I’ve written a lot about endometriosis. I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis. Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis. Today, it’s myalgic encephalitis (ME), better known as chronic fatigue syndrome, aka CF or CFS.
Like most chronic illnesses, chronic fatigue can be mildly described as a massive pain in the posterior. It’s exactly what it sounds like – extreme exhaustion that varies from sporadic to constant. Have you ever had glandular fever, and had that dreadful, bone-aching exhaustion that drives you back to bed, on the verge of tears from sheer tiredness, just two hours after a 16-hour sleep? I’m told its much like that. In fact, chronic fatigue can often develop after a bout of glandular fever. In other words, to describe CF as mere constant tiredness is inaccurate. It’s crushing. It doesn’t get better with rest, and it gets worse with lack of rest. My own bout of glandular fever has given me a healthy fear of chronic fatigue. I’ve never felt so horrific and disconnected in all in my life, and I only had it for nine months. CF can be limited in duration, but it can also last for years, or for a lifetime. Anyone of any age can contract it, even children.
This exhaustion may be the only symptom sufferers endure, but others may experience headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, light-headedness, aching muscles, joint pain, sore throats and tender lymph nodes, as well as trouble remembering, concentrating, or forming sentences (brain fog). Unfortunately, most of these are also symptoms of glandular fever or even influenza, so it is worth speaking to your doctor to rule those two out. Glandular fever can be confirmed with a simple blood test. Indeed, excluding other conditions, such as anaemia, is the only way to arrive at a CF diagnosis, as there is no one test to confirm that you have it.
There’s also no known reason as to why people develop it. Like most of the illnesses I’ve discussed in this series, it appears to affect those of the XX persuasion more than the XYs. Its onset it sometimes linked to physical stressors, such as infections, imbalanced gut flora, and hormones doing wacky things, as well as just plain stress. However, we’ve yet to identify a single factor that guarantees you’ll get it, and having any or all of the above doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to.
As you can imagine, the impact of severe chronic fatigue is devastating. It can totally prevent normal socialising, normal functioning – normal anything. It leaves people without the strength or energy to do much more than maintain the physical functions, and I’m told even that can be a stretch on bad days. Even those less severely impacted suffer the impacts on their work and social life, particularly as it can strike at any time of day. For those whose friends or family suffer it, prepare to extend a lot of patience, sympathy, grace, and practical assistance wherever you can.
So, what’s the good news? Unfortunately, it isn’t that there’s a cure. There isn’t. There’s also no one treatment. Really, the news isn’t that good. Treatments are largely changing lifestyle factors – ensuring a healthy diet, planning your day around periods you tend to have more or less energy, pacing yourself carefully, and practising good sleep hygiene, including avoiding caffeine or naps late in the day. Gentle exercise may help some, but for those who suffer Post-Exertional Malaise (an increase in exhaustion after activity) will probably not benefit. Symptoms such as headaches etc can be treated with painkillers.
The most important thing, as I understand it, is having support. Supportive friends, a supportive workplace, but most of all, support from people who get it. I think that’s true of most chronic illnesses – to have even just one person who knows what it’s like can be a huge relief.
Do you have chronic fatigue? What was the trigger for you in developing it? Do you have any coping strategies you can share? Let me know in the comments.