How I beat Chronic Fatigue Sydrome
I get asked this question quite a lot.
I was 23 and I had just finished dieting down from a long winter’s bulk. It was the mid 90’s and low-carb dieting was coming into vogue. By the diet’s completion I had never looked or felt better in my life.
Then out of nowhere, only a few days after the above pic was taken, disaster struck.
The onset of symptoms was quick and unexpected. I went from feeling and looking my best to being reduced to a emaciated 55kg mess unable to move from the couch in a matter of months.
At first I began to notice irritating spasms and constant twitching in my muscles. My hands began to feel like they were always “vibrating”, I had extreme sensitivity to light and noise. I was exhausted constantly and when I awoke from sleep my joints and especially my neck were painful and difficult to move.
My body then began to throw up autoimmune symptoms whereby I was breaking out in itchy eczema like rashes after I ate most foods (at the lowest point, I was only able to physically tolerate eating beef and eggs for 6 months straight) and worst of all, a debilitating brain fog that frazzled my short-term memory and made doing even the most simple tasks an exercise in confusion. Often I’d get in my car and think, “where am I going?”. I’d read a page of a book and even before I’d get half way down I’d forget what I’d read.
This is also the same time my hatred of the medical community found its origins. I went to doctor after doctor along with numerous specialists and met the most uncaring, self-righteous bunch of bastards I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting. I was told that it’s “in my head” and was brushed off after 5 minute sessions with no examination except for a prescription for anti-depressants.
I still clearly remember one ass-hole doctor who after listening to my symptoms, finally deemed it necessary to look up from whatever dot on his desk that was occupying his focus and ask “are you drinking many fluids?” When I answered 3-4 litres a day, he replied, “You need to stop drinking so many fluids”. And that was how it went, consult after consult.
Ironically, I never felt a period of “depression” during this time. There wasn’t a time where I felt “sad” or in a “funk” with the blues. I was too determined to kick things ass and get my life on track to be sitting around like “weepy smurf” all day.
I realised that I would never receive help from anyone from the medical community and that it was up to me to help myself. I began reading every book I could find on CFS, searched out info on the net and started trying every alternative therapy I could. I literally tried every detox plan, pill and mysticism on the market. I did yoga, meditation, hypnosis, visited spiritualists to “clear my energy” and “remove possible curses”.
After about the first 18 months the levels of extreme fatigue lessened, but I was still plagued with the majority of the other symptoms; the most insidious being the mind numbing brain fog. I was able to do tasks that required minimal energy commitment, but found that stress from physical or mental exertion could create a deficit that would take days or weeks to creep out of again.
As seven years went by, I tried persisting through life as best as I could. I felt that the symptoms were just going to be something I’d have to live with and I had forgotten what it was like to have a day of good health where you feel you can take on the world.
Eventually, I met another person who had experienced CFS and had found help through a naturopath/MD. I had been to naturopaths before and thought that their schtick of using a machine to study your eyes and prescribe you hundreds of dollars of their off-label magical beans were equivalent to the efficacy of curse-removing spiritualists; but this guy had seen a lot of similar cases and gave me an effective recovery protocol.
Here are a few of the key methods I can honestly say played a contributing part to me recovering from this nightmare.
What Worked (for me)
Supplements – First the naturopath put me on a German prescription enzyme called Creon Forte which helped me to properly digest all my meals. It helped tremendously with integrating a range of foods back into my diet. He also gave me glutathione injections to assist in liver detoxification.
I found creatine monohydrate to be tremendously helpful. While it’s never been much of a strength/muscle builder for me, its ability to increase the availability of cellular ATP has helped as an effective supplement for many chronic fatigue sufferers.
Rotation Diet – Since my body was producing an autoimmune response to food, I had to keep it “guessing” and not overload it with any one kind of particular food. I set up a rotation diet where I would only repeat the same food once every 4 days. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon a self-created version of Intermittent Fasting in the early 2000’s because I wanted to rest my digestive system as much as possible.
Exercise – this one at first seems counter-intuitive since even the slightest exertions tends to wipe out some CFS sufferers for days. However, high rep weight training was integral to helping me back onto the path of recovery. Depending on the severity of your condition, you want to gradually ramp up the level of exertion over time. Don’t go training with near maximal loads that place strain on the nervous system, but rather reach the point where you begin to feel that mid-post workout endorphin rush. Whole body workouts are best, and I’d say aim for between 4-6 workouts a week.
As the saying goes, “you have to use energy to make energy” and even today, if I’m feeling banged up from a high intensity workout I’ll make sure to run a recovery high rep workout the next morning/day to beat the fatigue.
Mental Aspects – One of the key components of recovery is to shift your focus from the disease to something else and try to remove as much focus on the disease as you can. There’s an often used cliche in NLP circles that “what your resist, persists” and I’ve found it rings true especially with matters of health problems.
I realise when something is causing tremendous discomfort and pain this is easier said than done. But if you can involve yourself in an activity or pursuit that assists in achieving what is referred to as a “flow state” it will go a long way in shifting your mindset from the pain. I realise now in retrospect that while I was trying to educate myself on the disease, I was also putting too much focus on it and in turn, giving it life and strength.
Think of it like a cold. Sometimes when you sit at home and wallow in your snot and misery, it feels 10 times worse than if you had just picked up and gone to the ocean and sat in the sunshine chatting with friends. (Or alternatively, when you simply go to work and just power through your day, you often forget about the symptoms.)
When those bastard doctors said, “it was in my head”, to some extent now, I believe it. The symptoms and the disease are very much real however, and fuck them for being so dismissive of someone paying them for their so called “expertise”, but it’s another thing to dwell on it for the better part of your waking life.
Visualisation – Not sure how much this one helped exactly, but there seems to be a connection between focusing on a positive end state to produce a desired outcome. Before sleep every night I would dream about the time I would one day return to the gym. I’d feel the gym door move in my hands,hear the sounds of the music and the clanging of the weights in vivid detail. I’d see myself greeting the staff and warming up, the weight and texture of the bar, feeling the heaviness of the plates and so on.
And hey, it eventually came true. I’m back now feeling and looking better at 40 than I ever did at 20 and 30. One other thing is that the CFS never really goes away totally. It’s like a program that runs in the background and if I let things slip diet/stress wise, it sends a few symptoms my way as a reminder to get things back on track.
Never take your health for granted people. You never realise how truly rich you are until you’ve lost it.