Being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or fibromyalgia, is a difficult pill to slow, and is most definitely a pain in the neck for two reasons:
1. First, because CFS mimics other conditions, some patients have been wrongly diagnosed. CFS has been mistaken for Lupus, Lyme disease, rheumatism, and arthritis. An accurate diagnosis may therefore be delayed, and consequently, treatment may also be delayed.
2. Second, the pain that CFS patients feel cannot be localized. Not everyone with CFS will have pain in the same body part. It can be in the lower back, in the head, in the lower extremities, or, as we noted above, a pain in the neck.
What is CFS?
Before dealing with ways to fight CFS, let”s very briefly describe it. It all started in 1963 when the Arthritis Foundation came up with 150 different forms of musculoskeletal conditions. This gave rise to a particular classification known as soft tissue rheumatism, a classification that excluded joints. This category concerned only the supporting structures of joints: ligaments, bursae, tendons, muscles and other soft tissues. CFS falls under soft tissue rheumatism. It isn”t a form of arthritis, because it isn”t related to joint inflammation.
Most doctors agree that the common symptoms of CFS are a general sense of being unwell, fatigue, pain, spasms, sleep deprivation, lack of stamina, and sometimes, difficulty in concentrating or focusing. 1 out of 50 Americans has CFS, and the majority of sufferers are thought to be women. However, this statistic could very well be misleading, since statistically women are much more likely to visit their doctor regularly and openly discuss problems such as fatigue. Regrettably, many men are still reluctant to discuss problems with their doctor; especially something “internal”, like CFS (i.e. they are more comfortable talking about broken bones than they are states of wellness).
Children, too are stricken with the condition, and based on statistics produced by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), it appears to be more common among Caucasians than other racial groups.
Physical discomfort can provoke emotional discomforts, triggering a whole slew of behavioral patterns that cannot be treated with medication alone, so doctors and psychologists sometimes have to work together with a patient to help him/her cope with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Coping with CFS
While pain, fatigue, and sleep deprivation are real symptoms and deserve medical attention, the emotional spin-off from these discomforts deserve equal, if not sometimes more, attention. A patient diagnosed with CFS will almost often experience some degree of anxiety, loss of self-esteem, anger, guilt, shame, depression, fear, and trauma. This is where life-coping skills as recommended by Dr. Wallace in his book Making Sense of Fibromyalgia (1999) can be invaluable and, indeed, life saving.
Medication, where necessary, plays a significant role in diminishing the debilitating effects of CFS, thus enabling patients to carry on with their daily activities. However, it”s the fundamental changes in lifestyle and adjusting certain behavioral patterns that often produce long-term relief of CFS. Here are four steps towards that healing:
1. Develop positive goals and attitudes — if patients can treat “fibromyalgia as a challenge to their resourcefulness”, think of all the productive activities they can engage in. New interests and hobbies have worked wonders in some patients, because instead of concentrating on their pain or fatigue, they harness unknown energies towards a new undertaking.
2. Improve coping skills — this means learning to adapt to the illness. Some patients decide to go back to work even when their symptoms persist in order to accommodate the illness; and in some cases, this is a positive step (though not in all cases, especially where rest and stress-free living are diagnosed).
3. Manage stress — meditation and relaxation techniques are not all that difficult to learn. Dr. Wallace recommends learning how to laugh, curl up with a good book, gardening, or any other hobby/pursuit that promotes calm balance.
4. Cultivate the doctor-patient relationship — Only a doctor can prescribe the appropriate medication, so learn to communicate with him or her, and describe symptoms as accurately as you can. A doctor may also recommend alternative therapies that you never knew existed, such as naturopathy, aromatherapy, homeopathy, light therapy, color therapy, and more.
Living with CFS and coping with it isn”t easy. In fact, it”s one of the most challenging experiences that most people will have in their entire life. Yet this doesn”t mean that it”s impossible. On the contrary, there is a growing awareness — finally — of CFS as a legitimate and established health problem. If you”re experiencing CFS, or think that you are, talk with your doctor (and don”t count out a second opinion if your doctor isn”t as open-minded as you are!). Treatment, healing, and a CFS-free you are closer than you think!