I’m a working mom of over-40, so I get tired! We all get really, really tired sometimes! And we usually push through it and hold out for the holidays. But are you just tired? Or is it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: being SICK and tired?
More than tired…
Fatigue is a symptom of many illnesses (both physical and psychological) but if your fatigue…
- gets worse when you exert yourself physically or mentally; but…
- doesn’t get much better when you rest; and…
- you have no other illness that could explain it…
…then you may have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). (Pay special attention if you’re in my 40-50 year age bracket!).
Other symptoms of CFS
CFS is diagnosed when someone has a new onset of this kind of fatigue and it has persisted for 6 months or more. But it’s a complex disorder with at least 4 of these other signs and symptoms too*:
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Feeling unwell or extremely exhausted for more than 24 hours after physical or mental exertion
- Frequent or reoccurring sore throat
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Pain in many different joints
- Headaches of a new variety or of increased severity
- Unrefreshing sleep
People with CFS also commonly experience brain fog, dizziness, balance problems, allergies and sensitivities, symptoms similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chills or night sweats and mood changes.
CFS symptoms usually show up gradually and, after diagnosis, there may be periods when they almost disappear before returning again. They can affect the person’s ability to do normal daily activities or even cause them to become bed-ridden.
Chronic fatigue syndrome: being sick and tired
The causes of CFS are unknown. Experts believe it may be a combination of factors (e.g. viral infections, impaired immunity and stress) that trigger its onset in someone who is already predisposed to it from birth. So, it is about being sick and tired.
Now, if you’re thinking, “This is me!” I suggest you start by consulting your GP. Although there is no specific test they can do to diagnose you with CFS, they would want to eliminate other possible causes of your symptoms first and may do tests for those (e.g. using thyroid tests to eliminate hypothyroidism). There are quite a number of other illnesses and conditions to test for, so be patient if this takes a while.
Of these, I want to make special mention of Fibromyalgia. CFS and Fibromyalgia can be confused and actually may occur together. CFS shares some symptoms with Fibromyalgia but does not have the extreme pain or the ‘tender points’ characteristic of it. (Want to know more? Read this blog and this one I’ve written on Fibromyalgia)
A wholistic approach
As with any chronic condition, I’d like to suggest a wholistic approach to managing this syndrome. I believe this should involve input from an interdisciplinary team into the whole health of the individual. Here are some suggestions:
- Remain aware of the connection between your spiritual health and overall health. What you believe impacts on your feelings, behaviours and physical health.
- Consult health professionals and others who respect your spirituality and can offer help in keeping with (or, at least, not conflicting with) your core beliefs.
- Make time and space for prayer, meditation, relaxation and creative expression.
- Become more self-aware. Particularly of the stressors and other factors that trigger worsening of your fatigue and other symptoms.
- Intentionally process emotional stress and learn stress management techniques.
- Identify the problematic thinking (about yourself and the syndrome) that feeds your feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness and depression.
- Learn how to express negative emotions constructively in conversation, journaling or other activities.
- Regain and maintain a sense of control of your life by making good decisions and choices.
- Get help to problem-solve around the limitations CFS places on you.
- Choose, and build a trusting relationship with, a health professional who will help you manage the overall condition.
- Train yourself to listen to your body and respond to its signals of stress and fatigue.
- Give attention to improving the 3 building blocks for your good physical health: sleep, nutrition and exercise.
- Get professional help to develop an individualized and graded exercise programme that will build your tolerance and endurance for activity.
- Evaluate whether your unique sensory profile is contributing to your stress and fatigue levels.
- Counteract the socially-alienating effect of the fatigue by communicating your feelings and prioritising social time with family and friends over less important activities.
- Maintain boundaries on difficult relationships that cause you stress.
- Connect into a support group or community if this kind of interaction fuels you.
Self-care and work
- Learn new ways of doing things that conserve your energy.
- Hire domestic help for home or assistance at work.
- Get advice on making your home and work spaces more ergonomic and efficient.
- Discuss work accommodations or even a work-from-home scenario with your employer.
Occupational therapists are uniquely qualified to offer you this kind of wholisitic help and meet the daily challenges of living with CFS.