Sometimes I can't even do that!

Paul Shtogryn
February, 10 2013 at 4:55 pm

Natalie I'd love to see you exhausted!I wouldn't miss that for the entire world but I guess you can say only in my dreams!Especially if you're a real grouch in the morning like me!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 11 2013 at 6:49 am

Hi, Paul,
Interesting comment:) Yes, pretty much a real grouch in the morning!

February, 11 2013 at 4:43 am

So glad that you write about this so clearly... It has me in its grip right now. I was doing well, and chaos kicked up, and now I am down.This has been encouraging, at least the part about self-care. I WILL get up and move today, painful physically as it is,and as drained as i feel. THANK YOU!!! <3

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 11 2013 at 6:48 am

Hi, Kristina!
I am glad you like the post! Check the website for more information on self-care. A lot of it includes information that focuses on how to boost our energy level.
Thanks for the comment!

February, 11 2013 at 4:46 am

thank you for writing about this. i am always tired. i have ptsd and anxiety and fatigue is always with me. i usually take a nap everyday because a morning's activities are so tiring to me. it's very hard sometimes. i don't know if it will ever change.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 11 2013 at 6:46 am

Hi, dogwatcher:
I also wonder if it will ever change. I recently tried not taking a nap each day if possible so I can sleep better at night. It's working so far but it's hard when my eyes are half closed at 12 p.m.!
Thanks for your comment,

February, 16 2013 at 11:12 am

Wow! You think you're exhausted, try being the spouse of someone who is mentally ill. While the mentally ill person is focused totally on themselves, the spouse must go to work, pay the bills, be the butt of constant negativity, and try to protect the children as much as possible. That is truly exhausting. Just a little perspective from those who are also deeply affected by mental illness.

Teri Latter
February, 16 2013 at 3:43 pm

Adding on to what Lisa says, and not to minimize in any way what those affected by these illnesses suffer, but being the mom of a son with bipolar is also exhausting, particularly during manic-psychotic episodes. Concern for the safety of my son, dealing with police, hospitals, lawyers, landlords while being subjected to enormous abuse from my son was exhausting--and will be again when the next episode hits

February, 19 2013 at 10:38 am

Lisa, the difference is that you have a choice whether or not you want to deal with mental illness. Those who are sick, do not. Just knowing that our mental illness will NEVER go away, is enough to plunge us into depression. Please know, your spouse would give anything to be in your position instead of the one he is in.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 19 2013 at 11:37 am

Megan and Lisa,
Both of you provide great examples from both ends of the spectrum. Thank you for sharing them!

Jennifer Mitchell
April, 18 2013 at 9:54 pm

Thank you for writing this. I think it is very difficult for people to understand the exhaustion that comes with mental illness. It seems to be interpreted as laziness to many. I really appreciate the energy it probably took for you to write this. It helps to know I'm not alone in my exhaustion and to understand more logically some of the reasons why.

May, 3 2013 at 1:17 am

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder is absolutely exhausting! You have to constantly monitor your emotions and behaviour and it NEVER goes away. I can SO identify with zhiv!

February, 5 2014 at 4:36 pm

Thank you for writing this, it is affirming. I just wish the people in my life would care enough to read, and at least try to understand it. Some of my family just say "buck up" or "just do it, it's not about energy, you just have to do it!!!". I have tried arguing, telling them it is not that simple, but they don't get it. They see me as simply lazy. "All you do is sit around and do nothing" or when the family debate is happening, "she just doesn't want to work". Of course these are all the same people that helped me become disabled in the first place so why do i listen to them? (another blog?).
You made a good statement that i think i will try next time i'm in the ring, "it takes energy to recover from an illness". Wonder if they can dig that deep into their thought banks to process the meaning of it. I am not sure if I didn't have MI that I would understand either. It is truly frustrating and that is a big part of why I often feel like giving up. I hate not "wanting" to do anything.
Thank you for sharing.

Huni Betenbough
March, 18 2014 at 8:12 pm

I wish I had never been diagnosed. I am exhausted from ten years of different meds and their side effects. And now that my children are beginning to experience depression and suicidal thoughts I feel helpless because I passed it on to them genetically. Had I known I was bipolar, anxiety disorder and ADD 21 yrs ago, I would not have had children. I am tired of battling the stigma and tired of worrying my family. Currently I battle with not committing suicide daily. Yes I should probably go to mental hospital but I would rather go check my self in an animal shelter because I would better treatment. Thank you for sharing.

Sara Smith
April, 2 2014 at 5:38 am

Huni Betenbough: I can totally relate to part of what you are saying. I was diagnosed 17 yrs. ago with Major Depression and have been on every anti-depressant out there. I am what they call treatment resistant. Meds work for a time and then stop. On top of that, I am so sensitive to meds and have problems with side effects. Right now I'm not on any meds for various reasons. I am so exhausted from 10 yrs. of lack of sleep from my sleep disorder. To make matters worse, my insurance company only pays for 1 therapy visit/week. But if I had to have physical therapy, they would pay for up to 3 visits/week. So, like you, I am tired of the stigma and discrimination that goes with it. And like you, I battle suicidal ideation every day. And like you, I do not want to go back to the hospital again. I have been hospitalized 2X in the past year and that is the last time I agree to go. The exhaustion has made me short on patience and tolerance. It feels like a never ending battle that I am losing.

Sandra Hamlyn
May, 21 2014 at 1:39 pm

To Megan, while I understand that you might think that the difference is that those who are there for spouses and children have a choice in whether tomorrow deal with mental illness, I'd like to inform you that I love my wife VERY MUCH and not dealing with it IS NOT AN OPTION!!! That would mean turning my back on her when she needed me most. And SORRY to say that what you said is inherently selfish. Learn that those who love don't see a choice. I will admit quite freely that sometimes my wife can be a pill and drive me to tears, but I wouldn't turn my back on her OR my child for the world. OUR only choice is to love and support those we care about, and you might go further in your own life by trying to understand that rather than hiding behind your ignorance.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

JE Stubblefield
October, 11 2018 at 8:04 am

Sandra Hamlyn,
I appreciate and applaud your love for and dedication to your wife. I believe your response to her illness is an example of love. You chose to love her and your child, which in turn nullifies a "choice" to walk away.
Please bear in mind that there are also those of us whose family members, have chosen to judge us in our mental illnesses, harshly and wrongfully. I've had to distance myself, in self preservation, from those who should love me unconditionally, because the judgment turned our relationships toxic.
What I've taken from this is that people will only love you within the confines of their comfort zone. If your illness is broader or deeper than the width or depth of their comfort zone, they will stop at the zone borders.

May, 21 2014 at 3:03 pm

you know I found out that the less I stress myself the better my mental health will be, I don't take medications anymore, I eat healthy, I sleep a lot, I keep busy walking, exercising, Reading, cleaning, or watching movies, I keep my mind busy, I have body massage at least once a week, I use herbal teas, and I love chatting with people all the time, expressing yourself takes a lot of anxiety out of your system. it Works for me, find out what Works for you, also using cannabis helps

May, 21 2014 at 11:52 pm

succinct and perfect

September, 23 2014 at 7:08 pm

On the topic of coping with mental illness for both the patient and those who love them...
I have bipolar disorder--have coped with it for the better part of 37 years, but wasn't diagnosed/treated until 17 years ago. I'm 52 now. After a 10 year bad marriage and 15 years of going it alone, God blessed me with a beautiful soul who married me in 2010--despite my illness. I thank God for him every day. I want to do everything I can to love him every day, even though I often don't have the energy to do it. I battle with a lot of guilt over that. He works so hard all the time, while I can barely get one thing done in a day...and he loves me anyway. I know how lucky I am, and how rare this level of support can be. I just want the loved ones out there to know that we love you back. It's just hard to show it much of the time. Thank you for all you do to love us in spite of our illness, and for all you do to help us cope with it.

December, 5 2015 at 8:51 am

Thank you for writing this. Great article.

May, 20 2016 at 5:31 pm

I hate the feeling of being too exhausted and deptessed
to do the things I Know make me feel less exhausted and depressed

September, 8 2016 at 10:17 am

I'm having trouble seeing Lisa and Terri's comments as anything but manipulative martyrdom. Of course being a caregiver is an incredibly tough commitment, but surely the place to toot ones own horn is not in front of those who would trade places in a heartbeat? I'm open to other interpretations though, feel free to help me understand.

Jim Gibson
June, 25 2018 at 4:02 am

It is really hard to have a mental illness. I can barely explain the feelings. Totally ignoring health and family. Thanks for the input!

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