My Chronic Illness Story And How You Can Help

Title reads My chronic illness Story, How it all started and how you can help, by Chronically Hopeful, Picture of Char lying in bed under blankets, shes in an ME flare wearing sunglasses and headphones

​May is ME Awareness Month and once again I am participating in the ​virtual campaigns online to help raise awareness of this life-destroying illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Today I'm sharing my story. How did I become so terribly ill and housebound? When did it happen? And how long did I have to wait for a diagnosis? Here's my ME story:

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I had a very busy and active life, teaching, going to church and Bible studies, tutoring and babysitting after hours and holidays abroad.

In 2014 I started getting pains all over and picking up every bug that went round. Doctors couldn't tell me why I was in so much pain, they couldn't find anything in the blood and urine tests they did. So they sent me home with over the counter painkillers. Not sure why doctors aren't interested in finding the cause of our issues anymore, they seem content to just let us stay sick and ​only prescribe bandaids. 

My ​Lifestyle Changes

I ​thought that I was probably just unfit and I was certainly overweight. I also knew I had food intolerances, but I'd ignored them for years because I loved food too much. So in the new year I decided to start taking my health seriously - to clean up my diet, eliminate my trigger foods and start exercising regularly. 

I loved my new lifestyle, I had lost weight, felt more energetic, started dance classes and took up Taebo again, I even started cycling again and did my first 14 mile charity walk. I was so happy and my confidence grew. I took on more work too, running after-school clubs ​at the school where I worked.

​Unfortunately it all started weighing on me. I was physically exhausted and often had headaches or sore throat and those shooting pains were still making an appearance. I decided it was time to cut back on all the work, so in the new term I was going to let go of some of the after school activities I had been doing​.

The 5 Bouncing Pink Bunnies, wearing their Marsden March shirts, black leggings and pink bunny ears at the starting line of Marsden March, Chronically Hopeful

Easter 2015 - Onset Of Post Viral Fatigue

​But then, on my Easter holiday in Italy, I was out cycling with Dad when I lost my voice, and by evening I had a terrible earache and sore throat. So I went to bed that night, on 1 April 2015, not realising that I'd still be in bed years later.

Of course I'd go out on days I felt better thinking the virus had finally run its course, but I'd start shaking or become weak and exhausted after just a couple of hours. I could no longer function at full capacity. The infection just wouldn't clear up and it was draining the life out of me.

​Doctors, Sick Leave and Unemployment

I initially went to doctors in Italy and then again once I had returned to London. They ​all said it was just an infection, but after 2 courses of antibiotics ​it ​only got worse. The ear and throat infection lasted for over a month. I was weak and shaking constantly. 

Every time I thought I was better, I'd go in to work and within a few hours I'd be exhausted, in so much pain, with really bad headaches and light sensitivity. I would go ​sleep in the dark sensory room at ​work​ until somebody could take me home.

I ended up staying home for the rest of the year and lost my job in December - I was simply unable to leave the house without detrimental effects to my condition.

I continued to deteriorate despite eating a clean and healthy paleo diet, and giving my body plenty of rest.

Diagnosis

Initially the doctors mentioned Post Viral Fatigue syndrome and told me it should go away within a few weeks to a few months. As the months went by, I saw new doctors and still nobody knew what was wrong until one day a doctor mentioned Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and referred me to a specialist clinic.

Diagnosis wasn't quick or easy, it was ​about 5/6 months before I had confirmation from the clinic that what I had was in fact Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I wasn't happy with the ​diagnosis, I knew what I had was way worse than fatigue, so I Googled and came accross M​yalgic Encephalomyelitis - which is often also referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - ME was a perfect fit for what I was experiencing.

Unfortunately a diagnosis didn't mean answers. My doctors weren't able to help me and they even gave me advice that made me wose. Sadly this is very common among patients with this condition.

MyalgicE, neglect, when docotrs dont believe you, by ChronicallyHopeful

​Full-time Care

​At Christmas my sister ​came over for the holidays as I was too ill to travel to the family as I had planned to​, but when she saw how ill I was, she cancelled her return flight and remained to be my full time carer. She still is to this day.

By the start of 2017 I was almost completely ​bedridden, struggling to walk 7 steps to the toilet, bathing once a week and unable to tolerate people around me without severe repercussions. 

Getting up, even sitting upright, caused incredible weakness, heart racing, pain all over and walking just short distances caused physical shaking and trembling as well as burning pain in my muscles. I was often unable to hold my phone or colour with a pencil. I just lay in bed waiting for relief.

Char flaring, wearing headphones and dark glasses while in bed. Part of the ME Association's The Real ME Campaign
Char flaring, lying in bed, exhausted and in pain. Part of the ME Association's The Real ME Campaign

The Effects Of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

The effects of any mental, emotional or physical exertion (so even getting excited for a visitor, picking up my laptop, brushing my teeth or typing this message) can cause an increase in heart rate comparable to a healthy person doing a cardio workout, I pass my anaerobic threshold and lactic acid is released. You know the burn you feel when you've run a race​? I get that from standing up for more than 3 minutes. 

MyalgicE, Low anaerobic threshold standing causes burning pain, by ChronicallyHopeful

When that happens there is an increase in all my symptoms and the effects can last for hours. If the exertion is bigger, like a shower or a doctors appointment, I ​am confined to bed for days or weeks ​or even months. That's why I no longer leave the house unless it's absolutely necessary because no trip is worth the deterioration.

I still only shower once a week so that I can have a couple of days feeling a bit better before my next shower and the payback that comes with it.

Noise sensitivity and light sensitivity mean that we live in a silent, darkened house for much of the time. My screens are dimmed and I wear tinted glasses and noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs daily. Noise and light cause throbbing and shooting pains through my whole body. And light seems to drain my energy too. It's as if somebody pulled the plug and I can feel all my energy just drain out through my feet.

MyalgicE, poor energy metabolism, it drains from your body the energy you need to function, by ChronicallyHopeful

​​Functioning With An Energy Deficit

There is a misconception that we are just tired or lazy, nothing can be further from the truth. Fatigue is the very least of our problems. As my illness has progressed, I am less fatigued and more wired and weak. Ever been so weak you can't even move from a sitting position to a lying down position on the sofa without help?

In the beginning I'd sleep all day and night, then insomnia hit and I'd struggle to sleep at night, but now I sleep through most nights and no longer need naps in the day, but my mind is racing constantly. It's a wired feeling, like the rush you get from a rollercoaster ride. It's fun for a few minutes, but when it's constant, it's exhausting. I get weak, shaky and in pain, but not tired unless I ​didn't sleep enough.​

This exhaustion is ​a lack of energy at a cellular level. When each cell in your body is fighting to get the fuel is needs to function, it's no wonder the body starts shutting down. That's why even basic functions like digestion drain my energy completely and I often pass out after a meal as my body just cannot keep my awake while it's digesting.

High Achievers

People with ME/CFS are often high achievers, go getters who try everything they can to get better. They spend their limited energy researching and trying any possible solution ​that might provide relief or improvement. The nature of this illness means that these very driven people are trapped or imprisoned in their own bodies that can no longer do the most basic tasks.

We are missing from jobs we loved, social lives, hobbies, contributing to society, going to church, taking care of or even starting families.

MyalgicE Cognitive Dysfunction, when you put the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the fridge, by ChronicallyHopeful

Brain Fog - Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction is a common symptom that fluctuates unpredictably. Right now I'm able to type this message, but sometimes, like earlier today, I can't understand English or string a sentence together and random words come out.

Thinking of words or answers to questions or trying to maintain a conversation requires a lot of brain power which healthy people don't realise, but you might have experienced something similar if you've every been deprived of sleep for ​48 hours or more. Slurred speech, difficulty concentrating and following conversation. The brain uses a lot of energy. This means that even things like reading and chatting with family and friends can be impossible or detrimental to our health. Causing more isolation.

So Why Do ​I Talk About ME So Much?

ME, being a neurological condition, affects every part of my body and my daily life. There is not a single thing I do that is not affected and will not affect me. It's impossible to not be aware of it and consider it regularly without ​the risk of overstepping my limits and causing a massive crash. I have tried. You cannot pretend you don't have it. It quickly reminds you that it's still there.

There is nothing this illness can't take from you, Quotes about MEcfs by Thomas L English MD 0

ME is not a rare disease either. It is twice as common as MS and comparably disabling, even more so in the more severe cases where patients are paralysed and tube fed, needing to lie still in darkness and silence and in excruciating pain for years on end. 

Yet funding is a fraction of what MS gets (just a few dollars per patient per year) and even research into hay-fever and ​balding get more funding​ than ME. This is a global problem. There are millions of us missing from our lives. ​Trapped in a slow, living death.

Additional Diagnoses​​​​

​People with ME also tend to develop secondary conditions like orthostatic intolerance which is an inability of the heart to regulate blood pressure and flow when upright, causing dizziness and fainting and EDS which is a connective tissue disorder causing weak joints and dislocations among other things.

MyalgicE, orthostatic intolerance, when being upright makes you dizzy and weak, by ChronicallyHopeful

The Problem - Why We Need Your Help

We are too ill to fight and advocate for ourselves, for health equality, though we do use all our energy to try. Many risk serious deterioration in order to raise awareness and share their stories. Whether in person or online. So we become invisible​ and forgotten. The most severe living in constant torment, utterly neglected by the healthcare systems that should be taking care of them.

I am blessed with an understanding family, but many patients are shunned and left to manage alone when they can barely get out of bed due to the stigma and misinformation that is out there.

There are patients dying in isolation, in dark rooms, alone because of stigma, neglect, being abandoned by family and friends because the doctor couldn't find anything wrong.

Some patients, like my friend Anita, have been battling ​neglect on top of Severe ME for decades. It is heart breaking. The harm must end.

Doctors can't help us, apart from suppressing a few symptoms like some of the pain or helping us get some sleep (insomnia is common), many doctors don't know anything about the illness and hospitals are more damaging than helpful with bright lights, noise and chemicals used for cleaning... Most staff have never heard of ME or CFS and are ill-equipped to help patients.

We need medical professionals to be trained, we need sufficient funding for biomedical research, we need governments worldwide to take notice and make this a priority. We want to get back to work and living life again!

M.E. Is ​Physiological, Not Psychological

This illness is classified by WHO as neurological. That means there is physical evidence of abnormalities in the brain and nervous system. As such, it affects every body system. Despite this, there are still many people who wrongly assume that it is a psychological illness - a fear of exercise or false illness beliefs. They are quite literally denying scientific evidence and patients are paying for it with their lives.

Scientists have found abnormalities not only in ​the brain, but also in the digestive system, muscle function and recovery, circulation, mitochondria​ and ​plasma. There is exciting research being done, but it's slow due to lack of funding. We need more research funds so proper tests can be ​done and appropriate treatments can be developed.

We Need You!

We could really use the help of able bodied ​allies to take up our cause, write to decision makers, raise awareness, send information packages to doctors and local government, fundraise and educate others. We need you to help amplify our voices and help us to be seen and heard.

How To Help ​

​​I've put together an extensive list of advocacy ideas and resources to help you help us. 

For more info about the exciting research being done, visit www.omf.ngo

Thank you so much for any help you can offer. God bless you.

* A version of this post was originally published on Instagram on 24 May 2018

Title reads My MEcfs Story, How it all started, pin by Chronically Hopeful, Picture of Char lying in bed under blankets, shes in an ME flare wearing sunglasses and headphones

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​Thank You For Stopping By!

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email chronically hopeful char at gmail dot com
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  • V.J. says:

    The sad thing about ME is not that it is an unknown disease, but that it is not uncommon. So many of us suffer without any help from the medical community. I can relate to so many aspects of your journey – am 6 years along.

  • dSavannah says:

    It breaks my heart that so many of us have similar stories. It shouldn’t take this long to get help! I hope all you and all us MEeps are doing will make a difference so we’ll eventually have lives again!

    @dSavannahCreate from dSavannahRambles

  • You’ve covered your story so well, thank you for sharing. You’ve made such good points about how “we become invisible​ and forgotten”, and talking more openly is crucial for improving the way things are, both in society in general and among doctors/specialists. ME & fibromyalgia have turned my world upside down, and I’ve experienced the ignorance around such conditions that just shows that while change is underway, there’s a heck of a long way to go. Brilliant post!
    Caz xx

    • Thanks, Caz. You’re right. There is a long way to go, but I’m going to celebrate every step in the right direction. It’s an exciting time for our community. With much advocacy and research – I’m very hopeful.

      • Paige mosher says:

        Dear crohnically hopeful I have recently been diagnose with reoccurring mono.I am having extreme joint pain and muscle,dizziness tremors weakness and extreme fatigue and anxiety. I feel very alone dealing with this If any one wants to talk please email me

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