Chronic Fatigue is not a mental disorder

Is the technical term ‘jinxing oneself’?  Yep, after all that blah blah blah about getting better, today I feel worse.  And since I’ve recently made a pact with myself to sit down and write every time I think of looking at Facebook(!), you’re going to hear about it!

Seriously though, Facebook is such a big waste of time and energy and what my Dad would have called displacement activity – he was a secondary school teacher so would have seen every sort.  It’s bleeding us of our creativity and probably culture, but this post isn’t about Facebook.

It’s about me!  It’s amusing to be part of a writing forum through a course I’m doing where the common feeling about bloggers seems to be what authors might have felt about journalists when they first took up publishing.  Self-indulgent, self-obsessed and too many of them (which is code for boring) are the terms I read routinely.  So, dear reader, that’s you and I and indulge me if you will.

I just don’t understand what’s going on with this fatigue.  Everyone assumes I’ve found the answer now that I’ve changed my diet to exclude dairy and wheat.  And it’s helped for sure – I am so grateful to have found this out – but it’s not the answer if yesterday is anything to go by.  I’ve been fighting off picking up a cold all week from my daughter.  A scratchy throat and sore head.  And that’s been fine and normal.  But yesterday I had to attend the Royal Adelaide Hospital for a completely unrelated genetics appointment and oh my god, it was the last straw.  Having spent the first part of the morning at a kindy appointment I thought driving up there would be the answer to preserving energy.

Right now I’m going to skip to the end because I don’t feel like a long post today about the issues the RAH raises for me, let’s just say it’s all about death and fear and danger.  By the time I got home, I was fatigue CENTRAL.

Today my hands ache, my neck aches, under my arms ache and my throat feels like I am trying to swallow a sponge.  My head is foggy, my eyes feel sludgy and I just don’t want to partake in the world.

I recently found an article in a free local health mag, at the Library – just happened to glance it’s way (as you do).  I’ve linked to it here but I couldn’t find a way to zoom in to the text on pg. 12 so I’ll re-type some sections of what I read below.  It’s worth noting that I have not received a diagnoses of chronic fatigue (nor asked for one) but the symptoms do fit.  It’s also worth noting that like the word depression and many other invisible illnesses, it’s not a term I would mention to anyone in a heartbeat.  Judgements galore would fly!

But I was encouraged by what I read especially the first sentence.

“Chronic Fatigue syndrome was thought to be a mental disorder, however, in recent years’ scientific evidence has found it to be an inflammatory disorder and oxidative stress disorder.”

“Some of the symptoms are as follows, severe fatigue for a period of longer than six months along with around four of the following symptoms: headaches, muscle pain or multiple joint pain without swelling, depression and exhaustion lasting longer than 24 hours after exertion, tender lymph nodes, short term memory impairment, lack of ability to concentrate, waking up tired and unrefreshed, digestive disorders, mood swings, panic attacks, balance problems, numbness or tingling or immune disorders wish as frequent infections, allergies etc.”

“There are several causative factors, one of which is related to the immune system and pathogenic infections such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and illnesses such as Glandular Fever, Pneumonia, Herpes Simplex Virus, Cytomegalovirus or Hepatitis C, just to name a few.  This deregulation of the immune system increases intra cellular and peripheral inflammation, which in turn may cause symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, depression, pain, sadness and/or sleep disorders.”

I hadn’t seen one article yet in all my searching that simply dismissed the idea that CF was either all in the mind or partly contributed to by the mind.  It was like splashing cool water on your face on a hot day!

This is a long rambling post but I suppose the term that keeps rattling around in my head is ‘oxidative stress’.  When I looked it up, even with a microbiology background (from 20 years ago) I couldn’t really understand what it was.  Something about free radicals and I have always loved that term, imagining little cells with Che Guevara hats on.  But the stress part of it sticks with me.

I wrote recently about how the body affects the mind and how put simply, everyone knows the world feels bad when you are sick.  It’s just for most people, you get better and so does your view of the world.  The question is, what happens when you don’t get better?  What happens to your mind and your brain when your body does not recover back to 100% function for a long period of time?

I know that stress makes me feel worse, it always has.  In small doses it can aid productivity, but the western world has a way of manipulating stress to make it stay permanently and that is terrible – money worries, target and performance worries, support worries, they are all made up and a state we keep ourselves in for too long, so when something real and emotional comes along, it knocks us over.

Read here about being kind to yourself sometimes.  I have a feeling that behind the Book of Life site is Alain de Botton and his ideas (or the ones on the site anyway) are really worth reading, unlike a 5 minute ‘What successful people do before breakfast’ Buzzfeed click.

So, what’s the take home message?  Chronic Fatigue is a real body situation, that can be tackled and must be listened to.  You wouldn’t push yourself to perform, if you had a cancer diagnosis would you?  The mind CAN make these things worse, so don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.  And mine… before I sat down to write this post, I was considering staying home from work today, but now after writing for an hour, I feel better, more capable and ready to get out into the world again.

Take THAT Facebook, and prejudiced writing colleagues!

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