What is Chronic fatigue syndrome?

In a very short summary, the body is ready to release old stressors. These old stressors can be triggered by almost any kind of event. When the stress comes up, the brain perceives it as a danger and creates primary symptoms.

This results in chronic stress and is so overwhelming that the entire body gets stuck in a negative loop. After a while it gets harder and harder to get out of the ‘fight or flight mode’. The accumulated extra stress is stored in the body and creates all kinds of secondary symptoms next to complete exhaustion. Eventually a person with chronic fatigue experiences a burn-out due to this state of being and a depression is also likely to be experienced on top of all the complaints.

Usually people have switched temporarily from being years in survival mode to calming down themselves and their body was ready to release stressors. From this perspective, we need to help the body with releasing stress and not accumulating anymore stress, as there seems to be a zero stress ability.

Most people I talk with, have doubt whether they have ME/CFS or not. The symptoms can vary from person to person and the clinical picture of the symptoms seem very capricious at times. This means that there are so many ups and downs in the condition and so many variations, that it is hard to keep track of things and create a recovery routine. In the end whatever we call it is just a label to describe multiple symptoms and will in the end create negative expectations.

What are the symptoms?

A person suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome  suffers from most / a few of the following (medically unexplained) symptoms over a period longer than 6 months:

  • Fatigue / pain
  • Headaches (Tension headaches)
  • Joint pain
  • Brain fog
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Unrefreshing sleep.
  • Groggy feelings
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise.
  • Flu-like aches / feverishness
  • Dizziness
  • Gut problems
  • Nausea
  • Depersonalisation
  • POTS

This results in a vicious cycle where the quality of sleep is decreasing fast, the person can’t be involved in everyday activities, muscles are becoming weaker and keeping a healthy rhythm becomes harder and harder.

The clinical picture of ME/CFS

The condition has so many ups and downs that it is hard to keep track of what is going on, let alone creating a recovery rhythm in your daily life. You will be full of doubt and any setback can cause massive doubts in yourself, your idea about the condition and the approach you believe to be the right one.

Lost on the internet

Instead of switching your focus on possible other causes, like EBV and Lyme, it is key to see the commonality of the symptoms and stop searching on the web for plausible causes. By doing so, you will have to realise that nobody else will be able to fix you via a magic pill. Which is a hard pill to swallow at first. If you look at it from a different perspective, you might see that the symptoms are Bodymind related and because there are so many ups and downs, it is a not a permanent disease that you have to live the rest of your life with.

Push and crash cycle

For many the illness runs through the push and crash cycle. The further your nervous system is over-stimulated, the worse the crashes can get. Although other people might see the fatigue as just being tired, this is far from being the case. A man who recovered from ME/CFS but died from aids a few years later, described the sensation of a crash as far worse than his final days of battling aids. The sensation of the severe fatigue of exhaustion is simply unimaginable for anyone who has never experienced it. I made a blog post about different types of fatigue that people can differentiate.

Rest and heart-rate

Normally if you are tired, you are in need of some rest and wait to calm down, this however doesn’t do the trick anymore. Focussing on the symptoms might even increase the chronically elevated heart-rate. Very often in a crash you can have a heart-rate around 100 while you do nothing. Although you try to rest with a heart-rate like this, you are not resting at all. There are lots of things you can do to try to lower the heart-rate, you will get better in it over time. Having a chronically stressed heart-rate is a signal that the nervous system is stuck in survival mode.

If rest doesn’t help and you can’t be active anymore, you sort of end up in a living hell. All people do is wait for the days to pass and to make it through the days. Having the hope that your sleep will somewhat give you more energy (or less symptoms) the next day, which will only sometimes be the case.

You will be bored beyond imagination, but feel so bad that you don’t care about being bored. This is somehow a tricky situation.

Depression, burn-out, graded exercise?

A psychologist will probably want you to start gradual exercise therapy and suspects a depression. Although the condition is very depressive, a depression would be the wrong diagnosis. The symptoms are also similar to a burn-out, because the original symptoms can cause you to have a burn-out. You can’t expect a burn-out treatment to work, because you might call the burn-out symptoms secondary. For someone with ME/CFS the whole nervous system is out of whack. After many years, people don’t notice the flu-like sensations in the head anymore.

The negative spiral and the stress that comes from dealing with a life full of symptoms and searching for answers, completes the picture of a very debilitating, yet invisible condition that can last for years and even decades.

Not all bad

It’s not all bad however. People can recover from this syndrome of symptoms, they often report to be very grateful for all they have learned. You will never get your old life back, instead something better is waiting for you. Your internal world will never be the same again. You are studying the most difficult subject of the world, yourself.