I feel stupid and contagious

This is a community announcement.

From now on, lethargy will be officially recognised as a symptom of colds/flu/these-annoying-low-grade-viruses that seem to hang around for weeks, popping  up once every few days just when you think you’re fine, and making you feel as if your limbs are made of stone and you desperately need a lie-down, even though you just got up.

In fact, lethargy is already a recognised symptom of the flu. I didn’t look that up before I started writing this post, but on doing a quick search, I see there are whole webpages devoted to lethargy, and the first one lists 45 different conditions that lethargy could be a symptom of. (Fortunately I can detect no signs of septicemia.)

This doesn’t defeat my point, which was not about what the medical  journals say. What I’m advocating for here is that there must be widespread recognition of this hideous symptom throughout the community, so that when you lug your suddenly leaden, lethargic body out of bed, and present yourself in the kitchen with no symptoms that are visible to anyone else, saying simply that you don’t feel well, you should not be met with raised eyebrows, and the insinuation that you look fine and perhaps you’re being a little bit pathetic.

(No-one has actually said that to me, but I suffer from a related complaint inherited from my Irish Catholic father, called Irish Catholic Guilt. This manifests itself whenever I take a sick day from work, so unless I’m actually unconscious, I worry that I may be exaggerating to myself how bad I feel, and that perhaps I could have hauled myself into work.)

Once it is commonly accepted that lethargy is not only a symptom of these pesky viruses, but that sometimes it is the only symptom to manifest itself on a given day, your announcement that you feel tired and need to go back to bed will be greeted with appropriately sympathetic noises, suggestions that you take the day off, and offers to make cups of  hot lemon tea and bring them to your sickbed, from family members, co-workers, and even strangers on the street (but only if your kitchen windows face onto the street and you speak really loudly.)

I’ve had one of these low-grade virus-thingys for a few weeks now, according to my own diagnosis. It first manifested as a sore throat and slight fever on a Tuesday about 2 weeks ago, that caused me to take a very rare day off work. The next day I felt much better and went back to work. It then popped up again that weekend, in the form of that insidious beast, the totally-draining-lack-of-energy. Since then, I’ve felt mostly fine, until today, when I woke up again with a slight temperature, a headache, and my body once again feeling like a limp washcloth, occasionally forced into action by an enormous sneeze.

As a side note, on the weekend I mentioned, I was in-between jobs. I finished up at my job on the Friday, and started at a new workplace on the Monday, so there may have been additional reasons for feeling a physical and mental lack of energy. I was sad to finish up that job, despite it being my own choice to resign for personal reasons, and I definitely woke up on the Saturday morning with a sense of emptiness, because that little era of my life was over. Perhaps the plummet in my energy levels was because I needed to draw in all my energy over the weekend, to deal with that change.

Whatever the case, on that weekend, even thinking was too much effort. Doing was beyond consideration.  It took all the self-talk I could muster just to sit down and shave my legs. On the Sunday afternoon I got as far as to dress and go out to the back yard.

As this sudden ebb in energy has been coming and going every now and then over the past few weeks, accompanied sometimes by a very mild headache and a not-quite-sore throat, I assume a virus was at least partially to blame that weekend.

After all, just because you leave a workplace you like, and along with it, leave a whole bunch of stimulating, energetic, open-minded people you warmed to the instant you started there, thus leaving behind many positive relationships with colleagues that were too short-lived, or too rooted in work, or that would simply be too awkward, to ever continue outside of the workplace – surely that couldn’t cause a physiological reaction where your body needs to shut down for two whole days to regroup?

Lethargy: a lack of energy and enthusiasm.

synonyms: sluggishness, inertia, torpor, lifelessness, dullness, listlesness, ennui, weariness. 

I wonder if it’s possible that sometimes, as with grieving, the outer symptom – whether it’s lethargy, weariness, ennui or dullness, might be the combined need from body and mind, to close off any unnecessary stimuli, while processing difficult changes.

Then again, of course, sometimes lethargy is simply just a symptom of the flu.


Leave a comment


  1. As you discovered, lethargy can be a symptom of (and therefore be caused by) a number of conditions and it’s not always clear which one or ones is/are to blame. In your case, I would add depression because the tone of your post and the salient fact that you recently left a job you enjoyed suggest depression to me. OK, we are not talking of “clinical depression” and standing on a tall building convincing yourself to jump into oblivion but of a lower level sort of depression, that sneaks up on you and tweaks your mind and feelings until you suddenly realize what’s going on. Depression saps your energy as efficiently as an iPhone saps battery power.

    I well know the serial cold, aka “virus”, which playfully pops up ever and anon and never really goes away. That saps energy too though not so much as depression. There is a theory (and it seems plausible to me) that we host the cold virus all the time and this manifests itself only when our resistance takes a nosedive for some reason. Depression and virus could be playing Bonnie and Clyde with your organism.

    Of course, I may be completely wrong about the depression and what I have said therefore a load of nonsense. On the other hand, I suspect that many cases of “man flu” might actually be attacks of depression.


    • Hi SilverTiger, yes, I agree that I was feeling a little bit depressed on that particular weekend, in the middle of other occasions where the lethargy was probably a physical symptom due to a virus. In relation to what I said about that weekend, and about leaving that job, I was actually hinting that there was more to my low ebb than just a virus, and that it was emotional – a sense of emptiness is a pretty depressing feeling. Interesting theory about man flu – I hadn’t thought of that before! Thanks once again for your thoughtful feedback!


  2. And said lethargy is why the house is a mess when your not feeling well! Sometimes its sad when one chapter of your life closes, and I’m sure that skulking about for a day is the only cure 😉

    Liked by 1 person


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