The CDC estimates that between 1 and 4 million Americans suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Here is my story about how the oft-mocked 'Yuppy Flu' changed me from a busy young freelance journalist into a bedridden shadow of my former self.
It started with one of those pesky, but temporary, stomach viruses that keep you within a safe distance of the family bathroom, exactly two years ago , around this time of year.
I knew it at the time: something just wasn't right afterwards. Everyone in my family had it and felt as good as new within 48 hours, but, despite going back to work after 2 days, I could feel that my body was still unwell for a full week.
I ignored it, figured I'd 'gotten a bad dose' of it, and moved on. And for two months, I was fine.
But then, the headaches came. In early February, I started to notice that I had a pounding headache nearly every day. Yet, because I was a freelance journalist and at that point working 3 fast-paced tv journalism jobs, I shrugged them off as mere stress headaches.
Then came the stomach pains. Fifteen minutes after I'd eat, I'd experience searing ripples of pain all through my abdomen. It was as though someone had managed to climb into my belly and run all of my intestines through an old-fashioned butter churn. I assumed I wasn't eating properly, but as time wore on, these paralyzing pains came no matter what I ate, or whether or not I ate, and they lasted for hours.
Finally, the fatigue set in. Not your average 'Man, I had a late night last night' tiredness. Utter and total body-depleting exhaustion. As if one day, you woke up with a gigantic boulder tied to your back. You'd try your best to carry out your daily routine, but suddenly, even simple tasks would feel like enormously strenuous activities.
Some days, it took everything I had just to walk two blocks to catch the bus to work, or down fifteen steps to get on the subway home, or within the aisles of a grocery store, without sitting down to rest.
My mind told me to keep moving - they were simple activities - but my body, afflicted with the sudden onset of the weight of a boulder attached to it, cooly refused me.
These main symptoms were accompanied by other, less visible, ailments. I developed so many food sensitivities that I literally lived on soup, bread and cooked vegetables for months. I once foolishly ate a singular sausage during a big family breakfast, and I spent the afternoon writhing in pain. I remember thinking for a moment that if there had been a knife around, I would have tried to cut my intestines out.
My digestive system had slowed down so much that when I drank fluid for a CT Scan, instead of taking the normal 2 hours to digest, it took me 6 hours.
I grew deep bags under my eyes, my skin looked taught and dry, like that of a person years older than me, and, as you can see from the photo, even when I was smiling, I looked like I was constantly on the verge of falling asleep.
And perhaps the most devastating of all for a professional journalist: it became increasingly difficult to converse with people. I was dizzy all the time, plagued by headaches that started from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep at night, like someone was squeezing a vice grip around my skull. Feeling like I was under water all day long, I struggled to maintain enough focus to conduct normal conversations, for even short periods of time.
I couldn't eat. I couldn't work. I couldn't even attend my own sister's 30th birthday party. All I wanted to do was sleep.
By May, I stuck it out until one job ended, and I quit my other 2 jobs(each of which I cherished deeply).
The majority of my days were spent lying in bed, reeling in pain, and rarely
stepping foot outside the house.
Heartbreaking. It's the only word I can use to accurately describe how deeply Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, impacts one's life. I don't like to complain; I'm a problem-solver by nature. So most of my colleagues weren't aware of the severity of the symptoms I was experiencing until I finally quit, because I had been pushing myself to keep up.
To some, this may seem like a convenient illness. Patients can't work, they just want to sleep all day long, and occasionally, they have a few 'good days' - more like a few miraculously clear-headed hours - here and a there, which would make it appear to an outsider like the illness is 'here today, gone tomorrow'.
Furher reason for skepticism is that M.E. does not show up on many routine diagnostic tests. I had several 'full workups' done on my blood, and all of my results were normal, as was an abdominal CT scan and an endoscopy. And most of the symptoms - headaches, pain, fatigue - are somewhat undiagnosable.
The Mayo Clinic website declares that 'There's no diagnostic or laboratory procedure to confirm the presence of chronic fatigue syndrome' and that diagnosis occurs when a 'doctor has ruled out other well-defined diseases or conditions that may be causing fatigue and related symptoms.'
My mother spent several sleepless months trying to figure out what was wrong with me. She took me to doctors, GI specialists, and endlessly Google-ed my symptoms until we figured I had everything from Swine Flu to IBS. God bless her! I know I wasn't an easy patient to cope with, but she, and all of my siblings, did everything possible to bring me back to health.
My Dad was working in Ireland at the time, and he happened to randomly hear about a holistic clinic in Dunboyne from one of his colleagues. He came home for a visit in July, and, after seeing his youngest baby spending all of her days lying in bed, he immediately took me on a plane back to Ireland with him. And, bless her heart, my older sister joined him.
People that we meet always wonder how my sister and I both decided to relocate to Ireland at the same time. We usually offer some vague explanation, about how we both wanted to make a change at that time in our lives. But the truth is, she came here to take care of me. And she did.
With the help of months of Amatsu treatments and herbal remedies, and more than a lot of the medicine my sister and loved ones offered – laughter, patience, and tenderness – I came back.
I’ll never forget what the man who healed me, Brian Peoples, said, when we fist met at the Dunboyne Herbal Medicine Clinic about a year ago. Unlike the doctors in New York, he never questioned my sincerity or the severity of my illness, as he established an herbal treatment plan. Just before I left his office that first day, he patted my arm and told me, 'You're going to get better, I promise.”
As it turned out, he was right.
These days, after 8 months of treatment and several months following it, I am better; I'm not physically drained and exhausted all the time, and for the most part, the abdominal pains and headaches are gone.
You know how people say, “Be grateful for your health”?
No matter how bad it gets emotionally, financially, or otherwise, I have learned through this process that as long I have a steadily beating heart, lungs that breathe in and out, and a body that is fighting for me, instead of against me, I must consider myself a vastly blessed person.
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