Now that my health and energy levels are starting to improve in a fairly steady and consistent manner, I’ll have more news soon about what I plan to do in the community with this newfound energy, and what I encourage others to join me in accomplishing. In the meantime, I want to share some information and reflections about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
For several years now, I’ve been suffering through various degrees of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). When I last had access to a doctor, she didn’t use that exact term, but she did use related terms such as “adrenal exhaustion” and “adrenal fatigue” to describe my condition, and she did exclude other possibilities through blood tests and examinations. Therefore, both my personal research and my doctor’s diagnosis lead me to believe that CFS is the most accurate description of my condition.
The name of this condition can be deceiving. To some people, it sounds like someone with CFS is just a little bit tired. We all experience fatigue, right? What’s so different about CFS?
CFS is characterized by an unexplained, persistent fatigue that’s not due to ongoing exertion, isn’t substantially relieved by rest, is of new onset (not lifelong) and results in a significant reduction in previous levels of activity. Symptoms vary a bit, but my symptoms have been fairly typical:
- Impaired memory or concentration (usually during/after exertion)
- Post-exertional malaise (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and sickness following physical or mental activity)
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Muscle pain
For me, this has been accompanied by chronic weight loss, which is somewhat less common but also a recognized symptom of CFS.
Basically, I felt completely exhausted, even when I hadn’t been doing much of anything. I would almost always wake up with pain and stiffness throughout neck, back, shoulders, chest, and hips, no matter how much I had rested or slept. Strenuous activity quickly made me feel sick: a progression from muscle pain and weakness to migraines and nausea which forced me to lay down. Any significant overexertion and/or loss of sleep left me in a malaise which took days to recover from. And I never fully recovered because I didn’t have enough time to rest, and rest didn’t seem to help anyway.
For some people with CFS, these symptoms result in a complete inability to function normally — to go to work, to spend time with friends, to do much of anything other than try in vain to rest. For me, this resulted in a reduction of my work capacity to about 20 or 30 hours per week as opposed to the almost 40 hours I had worked previously. And even with a diminished workload, I found it very difficult to keep up with daily chores, or to do any socializing other than sit-down activities such as watching TV/movies, eating/drinking with friends, or playing role-playing games.
CFS is often difficult to treat, and up until a few months ago, I wasn’t having much luck with it. There were several times when I went into a downward spiral, and my “recovery” from these times only brought me back to the same low level of activity and health.
Recently, though, I’ve finally been seeing my first signs of lasting improvement. I credit this improvement to a combination of yoga, prayer, and persistent self-care.
Resting for a day or a even a week never seemed to help, but reducing activity levels and increasing rest and sleep for months at a time eventually seemed to have a cumulative effect. Yoga has improved my blood flow, lymphatic health, breathing, and other aspects of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Prayer and other spiritual practices helped me to stay focused and positive at a time when I had no physical or emotional strength left in me.
Together, all of these efforts combined have brought a significant reduction in my symptoms. Not many people with CFS can achieve such an improvement, so I’m very grateful that I’m making progress. Really, I have high hopes that I will be a rare example of a full recovery, and will soon thereafter become a better-than-average example of health and fitness.
In the meantime, however, I would say that I’m only halfway out of the woods. I can’t work more than 30 hours a week without feeling a rapid return of my previous symptoms. My body weight is still as low as ever, and I still find myself unable to do much of anything other than work and take care of basic chores and errands.
The good news, though, is that as long as I stick to this limited routine and keep up with my yoga and spirituality, I usually feel quite good, whereas in the past, even my diminished activity levels left me feeling like someone had beaten me up with a baseball bat. Since I feel good now, I’ve been testing my boundaries and discovering that my overall stamina really has improved.
Now, the key to continued recovery is discipline and diligence. I need to stick with what’s working: yoga, extra rest, relaxation, improved diet, and overall self-care. I’ve gotten to the point now where these practices no longer place serious limits on my finances or social life, leading to the start of a slow but steady upward spiral of health and happiness. I feel tempted to immediately expend my newfound energy on a dozen new projects, but I know that it will be better spent by resting for a few more months and building my core strength.
I do believe that I’ll recover fully from this — and once I do, then I can jump headlong into more of the things I’d like to be doing. In the meantime, I’m just happy to be feeling good and have something vaguely resembling a social life again.
I know that I’m a fairly public figure here in Carbondale, and I’ve heard from time to time that people are concerned about my health and well-being. As always, your thoughts and support are greatly appreciated. However, I’m a strong person, and my condition seems to be improving, so I hope that no one will be too worried about how I’m doing.
The best thing you can do for me right now is to support me in my belief that I will make a full recovery. And the best way that you can do that is by continuing to invite me out to community events, social gatherings, parties, etc., even though I may not always be able to make it. As some of you know, I can be the life of a party on a good day, so it’ll be well worth your while to ask me to come out and play.
Hopefully this entry will help people to understand what I’ve been going through and where I’m at today. I also hope that by talking about this, I will encourage other people who have symptoms of CFS to talk to their doctors, their complimentary/natural health practitioners, and their loved ones about what they’re experiencing.
There are other conditions that can cause prolonged exhaustion, so instead of trying to figure it out on your own and bear the burden alone, be sure to find out what exactly you’re facing so that you’ll know how to respond. If you do have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, know that you’re not alone, and know that with proper treatment and self-care, you may be able to live a healthier and happier life.