Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Real?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating illness that takes many forms, has numerous symptoms and no known cure available from the standard medical community.
You might have some skeptical friends who doubt you are actually ill, perhaps they think you are simply malingering. However, chronic fatigue syndrome is a very real disorder affecting millions of people worldwide. Yet often patients can be told ‘it’s all in your head’, or suffer comments from family and friends like ‘oh yes I get really tired too’, both of which show a complete lack of understanding that the illness is in fact very real.
Unfortunately, its common name, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome‘ doesn’t help people’s perception that it’s not a real illness and it’s simply tiredness. The illness has two other names, Myalgic Encephalitis (ME) and Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID). Perhaps SEID helps describe the illness best as it does state a key feature of the illness i.e., the inability to tolerate exertion either mental or physical.
Whatever you decide to call the illness, it is DEFINITELY real.
Fatigue is not the only symptom, although it is the one that most often typifies the disorder. And, this fatigue isn’t simply a feeling of being a bit tired or sluggish. A good night’s sleep doesn’t help the fatigue which gets worse after mental exhaustion or physical activity and can take several days of bed rest to recover from.
Several other symptoms accompany the overwhelming and unrelenting fatigue including:
- Brain fog and cognitive impairment.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Post exertional malaise.
- Unrefreshing sleep.
- Recurring sore throat and swollen glands.
Is There A Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Test?
There is no available test or bio marker for the illness. And, what makes this disorder baffling is the severity, type and number of symptoms individuals suffer from.
No single cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is known, and in fact it can be caused by multiple things, but it is likely that a trauma or several traumas of some description triggered it.
For example, trauma can come from one or more of the following:
- Hormone imbalance, such as adrenal fatigue.
- Bacterial infections, such as pneumonia.
- Immune system problems.
- Mental health issues, such as stress and emotional trauma.
- Gene mutations.
- Viral infections, such as glandular fever.
- Trauma from physical accidents.
How Long Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Last?
Because there is no test available, a diagnosis from your doctor is generally only arrived at by ruling out other illnesses such as hypothyroid, sleep disorders, kidney problems etc. Additionally a diagnosis can only be given after you have had the symptoms for at least 6 months.
Unfortunately from a naturopathic point of view, this is 6 months during which time you could have already started testing to find out what lies at the root cause(s) of your chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s also 6 months during which time your symptoms and illness may be getting worse.
Some people mistakenly believe that they cannot recover from chronic fatigue syndrome because standard allopathic medicine has no ‘cure’, there’s no ‘pill’ they can be given to make chronic fatigue syndrome go away.
At the other end of the spectrum, others think if they just wait it out, chronic fatigue syndrome will disappear of it’s own accord. While this might happen, if you are lucky, it’s pretty unlikely. Without getting proper treatment, which gets to the root cause(s) of your particular form of chronic fatigue syndrome it can not only last for many years, but during that time, gradually get worse.
Time can pass without your symptoms worsening, or new symptoms making an appearance. There can even be periods of time when you start to feel a little better. But there will be times too when you relapse and get worse. This is the point when your health declines even further.
You may be the type of person who is willing to wait it out to see if you can recover by yourself. However, I know from my experience that had I found the right naturopathic help and treatment sooner, my health would not have declined to the extent it did.
Chronic fatigue syndrome rarely develops overnight, but there is usually an event or series of events that lead up to it. The tricky thing is that it’s often not until you start getting treatment do you realize what those triggering events were.
During your journey with the illness you’ll get many signs chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t going away. Most of the signs sneak up on you slowly. You adapt your life around your illness which can mask the reality of your worsening health condition.
The signs show themselves in various forms, some are physical, some mental, some behavioral and some environmental. Many you may think do not relate to your illness at all. However, even the signs that show up in your home and work environment are rooted in your illness.
Additionally, there are a multitude of signs you should take careful note of to gauge if your chronic fatigue syndrome is not only hanging around, but actually becoming worse.
It is foolish to ignore any of these signs as they are signals your illness is progressing and you need to seek out the right form of treatment if you want to have any chance of recovery.
Each individual has their own unique journey with chronic fatigue syndrome. Some have a particularly debilitating form of the illness leaving them completely bedridden. Others have a less severe form that gradually deteriorates as the illness progresses. Whatever form your chronic fatigue syndrome takes, there will be signs that it’s not going away…………
Do You Recognize Any Of These Signs?
1. You Don’t Feel Like Socializing – You may have been a bit of a social butterfly in the past. Always one of the first to eagerly accept invitations to enjoy lunches, family BBQ’s, nights out with the girls, gallery openings, shopping trips, dinner out with some fine dining, invitations to parties etc. But now you realize you haven’t had an outing in months, you just declined an invitation to a close friend’s wedding too.
In fact when was the last time you enjoyed a social occasion. Come to think of it, the last time you went out you left early and couldn’t wait to get home, crawl under the covers and sleep. And now, it just all seems like way too much effort to take part in any socializing at all.
It’s going to take too much energy to work out what to wear for starters. Then you need to get in the car and drive half an hour to get there. Don’t even mention how exhausting it is to have to make polite chitchat to people who, if you’re honest, just drain your energy. Nope…..all too hard, you just stay home.
2. You Can’t Cope With Even The Slightest Stress – Known for your calm demeanor and your ability to just get on with things now you find you’re flying off the handle with the least provocation.
You arrive at work feeling pretty exhausted, get settled at your desk with the first coffee of the day, and proceed to open your email. Scrolling through your emails, you ask yourself when did you start getting so many emails, how are you expected to reply to all these emails in a day?
Your stress level is already rising when your colleague walks up to you and asks a simple question about a project you are both working on and you not only don’t have the answer but you want to scream at him/her to just go away.
It’s only 9am and already you feel completely overwhelmed and terrified that you’re going to drop the ball. Your workload hasn’t increased, in fact it’s currently the quietest time of the year in the business but it’s all too much to deal with, you just don’t have the mental energy to deal with a normal workday in your normal efficient way.
3. You Can’t Stand Noise And Bright Lights – Summoning all of your energy, you pull an outfit together from the back of the wardrobe, slap on some makeup and get in the car determined to enjoy a night out. The friends you are meeting up with are fun, you enjoy their company and you’re looking forward to a few laughs.
It’ll be great to enjoy a couple of hours of lighthearted chat and catch up with everyone. Something to take your mind off how lacking in energy you are is just what you need.
As, you walk into the venue you’re hit with a wall of flashing lights above the band in the corner who are playing way too loudly. OMG, you didn’t realize there would be music and definitely didn’t expect the flashing lights. Your friends are there already, getting stuck in to a few drinks, yelling to each other to be heard above the music.
They wave to you and you realize this was a BIG mistake, you just can’t do this. The music is pounding in your head and the bright lights flashing on and off are make you feel like you’re about to throw up.
Waving to your friends and shaking your head, you start backing towards the door. All you can see is the startled looks on their faces as they see you turn on your heel and get out of there as fast as you possibly can. And now you have another problem, how on earth are you going to explain your weird behavior to your friends who you just ran out on?
4. You Don’t Sleep Well At Night – You used to be such a great sleeper. Getting between 8 or 9 hours sleep was easy for you. Now however, getting a solid 8-hour sleep seems to be a thing of the past. In fact, you can’t remember when you slept soundly through one entire night.
Not only that but something seems to have happened to your body clock because you can’t fall asleep easily either. Sometimes you fall asleep, only to wake up again an hour later and you’re wide awake with no hope of dropping off to sleep again.
Lately you’ve also developed a pattern of waking up at around 3.15 each morning and at that time you’re wide awake and there is absolutely no hope of getting back to sleep before the alarm goes off. And when you do wake up, you feel just as exhausted as you did before you finally got to sleep.
5. You Develop Feelings Of Isolation – You seem to have lost touch with family and friends. And, it seems as if nobody understands what you are going through with this illness.
It doesn’t help that you’ve been on the receiving end of comments that suggest ‘you’re just being lazy’ or that ‘everyone gets tired from time to time, after all we all have such busy lives’. Nobody seems to understand what you’re going through.
Your doctor can’t help you and you don’t know where to turn for help. It feels as if you are truly alone and nobody understands that you are actually ill.
6. You Are No Longer Able To Work Full Time – It hurts, you were at the top of your game, climbing the corporate ladder, doing great and the future was looking very bright indeed. Thinking you could recover you kept on pushing through, ignoring the signs your body was giving that it was all too much for you.
Now you’ve arrived at the heartbreaking realization that you no longer have the capability to continue on your present career path because you simply cannot work a full day. You are seriously considering giving up your full time position and looking for a job that is less taxing. It seems that working a few hours a week is all you can manage with your current state of fatigue.
7. You Dread Being Asked To A Function – Once the life and soul of the party you now cringe if someone asks you to a function as you simply don’t have enough energy to work AND socialize. Your well-meaning friend doesn’t understand you are ill, after all you look OK on the outside, you definitely don’t look sick and you work full time in your career. So what could possibly be wrong with you?
Not only that, but you declined the last couple of invitations they gave you. It’s beginning to look as though you just don’t want to spend time with them and you know that pretty soon the invitations will stop arriving if you don’t attend something soon.
8. You Develop Intolerance For An Increasing Number Of Food Types – Lately you’ve noticed everything you eat seems to set off a reaction and you start sneezing, your eyes water and your nose runs uncontrollably. Only by taking an antihistamine can you get it to let up. And what’s with that strange blotchy rash on your chest?
But yesterday the glass of wine, latte, and cheese sandwich you had were all OK , today….. not so much. Now you need to work out which one of those items is causing you to react, or is it all of them, yikes? Eliminating several foods from your diet has already been carried out, but it seems the list of your food sensitivities just keeps getting longer. Soon it will be very difficult to choose food that you won’t react to.
9. You Feel Depressed – You feel utterly helpless, and don’t know where to turn for help with your illness. Everyone around you seems to be enjoying a happy and healthy fun filled life.
But you are trapped and unable to move. Lately you’ve started feeling angry that people seem oblivious to your condition. All you want to do is stay curled up in bed all day while your thoughts just keep dragging you down further and further. You are considering a visit to the doctor for some medication. Perhaps he can give you something to lift your mood, some ‘happy pills’. But your not sure if you want to start medicating your feelings away, doesn’t seem right somehow.
10. You Suffer An Increasing Number Of Crashes – Lately it seems like the amount of activity you are able to carry out is becoming less and less before you crash. You used to be able to work part-time, carry out normal domestic chores and shopping each day.
However, lately you can’t do all the cleaning and shopping you used to do before you have to take to your bed to recover. Experiencing a crash used to happen maybe once a month when you over did it with the cleaning and you’d spend the next two days in bed. Lately you seem to spend more time in bed during the week and less time on chores and activities.
11. You Take Longer To Recover From A Crash – During the last month you’ve spent more days in bed than out of bed. Recovering from a crash normally takes a couple of days, then you can get up and resume your semi normal life.
Lately though it seems each crash takes four or more days in bed before you recover sufficient energy to just get up and sit on the sofa. You feel scared that soon you will become completely bedridden if things keep on going this way. Your life is becoming increasing abnormal with more of it spent in bed as you have no energy to do anything else.
12. Your Home Environment Is A Cluttered Mess – As, you look around your home you realize it looks like a horrible mess. It hasn’t been cleaned properly for ages but, more than that there is clutter everywhere. The kitchen is full of dirty dishes and half empty food containers and there’s a coating of dust over all the furniture. Dirty laundry has piled up, you’re running out of clean clothes to wear and the laundry basket is overflowing.
There are old newspapers, magazines and garbage everywhere, and every surface is cluttered with ‘stuff’ everywhere. Your home used to be so orderly, you took pride in your organizational and housekeeping skills.
But now that you take a good look around, your home is in disorganized chaos reflecting the chores you haven’t managed to do due to your lack of mental and physical energy. Gazing around, you realize it’s pretty disgusting. You knew you were letting things slip as your energy disappeared. But how did it get this bad?
13. Your Brain Fog Is Getting Worse – This morning you can’t find your purse. Rushing to get breakfast ready, your mind is racing. How can you have lost your purse? Trying to frantically retrace yesterday’s steps you think about where you could have left it. Maybe it’s still in the car? You turn to get the milk from the fridge, open the door and Bingo! There’s your purse, on the top shelf of the fridge. It’s been there all night so at least you didn’t lose it.
The only harm done seems to be that your lipstick is now a bit frozen and too solid to put on. But why on earth would you have put your purse in the fridge?
Oh well, all’s well that ends well, you go upstairs to get some documents you need for work and at the top of the stairs can’t remember what you came up for. Down you go again, then you remember…… the documents!
People at work are starting to notice you seem to be a bit forgetful and a couple of comments have been made about your lateness getting reports in on time. Actually, it’s starting to become a bit embarrassing, you used to be the one everyone could rely on.
14. You Are Unable To Exercise – Your weekly routine for years was always to exercise about 3 or 4 times each week. You didn’t go mad, just some cardio or weights and the odd class to break up the monotony, it’s always been a great way to keep your weight under control.
You’ve kept your exercise routine pretty steady for years and enjoy a good fitness level. So you know that motivation isn’t a problem for you.
But last time you did 20 minutes on the treadmill you spent 4 days in bed recovering. Always a regular exerciser, now it seems that even a gentle 10-minute walk in the park is too much for you. But you know if you push it beyond 10 minutes, you’ll end up in bed for days recovering.
15. You Seem To Be Suffering From Anxiety – Never normally an anxious type of person, you’ve noticed strange feelings surface that you realize could be symptoms of anxiety. That weird churning feeling in your stomach that you know is not indigestion.
Often you feel dizzy and light-headed, but sort of restless at the same time. The other day you couldn’t find a space to park the car and your heart started beating out of control and you felt as if you were going to pass out or vomit, or all three at the same time.
In situations, you can normally handle you now feel completely out of control. The slightest upset seems to trigger many of these weird symptoms and feelings.
16. Your Eating Habits Are Out Of Control – Having always been conscious of maintaining a healthy diet, why on earth are you craving french fries and sweets every single day? Come mid-afternoon the lure of all that fat and sugary wrapped goodness luring you from the vending machine becomes too hard to ignore.
Watching TV in the evening you’ve just eaten an entire container of ice cream on your own. Healthy salads, fresh lightly steamed vegetables, salmon and free-range chicken have lost their appeal. All you want now is fatty oily pastries, deep-fried food and chocolate.
17. Your Hair Starts Falling Out – People have always commented on your crowning glory, your gloriously shiny healthy looking lustrous hair. During your shower this morning the water stops draining away and on closer inspection you find the reason.
No need to call the plumber, it’s just your fallen hair clogging the drain. As, you start to dry your hair you notice lots of hair in the brush. Your once thick hair is thinning and the texture is wiry and it’s kind of frizzy too. Unfortunately it can no longer be described as a crowing glory so thin and straggly has it become.
18. You Develop An Irritated Bladder – It seems you can no longer get a full night’s sleep as you are constantly awake with the need to pee. Not only that, but when you pee it burns badly.
After checking with the doctor you find there is no infection, however, it seems you have developed an irritated bladder. Your stomach feels a little tender and you have the annoying need to go to the toilet several times a day. It’s not only annoying but makes many activities impossible. For example going to see a movie is now completely out of the question as you’ll miss half the movie while you spend so much time in the toilet.
19. You Experience Balance Issues And Muscle Weakness – Realizing your normal exercise routine is out of the question you try some simple yoga. However, it seems that even the relatively simple tree pose is too much for you.
Normally your balance is pretty good, but doing tree pose you find it impossible to balance on one leg. When you try cobra pose you find your arm strength has deserted you too. You simply cannot push yourself up on your arms, they are too weak. All of the simple poses you normally do are also out of the question. Looks like you’ll need to start practising restorative yoga instead.
20. You Try To Sit Down As Much As Possible – The thought of standing in the shower for even five minutes is too much for you. You’ve started taking a bath each morning instead.
You use a rolling stool to sit on while doing chores as much as possible. Cooking, ironing and laundry tasks are all carried out whilst sitting. Shopping expeditions are now a thing of the past, it’s too difficult to stand in queues and walk around stores. Instead, you’ve started ordering your groceries online so that you no longer have to make a trip to the mall.
Putting It All Together
By taking note of new or worsening symptoms, and changes in your work and living environment you can recognize the signs your illness is giving you that it’s here to stay. It’s not going to disappear of its own accord. Now is the time to find a naturopath/ functional medicine practitioner experienced in treating chronic fatigue syndrome who can help you recover.
Please feel free to leave a comment below.