There are lots of great metaphors and models for explaining fatigue to people who don’t know much about ME/CFS. Fatigue is very different from being tired. One can recover from tiredness fairly quickly or receive a boost from a coffee or even fresh air. Fatigue is more prolonged, it remains despite efforts to revive yourself and, certainly for people with ME/CFS it remains no matter how much sleep you get. Probably the most famous is the Spoon Theory which I like a lot. When explaining my fatigue to my nine-year-old son, I used a model I found online about a computer game character whose energy bar is reduced by doing tasks and only regenerates, slowly, with complete rest. This made a lot of sense to him.
I have thought a lot about how to explain fatigue to my family and friends. The best way, that I can come up with, is to imagine that I am a smartphone and not a very good one! Unfortunately, the battery usage in this smartphone has been damaged, either by a virus or by being dropped it doesn’t really matter the main thing is it is not as effective as it used to be.
On this smartphone, as with every smartphone, are a number of apps. Each of these apps performs different tasks and, as such, drain the battery at different rates. If too many apps are used too often the battery will drain quickly and the phone will go into standby mode until it is recharged.
However, because the battery is damaged it will never fully charge, no matter how long it is connected to the charger and compared to other phones, there is only ever a relatively small amount of battery life available. In addition, using an app while the phone is connected to the charger will drain the battery faster than it can be charged.
So, in order for the smartphone to work one would have to make sure not too many apps are used too often, and that there are ample opportunities to charge the phone throughout the day making sure the phone is not used whilst charging.
Does this make sense?