Chronic fatigue or lazy-itis?


Having conquered an entire four lengths of the swimming pool (followed by a lengthy wallow in the jacuzzi), my doctor now wants me to try lifting some light weights to build up muscle density. She said I can even start at home with canned goods.

Four years ago last month I ran the London marathon. Twenty-six-point-two miles of sweat, back ache, wild cheering crowds, being overtaken by obscenely fit pensioners and the occasional camel – it was one of the greatest days of my life. Today, I risk ending my days trapped underneath a pile of baked bean tins. A lot has changed.

Has my attitude towards exercise taken a dramatic turn over the last four years? Have I suddenly become terminally lazy? Survived a terrible car accident and lost the use of my limbs? None of the above. Relentless fatigue simply arrived in my life after a period of battling depression and anxiety. I started needing a nap just to get through the afternoon in one piece, my daily threshold for physical exertion began to comprise a simple walk to the corner shop and, at it’s worst, I was bedridden and seething with bodily aches and pains. All for no apparent reason.

And that’s the biggest problem for those suffering through the phenomenon GPs are labelling TATT (Tired All The Time) when the blood tests come back clear. Call it chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, hypoglycaemia, systemic candida, burnout, breakdown…whatever you want – most people that feel exhausted all the time for no logical reason simply don’t get a clear answer. And in the absence of a scientifically rooted conclusion, the chronically tired are often just shipped off for psychiatric treatment. If in doubt, it must be all in the head.

And because there’s such a vast grey area circling my condition, the demons of self doubt are never too far away. I’ve often wondered if the problem really is ‘just in my head’? Maybe all those judgey and intolerant people on the outside are right – I’m just lazy.

However a vast proportion of the population that wakes up exhausted after a full night’s sleep every day says otherwise. It’s estimated that around 250,000 people currently live with chronic fatigue syndrome in the UK, and countless others are struggling with persistent, unexplained tiredness and exhaustion.

There are a whole host of possibilities for what’s causing the body to struggle – vitamin and mineral deficiencies, digestive problems, food allergies, inflammation, infection, trauma – but the problems are invariably subtle, chronic and only identifiable on a trial and error basis. Some complicated combination of factors has run the body down over a long period of time – and while chronic exhaustion isn’t necessarily life threatening, it’s certainly life limiting.

I’ve done a hell of a lot of reading over the last year or so, and self education has been key for my burgeoning recovery. The internet is a great starting point for self-help literature, but beware articles written by those that think you’ll spontaneously combust if you eat a non organic grain of rice. It seems there’s a growing population of experts out that that have identified the source of all worldly problems – and it is gluten.

I’m hopeful that in the future the medical profession will be better informed about mystery fatigue ailments. It has to be – unexplained tiredness seems to be mushrooming in modern society. After all, what sort of future can our children look forward to if instead of working together to create a better world, we’re all having a snooze? Until then it’s up to those with tangible experience of chronic weariness – us – to talk and write about our experiences and better educate the wider public. After a nap.




4 thoughts on “Chronic fatigue or lazy-itis?

  1. CRON was a solution to most physical ailments for me but the stress and time involved in doing the research was incredible. I didn’t really feel smart enough to retain all the information, let alone make a decision on which study I would believe over the other. I feel less energetic than when my diet was very good – I don’t get to do the food shopping where I’m staying right now. When I do get a chance though, I’ll be back vegetarian and as much raw food as I can stand. Homoeostasis felt great. There is a lot to be said for eating well, but really most people take that term as too general and don’t understand that ‘eating well’ means weighing your food, calculating the best way to get the most minerals into each kcal and eating as little as possible to achieve the goal.

    I reckon the reasons for CF and anything else like it are inherently tied in with modern, western life and, especially with social media, we never really switch off. The time allocated to just sitting and finding a bit of peace is being completely eroded.

    All the best,

  2. I can’t say I know anything about CRON but eating a low GI diet with lots of green veg and good quality protein has really helped my energy levels, along with a good multivitamin supplement. Completely agree about not switching off – I’m actually going to write a post soon on the positive effects I’ve had from cutting down on social media time.

    Thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on my chronic life journey and commented:
    What do doctors really think?

    I’ve struggled to find doctors that take my illness seriously.

    My GP is great, but definitely pushes the exercise a bit to hard for me (his background is in exercise physiology or something like that) but thankfully my exercise physiologists hold me back and remind me regularly that slow and steady is the way to win the race.

    I just need to keep reminding myself to apply these principles to the rest of my life…

  4. There’s a big difference between various criteria used to diagnose and research Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s very complicated and difficult to discuss easily. It boils down to the idea of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis being a term that makes sense if you’re discussing a tighter cohort where you’ll find evidence of objectively measurable physical abnormalities, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome making more sense if you’re discussing conditions based around fatigue, with fatigue being a term that is generally vague and nonspecific. For the most part, the research indicating that exercise is recommended in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome used looser cohorts, such as Oxford (the criteria used in PACE). On the rare occasions where expert specialists selected the cohorts, which likely could be defined by tighter criteria such as the Canadian Consensus Criteria, exercise is shown to be detrimental to ME patients.

    The two terms have been conflated so as to be almost indistinguishable, which harms ME patients, since they are defined by criteria very different from Oxford. Exercise creates a state known as post-exertional malaise, an exacerbation of symptoms, a relapse, even. However, this is sneered at, generally, since everybody seems to know one thing about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that’s that Graded Exercise Therapy (and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) shows more promise, efficacy, and safety than any other treatment. However, if it helped lead ME patients toward recovery, as seen in the PACE trial, we’d all be better, at least in the percentages seen in that trial (which weren’t so great to begin with).

    Here is a recent paper that shows what happens when you exercise ME patients. The universal advice I see everywhere that we’re supposed to exercise is a bit difficult to stomach at times, like none of us were active before we got sick, people like me didn’t have gym memberships, etc. We all just woke up one day & decided we didn’t want to move after coming down with a viral infection, and we never want to move again. But there are no objectively measurable physical abnormalities in the Oxford Criteria, so there’s no reason why these patients should just lie around doing nothing, so…let’s exercise them. Well…

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