8 lessons I learned from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I’m going to start out by taking a little contradictory dump on the title of this blog and saying that I don’t actually believe in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (‘CFS’ for short).

Just like Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and probably plenty of other things with which I haven’t yet been diagnosed), ‘CFS’ is nothing more than a label that gets slapped onto a person once the doctor is all out of ideas.

It doesn’t actually provide any insight or solve the actual problems; it’s kind of like saying, “Congratulations sir, you have a headache. I can’t tell you why you have a headache, but here’s a couple of Panadols to help you forget about it for a while.”

If you would be so kind as to humour me for the next few minutes, the quotation marks indicating my indignance to the term CFS are now implied.

End rant.

Now let me tell you my story…

 

At the age of 21, after two particularly nasty bouts of Glandular Fever in 2004 and 2005 I began to feel severe changes in my previously good health. Extreme exhaustion, random bouts of nausea and stomach pains, brain fog, problems sleeping, weight loss, and the list goes on.

Trips to doctors of all shapes and sizes ensued over the coming 4 years, as the condition gradually got more severe. At the peak of my illness in 2009, after baffling more than 30 medical professionals and spending thousands of dollars I was ceremoniously handed the cherished title of CFS Sufferer. Yay!

I made the decision to leave my well accomplished career of 5 years; physically and mentally unable to continue working full time.

All in an instant my whole world was uprooted by something that didn’t even exist. I went spiralling out of control into a black pit of incapacitation and anxiety, with 5 repeat courses of Zoloft as my consolation prize.

But hidden inside this dark cloud of fear, pain and uncertainty came the first hidden blessing.

I was now unemployed and living for free with two amazing and incredibly supportive parents – zero responsibility, nothing but time.

Time to create music.

And one day a company.

 

Lesson #1

There’s a silver lining in EVERYTHING – if you’re willing to find it.

 

During the 6 months that followed I had many nightmares. Unfortunately for me I was awake for all of them.

Thanks to the many side effects of anti-depressants and meltdown of many of my body’s vital functions, I became a chronic insomniac – sleeping 2 or 3 hours on a good night; 0 on a bad night.

Not a whole lot of fun, as you would imagine.

To this day I am still very much an insomniac, but I’m ok with that. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have achieved half of what I have in my life if I slept a full 8 hours per night.

 

Lesson #2

The body doesn’t need 8 hours of sleep. It just doesn’t. 

 

With a bit of training and a lot of self-control you can learn to live comfortably on much less. Tim Ferriss and Ryan Leslie agree with me on that. My sweet spot is somewhere between 4-5 hours per night, though I definitely didn’t get myself there overnight.

As the CFS began to really take over it created severe reactions to almost every type of food I would eat. Bread and pasta, dairy, chips and snacks, right down to many fruits and vegetables.

Out of necessity I put myself onto the ‘Nic Diet’, something which many of my friends found highly amusing and at times frustrating. Bye bye artificial and deep-fried foods, desserts, sugary snacks and alcohol.

Despite losing enough weight to look like an empty skeleton costume the day after Halloween, I felt much better on the inside.

Nowadays I live on a slightly less-extreme version of the Nic Diet and try to swim 3-5 kilometres every week. And despite the ridiculously long hours I work and the vast array of auto-immune type issues I have, I really couldn’t tell you the last time I caught a cold or the flu.

 

Lesson #3

Lifestyle is everything. Eat healthy and exercise daily and watch your quality of life skyrocket.

 

After realising the doctors were fresh out of ideas, I began to explore other avenues for my health. I saw chiropractors and osteopaths, naturopaths and kinesiologists, acupuncturists, reflexologists and iridologists, and other whacky types of therapists that don’t need to be mentioned.

Oh what fun I had (no, seriously).

Besides learning a lifetime of facts about the magnificent human body, I also discovered that there is natural remedies and treatments for pretty much any issue under the sun.

Since my baptism into the world of natural therapies I refuse to touch cold & flu tablets and the vast majority of painkillers, and since 2006 I am proud to say that I haven’t ingested a single antibiotic.

 

Lesson #4

Prescription meds and drugs are not the answer. There are better ways to heal yourself.

 

Like it or not, EVERY drug you put in your body has a side effect. Keep it natural and your body will thank you.

Living life with a side-kick who is actually a mysterious and incurable chronic illness is something that took me a long time to adjust to. The uncertainty each day can be disconcerting and demotivating, depressing and downright terrifying.

But out of this dark and desperate place appeared another of life’s lessons.

Thanks to this experience I am now completely at ease living life hour-by-hour, day-by-day; enjoying the highs, and laughing during the lows.

At the end of the day, life’s just not that hard.

 

Lesson #5

Embrace the unknown and take risks in life.

 

Make decisions even when you can’t quite see the finish line. Fortune favours the bold.

When you’re the kind of person who naturally leans a little towards the frowny-face side of the scale, as I certainly tend to, it’s easy to let negative thoughts creep into your mind and influence your life.

Nothing will bring you down faster than negative people and their bad vibes, yet so many unhappy people choose to find comfort in others just like them; rather than seeking out the people who will drag them out of their caves and into blue skies and green pastures.

Without the shining smiles and support of my close friends and family over the years I could have easily wandered down a very different path.

 

Lesson #6

Positivity is key. Surround yourself with positive people every step of the way.

 

If you’re a pessimist by nature, it’s time to find yourself some happy friends.

Without trying to get too new age or hippie (or quantum for that matter), pretty much everything in life comes back to the creation and flow of energy.

Being able to think clearly, generate creativity, stay happy, relax, and sleep well at night all boil down to your body’s ability to manufacture and store energy.

When you have CFS it doesn’t matter how little you do or how much you sleep, your batteries will never re-charge. And while I’ve learned to combat a lot of my issues, I haven’t yet found a magic elixir to restore energy.

This means taking a different approach to the situation.

For me, prioritising everything in life is absolutely essential. It’s the only way to get through each day with minimal crashing and burning.

 

Lesson #7

Energy is one of the single most important finite resources we have.

 

The less you have, the more careful you need to be with it. Being strategic and prioritising your activities in life leads to greater productivity, more energy, and ultimately more happiness. Tony Schwartz has some interesting thoughts on the topic.

Man this really has matured into one long-ass blog. My Sunday is all but over and my stomach is crying out for a nice medium-rare steak with absolutely no sauce on it, so let me wrap this up in rather a hurry.

Here is the last (and possibly my favourite, albeit clichéd) lesson for today…

 

Lesson #8

Don’t take anything for granted. Nothing in this life is permanent.

 

Take time to appreciate the people, the beauty, and the balance that exists all around you.

I took my health for granted for 21 years, and then suddenly it was gone all in an instant. And while I may never understand why CFS chose me, I do know there is a reason and a purpose for everything.

If the last 8 years I spent battling were simply to learn these 8 lessons, I wouldn’t take them back.

And more importantly, I will never again count the days that I feel good. I’ll count the minutes.

There’s a lot more of them in a year.