The Long Road To Diagnosis: My First 6 Months of ME/CFS
It all started in 2014. I would occasionally get random, migrating pains in my hips, thighs and arms. It was quite painful and alarming. Because it never hung around long, but just came and vanished quickly, I didn't do anything about it. It wasn't very frequent initially.
By November 2014 I was in constant pain. At this point I went to see my doctors, but they couldn't help me. They did loads of blood tests and couldn't find anything wrong. They were frustrated and had no answers. So they just sent me home with painkillers. Months passed, but the pain didn't.
Let me just set the scene here: I was working full time in a job I absolutely loved. I had a full social life which included hanging out with housemates and my friends from church. It was also a stressful year due to all sorts of external circumstances, including a move into my own flat, an attempted illegal eviction and the loss of my closest friend, but I was making the most of it, enjoyed working and having lots of fun too.
Taking Control Of My Health
I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided that this undiagnosed pain was simply my body telling me that I needed to get fit and healthy. I wasn't eating too well at that point in life, eating lots of things I should have been avoiding, and I was very overweight. I decided to change my diet to try and improve my health.
I researched food and health issues I knew I had and came up with a diet I thought would be beneficial to my own body. It was very natural and healthy. I later discovered that it was basically something called Paleo. I hadn't heard of it before, but it was great.
I finally started this new lifestyle on the 1 February 2015. Spending the next two months eating clean and doing exercise to lose weight and get fit. Little did I know, I was doing the very thing that would make me worse!
Making Things Worse
I believe that I already had undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and by increasing my exercise and my work load, I actually did more damage. Despite having lost 9kg on my new diet and feeling much better about myself in general, I was getting ill frequently and often had really bad migraines. I started getting really sleepy at work and dosing off by 10am! Not okay.
Realising Something Was Very Wrong
By Easter Sunday I was completely out of it. I had already been in bed for a few days with terrible earache and a horribly sore throat. That's when the shaking started and I knew something was very wrong.
After another 2 months of doing and redoing blood tests without any clues as to what it could be, it was finally suggested that I might have Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome. I was told it usually goes away after a few weeks, but that in some cases it could last for a few months. I was unhappy with the diagnosis as I knew this was not just fatigue, it was so much more!
I went to Google and was surprised to find that every search result took me to pages about ME/CFS. When I read all the symptoms (there are over 30 common symptoms) I realised that I had almost every one of them! I just never thought they were related. It all started to make sense. I was eventually re-diagnosed with CFS.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Despite the most unfortunate name of this illness, the diagnosis fits my condition perfectly and it has since been confirmed by various people including doctors and psychologists at a Chronic Fatigue Clinic.
By the time I had my confirmation in writing, over 6 months had passed. Unfortunately, this is a very common time frame for diagnosis of ME/CFS as they hope the initial post viral fatigue passes or that they can rule it out by finding something else to diagnose. This is terrible because it means that patients spend the first, crucial months trying to push through and live normally, when they should be resting for a better chance at recovery.
A diagnosis did bring relief, for a while, until I realised there's nothing they can do for me and I was more or less left to manage it on my own. Doctors can prescribe painkillers and antidepressants and they will sometimes refer patients to other specialists for further investigation or confirmation of diagnosis. That's it.
There is the possibility that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or Graded Exercise Therapy are prescribed, but neither are a cure and patient recovery rates are below 10% with both of these therapies.
Graded Exercise Therapy has also been known to cause more harm than good.
As a result of much debate and the debunking of the controversial PACE Trials, the NICE guidelines for the treatment of ME/CFS are currently being reviewed.
I was offered CBT which I attended for 2 years. It did not help me improve, but it did provide some insights and practical advice.