The Crash of ‘07

That early November day of 2007 began like any other day.  I was preparing my kids for their homeschool gymnastics class.  I felt no more than the usual tired (the previous few weeks had felt like a hamster wheel which had no mercy), and possibly like I had a cold coming on, but nothing to cause concern or keep me from taking them to their class.  We had to stop at the store on the way, and as I was heading to the checkout line, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I began to sweat, my legs were shaking and I felt like I was going to collapse. “Just get the kids to the car, drink some water, and then you’ll be OK”, I told myself.  I got the kids to the car, drank some water, and knew I was not OK.  I chose to head to gymnastics anyway.

I got there, and a couple of the other moms who are now friends of mine noticed that my color was not good.  I said that I wasn’t feeling great, I was exhausted, but I’d be OK.  I was not OK.  Halfway through the class I couldn’t move.  My body just had no strength and I felt like if I stood up, I would faint.  I broke down in tears and could not stop crying.  As embarrassed as I was, I was terrified more.  I thought I was going to die.  Mind you, I had panic attacks before, had battled depression (although it still remained undiagnosed at this point), but this was different.  This debilitated me to the point of complete helplessness.  The two friends I mentioned began immediately to minister and pray for me.  One friend took my kids, I was offered a ride, but stupidly drove myself home.  How I did not get into an accident on the way home is beyond me other than angels carried the car.

I called my husband and he rushed home.  I thought maybe if I can just get some decent sleep while he manages the house and kids, I’d be better by the next day.  I was not better by the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that.  I was pretty much bed- or couch-bound and when I did need to get up, I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without leaning against the wall or without help.  I couldn’t drive.  I couldn’t even get dressed without it completely wiping me out for the rest of the day. So my husband worked from home, and we took friends and family on their offers to help with our kids and meals. To them I will be forever grateful because we would not have survived otherwise.

My symptom list continued to grow.  I was back and forth to the doctor’s office.  They said there was nothing wrong according to the lab tests, so I was referred to Behavioral Health.  She said I should see psychology, take Benadryl for sleep and exercise.  I explained to her that while in the past exercise helped me to feel better, now even a short, slow walk knocked me on my can for the next five days.  Like I said, I even needed help getting dressed.  Along with this symptom, I did not feel refreshed even after adequate rest, felt weak, lightheaded, short of breath even though I was using inhalers, joint pain and general body achiness on and off and in different places, extreme sensitivity to temperature changes and my body was having trouble regulating my temperature (hot flashes to chills), difficulty concentrating and remembering, persistent sore throat, chest pain, blurred vision at times and sensitivity to light and finally, which I thought were illnesses of themselves but were really symptoms, anxiety and depression.  These symptoms individually could point to any one of a number of problems, which I believe made it difficult for the doctors to diagnose as something as other than a purely psychological problem.  Collectively and for the length of time I had them was a different story and pointed to something pretty obvious, in my lay-person’s opinion.

Four months later, I still couldn’t drive.  The symptoms weren’t improving.  Both my husband and I had done extensive research as to what this could possibly be.  Everything we read pointed to either fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.  Why hadn’t the doctors mentioned this?  It hadn’t been long enough yet.  The criteria for diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome is normal function reduced by 50% or more (mine was probably closer to 75%), fatigue that is not relieved by rest, and feeling worse for longer than 24 hours after exertion, these three symptoms lasting longer than 6 months and could be accompanied by other symptoms, all of which I mentioned above.  In the meantime, I was put on antidepressants and began going to counseling because I had been led to believe that the depression was causing the rest of the symptoms, rather than it being a symptom of a larger problem.

Finally, my husband came to the doctor with me to advocate for me since I had no energy left.  He was a hero through all of this, as difficult as I know working a full-time job at work, and working one at home, was for him and took its toll on him.  This was a fight I couldn’t handle alone, and I felt VERY alone.  God and I got very close during this time, but that’s for a different post.  Anyway, we brought the list of symptoms with us so the doctor had something to look at and could see what had been happening the last 6 months.  Just about everything else had already been ruled out through repetitious lab tests and exams.  Finally, finally, chronic fatigue syndrome was written as a diagnosis in my chart.  Now we could start moving forward.

It’s been two years. I do take antidepressants, but still struggle with all of the symptoms of CFS.  According to what we read, it can resolve in 2-4 years, but for some it remains lifelong. My muscles are still weak from not having been used much.  Our house still needs to be purged since things have piled up because I haven’t been able to stay on top of cleaning and organization like I used to religiously.  I’ve learned to live with it as has my family and am able to function not at full speed like I had done before, but participate in life more.  I’m still praying for full health and recovery, but am thankful for this experience.  It has taught me to slow down.  It has taught me to accept help from people.  It has taught me that I don’t have to be all things for all people.  It has taught me to set better boundaries and that it’s OK to say no.  It has taught me that I must take care of myself properly.  And it has brought our family of seven much closer together.

I don’t write this post for a pity party.  Things like this happen. I’m just speculating here, but I believe it happened because I ran myself into the ground for years trying to do it all without much help and always putting myself last (I still struggle with this, as do most women, I think), I got a virus, and then this illness set in after that because my immune system was so fried and just couldn’t take anymore.

I write this as a means of helping someone out there who might be going through the same things as I am.  It is not all in your head.  This is a very real illness with very real symptoms and effects. Document what you feel when you feel it to show it to your health care professionals. Surround yourself with people who you can share this struggle with and advocate for you when you lack the mental or physical strength.  I think you’ll be surprised at how people who are able to help, want to.  And most of all, as much as you feel like giving up sometimes, don’t.  You might just make it. :)

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