Many people get ME after a viral infection such as flu or worse. They simply never recover from it. I first got sick after being in bed for a week with flu. After the flu seemed to be clearing up, the exhaustion, the headaches and the muscle pain stayed on. Those are the primary symptoms of ME.
When I talk about chronic fatigue the words really don’t cover the reality of it. People use words like tired, exhausted, and fatigue all the time but they have no clue what it really means. When I say I am too tired to get out of bed it’s not hyperbole. I mean it. When I am that tired I can’t get the five metres from the bed to the toilet. When I am at my worst I cannot lift my head from the pillow or turn myself over in bed. If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis then imagine it continuing for hours. For the really unlucky ones it continues forever. One of the most frustrating things that people can say to me apart from “Have you tried…” is “oh, yes, I’m quite tired after work too.” I want to scream at them. You just have no clue!
The fatigue is not logical either. It starts about as low as energy levels can get so that every action is an extra effort. That effort must be gauged incredible carefully. Each action results in a bit more fatigue and in a bit more pain. Where most people could perform a physically demanding task for a day and then be refreshed by one nights sleep or perhaps a day off, when you have ME the refreshment doesn’t happen. A few minutes of extra effort can result in days of exhaustion and pain. Sleep can make things feel worse. The best analogy I can think of is that every bit of energy used must be borrowed from a loan shark. He isn’t forgiving. That energy will be demanded back the next day with menaces, and whatever you pay won’t be enough. The loan shark will be back again for more.
Other symptoms are many and varied. I have already mentioned fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. I also have burning pain in various muscles, brain fog, irritable bowel syndrome, problems with vision which appear when most tired, and more that I can’t remember.
Brain fog is worth explaining. Once again words are inadequate but it is often described as a head full of cotton wool or as thinking through treacle. Brain fog prevents me from remembering words that I need, from completing thoughts in my head, from finishing sentences that I am speaking. It can cause me to “lock up” when asked about something important. Brain fog is frightening and horrible because it strikes at my own sense of self. It is brain fog that can prevent me from speaking at all on some day
For me, my illness varies a lot. I tend to have cycles of relatively good (~80%) health and then relapse for a few weeks or months where things get bad. I had flu, the real deal, not once but twice in the last few weeks. Since then my health has gone steadily downhill and I am now in a complete state of relapse. I have barely been able to leave my bed for the last few days and have been in a lot of pain with burning sensations in my muscles. I would say that i have rarely been as ill as this in the past.
There are people far worse affected than me. For many, every day is like my worst relapse. One person describes her life as “90% bed, 10% sofa.” I know people that don’t even get the 10% on the sofa. I know people that can only leave the house in a wheelchair, on a good day.
I wrote about how ME affects me every time I wake up in my article A morning with ME
I wrote about how technology helps me deal with Life with ME: My technology lifeline