Chronic Fatigue

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by a Protégé Artist

Sick and Tired?

A lot of people have periods where they’re more tired and fragile, but people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are dealing with a whole different kind of exhaustion. As one sufferer write “I can only describe it as being pumped full of lead” [1]. Apart from extreme and chronic fatigue, the symptoms of CFS include pain, sleep disturbances and problems with memory and concentration in a previously healthy and active person. CFS affects men woman and children of all social and ethnic background. In the UK alone CFS is thought to affect no fewer than 240,000 people, nearly two thirds are women.

How do you catch it?

CFS, which is also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or M.E., is often triggered by an ordinary cold or a flu-like illness. While most people get better within days, sometimes the body has an unusual reaction and is unable to recover in a normal way, even if it has done so hundreds of times before. In some cases, physical trauma such as an accident or an operation can trigger CFS. Many sufferers also report to have experienced increased stress in the period before they got ill and although this is usually not the only factor, it seems to be a contributing factor.

Is CFS a physical Illness?

There is still a big lack of knowledge about CFS and it is usually diagnosed to people who are ill, but do not suffer from any known illness. Although many argue that CFS is psychological, the physical symptoms are very real.

It’s All In Your Mind

You might think that it wouldn’t matter all that much whether Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a mental or a physical disease, after all, millions of people die all the time from mental illnesses such as anorexia and depression. Mental illness is just as dangerous and hard to control for the sufferer as physical illness. But it is easy to see why sufferers get tired of people thinking they are just being lazy or that CFS is just some strange idea they have gotten into their head. This is very far from the truth. There would be no disease if the cure was as simple as wanting to get better. But like with all illnesses, there are things you can do to speed up the recovery process.

Illness and Cure

The degree to which a person with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is affected varies and so does the time it takes for them to recover. While a lot of people get better fast, the disease can in some cases be long and even fatal. The first official UK death from chronic fatigue syndrome was recognised in 2006 when a 32-year-old woman died from physical manifestations of CFS after six years illness [2]. While they are ill, many have trouble doing things, which are normally considered relaxing such as talking to friends, watching TV or listening to music. This can be very frustrating and boring. A common problem is that people with CFS get into a vicious circle of ‘Boom and Burst’. Because they are eager to get better they pressure themselves to do loads of activities then suffer the consequences when their energy is drained. This is found to prolong the illness and it is recommended that sufferers learn to pace themselves.

There are no medical treatments for CFS but practices such as pacing, planning, eating well and cognitive therapy to deal with some of the illness related frustration does the trick for most people.

[1] David Bradshaw in “All about M.E.” a pamphlet by Action for ME

[2] 16 June 2006 by Rowan Hooper, New Scientist