Deep fatigue

A quick search tells me that “fatigue” is a “subjective feeling of tiredness” and that, unlike “weakness”, it can be remedied by periods of rest and recovery. I’m also told that fatigue can be both physical and mental. What I am not told, however, is that there is a difference between deep and shallow fatigue.

Shallow fatigue is a linear state: its alleviation requires a stimulus equivalent to the one that created it. For example, a poor night’s sleep can impair the functioning of the central nervous system. You’ll know this if you ever meet me after I’ve worked a night shift and am attempting to reset my body clock by staying awake until the following night. It’s common for me to drop things, be unable to hold a conversation, and generally show an inability to do anything requiring fine motor control. But after a long night’s sleep I’m okay. In contrast, deep fatigue of the CNS requires more than a good night’s sleep to undo. A month of sleeplessness, chronic stress from work and home life, and terrible food will require more than a month to fully recover from. Shallow fatigue is tit-for-tat; deep fatigue must be repaid with exorbitant interest.

Now, consider fatigue of the mind. A mind in a state of shallow fatigue is one that cannot focus and perform cognitively demanding tasks. To the shallowly fatigued mind, both mundane and interesting tasks are a step too far. To remedy this state all that is required is a micro-period of rest and recovery. An afternoon off, a walk around the park with the dog, coffee with a close friend, a session at the gym, perhaps a weekend at a spa. These things offer enough respite to make basic functioning a possibility again. But a mind in a state of deep fatigue? That is a bigger problem to overcome. Imagine someone who is depressed. They see their work as banal, all their relationships are failing, and enjoyment has faded from any and all activities they do or consider engaging in. Some heavy lifting is required to lift someone from this state. Therapy, sabbaticals, a fundamental refactoring of perception.

The soul is susceptible to states of shallow and deep fatigue, too. I often ask myself, “Do the possible joys of life outweigh the inevitable pain and suffering?” Sometimes, I can’t help but answer, “No.” Other times I answer, “Yes.” The former comes about when my soul is in a state of shallow fatigue, when colour has temporarily drained from existence and despair is prevailing. Typically, I circle out of such a funk. However, if I were to always and unequivocally answer, “No”, then my soul would be in a state of deep fatigue and I’d be forced to seriously reconsider my approach to life. Perhaps I’d top myself? Or, more likely, I’d do what Bruce Sterling calls acting dead.


So, three components—body, mind and soul—and two degrees of negative states—shallow and deep fatigue. But what about the converse? If the body, mind and soul can exist in states of shallow and deep fatigue, then surely they can exist in states of shallow and deep energy? Yes, but the same distinction applies. If my mind is in a state of shallow energy, then a four-hour block of creative writing will knock me back into neutral. Exertion must be matched by recovery. But if my mind is in a state of deep energy—brought about by a year of good sleep, consistent communion with the wilderness, and lots of fornication—then a four-hour writing block won’t take the edge off of my cognitive facilities.

Let’s look at this a bit closer. Three components and four possible states yield many combinations, but I will provide only six as an example.

human taxonomy

The Empowered is in a state of deep energy across the board. His body, mind and soul are all crackling with potential. Such a person is like a live wire, emitting a force that jumps to anyone who gets too close. Such a person is also, unfortunately, a rarity. Not often across the spectrum of time has there been a person with a deeply energised body, mind and soul. The Degraded exists in a state of deep fatigue. They are in a rut they may never escape from. The prime example of this comes from the victims of the Nazi concentration camps. They existed in a system designed to shunt the body, mind and soul into a state of irrevocable fatigue. For the most part, it worked. The Zealot is someone alight with a religious energy. Such a person endures extreme physical and mental hardship because they have a Purpose. Think of the Prophets through time who were subservient to truth, of founders who run themselves into the ground in pursuit of success, of activists who destroy themselves in the name of compassion, kindness and universal human rights. The Athlete, conversely, relies upon his energised physiological state to negate the presence of mind- and soul-fatigue and The Artist does the same with his energised mind. Finally, The Mediocre excels in no area. He just persists.


Of course, the above are static conceptions. The body, mind and soul are dynamic, always becoming fatigued or being imbued with energy. But what I find most interesting about this way of perceiving the human is the ability of one extreme state to compensate for another. For example, The Zealot’s energised soul allows him to endure despite severe contraindications from the mind and body. States of deep energy in the other components do the same. Why does this matter? Well.

The old adage is that Everyone has the same twenty-four hours. Despite some significant disagreements with the notion—for example, the observation that a pro athlete with a full support staff has a radically different time-status than a single mother of three—it’s basically true. But let’s change “time” into something more generic: life capital. And let’s take the character creation process from Dungeons and Dragons as our model for the capital’s allocation.

In D&D, there are two ways to generate scores for the strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma stats. A player creating a character can roll for them, hoping for high scores across the board but also enduring the risk of successive bad rolls. Or, they can take the “standard set” of scores—15, 14, 13, 12, 10 and 8—and allocate them as most befits the character they are creating. In both cases, balance is the aim—chance or deliberate constraints (ideally) prevent a character from having scores of 20 across the board. A similar handicapping is present in how we allocate our own capital down the separate avenues of body, mind and soul.

Let’s say that across those three axis, each with four degrees, we are allowed six points. That discounts the possibility of becoming Empowered or Degraded (such states occur only in the most unusual of circumstances) and forces us to decide what we will and won’t optimise for. For example, do I put four points into “Soul”, two into “Mind” and accept the resulting deep-fatigue state of the “Body”? Or do I go for two points in each and exist in a pleasant state of neutral mediocrity?


The question is, I’ll admit, academic. Allocating life’s capital is too neat an exercise to map onto the messy, dirt-infested, shared student kitchen that is Reality. But what is not academic is the observation that we can assess what state each component of our life is in, and then attempt to alter or prolong it. In this light, the Body-Mind-Soul concept and the accompanying Fatigue-Energy spectrum is not so much a model as a diagnostic tool for existence.