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April 17, 2020

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: the little-known Disease affecting Millions of Women.

It was Christmas morning—but it felt different this time.

I woke up with my head slightly buzzing from the prior evening’s traditional Christmas Eve gathering with my family. My body was aching, and exhausted.

This feeling had been with me for weeks, but still felt incredibly foreign. Almost as if I were somehow inside someone else’s body. It couldn’t have been mine.

I lay there for a moment, with my eyes tightly closed, hoping that miraculously I would return to my body. The one I recognized as my own.

Just two months prior, these legs had walked me up mountains that were over 4,000 feet high. They had moved without effort in dance class. They had carried me on over 40 hikes in the last 12 months. How could they suddenly be aching at just the simple task of walking?

After staring blankly at my tired eyes in the bathroom mirror, I got dressed and gathered up my luggage. It had been packed for two days. My dad drove me to the airport, and we hugged goodbye.

Years past, Christmas morning looked like caffeinating, hustling out the door, and piling gifts into the car, as we indulged in all the holiday season has to offer. While my backpack and sneakers moved through airport security, and I walked towards my departure gate, I realized that for the first time in 41 years, I would be alone on Christmas.

In that moment I felt a weight lift, and paradoxically my heart sinking. The clarity around this decision, and the imbalance of emotions due to my mysterious condition, seemed to create confusion and overwhelm. I was committed to becoming whole by myself, but yet didn’t recognize who I was.

I had booked this trip in the days prior to my symptoms. At that time, the thought of solo travel headed to sunshine, on a beach, followed by a road trip through California seemed like magic. After the emotional rollercoaster of divorce, I was ready for an escape. Now I was wondering how I was going to manage making it through the flight.

I have always known that the mind and body connection is strong. Was the transition into this new life of being on my own so intensely met with emotion that my body was breaking down? Was this why my body suddenly seemed to be failing me?

My trip ended on New Year’s Eve. The moment the plane took off from Los Angeles to head across the country, despite my aching joints and the feeling as though I had the worst flu that never seemed to end, I drifted off into a deep sleep. I awoke in time to catch the sun, setting on a decade.

The state of my body and mind seemed to erase any concern for appearing as an emotional wreck, as I let the tears fall without effort. I cried for the life I was leaving behind, and I cried most for not understanding why I felt so incredibly ill, for so long.

When I finally arrived at home, I collapsed on my bed, too weak to even welcome the idea of celebrating the New Year. Sleep began to be my reprieve from the dizziness, the physical pain, and the unrelenting fatigue.

Months later, I would receive my medical diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Otherwise known as CFS/ME. This came after multiple diagnostic tests, lab work, doctor appointments, and second opinions, and after hearing, “All of your test results are normal,” after five months of facing these symptoms without answers, and after ultimately doing extensive research myself, presenting these facts to my doctors.

As I have eased into the normalcy of an entirely different lifestyle and full acceptance of my condition, there are a few revelations that I have come to know. Understanding why we refuse to stand firm in boundaries, navigate away from our true selves, and avoid staring down our pain doesn’t look perfectly placed and joyful. It’s not a highlight reel for social media. It is messy, and hard. Maybe even bizarre to some. But it represents the raw truth of unbecoming, to then truly become.

To find the most authentic version of me meant slowly releasing so much, in the physical and non-physical. Some of what to release was understood. But I had only just begun to touch the surface as I began to understand how my body developed this condition. 

Any belief system I had picked up as truth, in relation to our thought process and dis-ease settling into our bodies, was confirmed. 

I am in recovery, and slowly learning how to build myself back up both physically and mentally. I have an incredible recovery coach and doctor, who have also been in the horrifying grasp of this illness. They understand the mental toll it takes and are my lifeline in understanding how to recover fully. Although, as with anything in life, it is fully up to us to overcome any adversity, and keep our faith in that.

CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia can present themselves in two ways: post-viral infection in the body or an active one. Or, as in the case with myself, after emotional trauma or improperly dealing with stressors. It is also common amongst those who tend to be overachievers and perfectionists.

It is an invisible illness that affects an estimated 2.5 million people, more commonly in women. As with any illness or disease both physical and mental, you cannot speak to its depths unless you are in the throws of it. 

The path to recovery is a delicate balance of putting the puzzle pieces together with proper nutrition, appropriate rest, restorative movement, emotional work, and faith.

During this time of uncertainty in our world, if you know of someone who battles with any chronic illness, please let them know you are thinking of them.

You don’t need to ask them how they feel. Most will say okay, as the energy of explaining can be an exhaustion in itself. You only need to remember that your understanding is enough.

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