It’s been a while since I’ve written. I guess the past 6 months I’ve been facing some pretty intense emotions, particularly in the past month, and I just haven’t felt the urge to write. But here I am, back doing what makes my heart sing.
Six months ago, I was on a role. I seemed to be well and truly on the road to recovery. I was back studying full-time, socialising, working out at the gym and just feeling like a normal, happy human. I was actually starting to feel like myself again and it felt amazing!
In my usual type A personality style, my impatience started to get the better of me. I got a taste of this vibrant, restored me and I wanted it entirely and now. I’d always been someone in active pursuit of my recovery forever trying new things, experimenting with new treatments and trying out supplements that were supposed to help with the fatigue and other CFS symptoms. At the time though, the only supplements I was taking were a cheap-ish magnesium supplement and my anti-depressants. It surprised me how amazing I felt just keeping things this simple. I had taken high grade naturopathic supplements but this crappy little magnesium supplement I bought in Woolies was my saviour. I had never felt better!
Sure I would still have my bad days and still had a bit of bloating. But these were happening less regularly. But as I started to get more frustrated with the bloating, I was led to a Chinese Doctor to help with my symptoms. I felt relieved when she assured me that she could ‘cure’ my CFS. All my wildest dreams had come true! It felt like Christmas.
For 3-4 months during this treatment I felt great. I felt more energetic, more bubbly, and more like the happy vibrant me I knew. I was back to my limitless life, able to exercise, socialise and do things without restrictions. But something was amidst. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it so thinking it was just the effects of the treatment, I pushed through.
Fast forward 6 months, and here I am trying to recover from possibly the worst relapse I have had. I’m used to setbacks and during my 3.5 year recovery, I have had 2 major relapses. But this one takes the cake. It felt like I was back to where I started again, like I had hit rock bottom. It hasn’t helped that I decided to go off anti-depressants that I had been on for ten years too.
As I looked back in hindsight, I can so clearly see what I did wrong. I know that my body is sensitive to changes, especially multiple at once and that is just what I did. I started the chinese medicine treatment, went off anti-depressants, moved house multiple times and then back to Melbourne and started my final year of Uni at a completely new uni. On top of this, I started having small amounts of caffeine, started drinking more alcohol then usual and just doing way too much. All this while my body was trying to heal with the treatment and balance itself out after coming off the meds. It’s no wonder I had a relapse! But when your living in the moment, enjoying your supposed recovery, you don’t think about these things. The keys to CFS recovery are simplicity, pacing and nurturing your body- I neglected all three. And I dealt with the aftermath.
CFS is so unforgiving. If you do too much, you pay for it after. But if you do too much progressively and push through, you end up crashing hard. This is my current situation. And this relapse on top of my body learning to balance itself without synthetic serotonin has been bloody challenging, let me tell you. Namely in the past month, I have had moments where I have felt like running away and at times, even committing suicide because it has all just become too much. But then I remember, the valuable lessons I have learned in this experience, this relapse. And they make it all worth it.
- It’s okay to rest- For so long I fought this. I thought rest was giving in to this illness and if I rested, I would fall into its trap. Truth is, rest is one of the best things you can do with CFS. And pushing through just makes things worse. It took me 3.5 years to realise this, but never late then never right?
- Listen to your body- Your body is pretty intelligent and when something isn’t right or it needs something, it will tell you. For me, my body was telling me I need to stop and rest. Of course, my type A personality refused to listen and consequently, I ended up back here. But now, I am more in tune in with my body and actually follow what its telling me. Sure, some days I still think “body, what the hell are you doing?” but at least I have a somewhat better understanding of most things.
- Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness- In the past few months, I’ve opened up to people like I’ve never opened up before. I’ve been able to write about it and post about it on Instagram, but actually talking to people about my challenges with chronic and mental illness was always difficult. I even took it to the next level recently featuring my story in a book and interview called the Fear to Freedom project. And you know what, all of these have been cathartic for me. Sharing my experiences has not only helped with my healing process, but it has also helped others.
- I am not my illness- I’ll admit, for the past few months CFS and mental illness has consumed. I’ve found myself constantly thinking about it, talking about it and feeling like it has become ingrained in my identity. I’ve always been positive about my recovery, and separated myself and the CFS and depression but I got stuck in this downward spiral and negativity and let it take control. And yes, many times I almost gave up hope of recovery for both of them. So I decided that enough was enough. I let the tears flow until there were no more, reached out for help and shut down the pity party because I realised I can’t move forward when I’m stuck in a rut. I’m grateful that I am back on the road to being me again.
- It’s okay to reach out for help- Some challenges are just too difficult to face on our own. I thought after coming off anti-depressants, I could deal with the aftermath on my own. And then I thought I could deal with this huge relapse on my own. I thought I was strong enough and reaching out to others would make me seem weak. I’ve always thought that way. But depression and CFS, particularly relapses of both, you cannot face on your own. So I reached out in every way I could- to friends, to family, to my Doctor, to specialists and at very difficult times to Lifeline and Beyond Blue. And you know what I’m actually pretty proud of myself for doing that because it shows that I have grown. Reaching out is hard but even in my most difficult times, when I’m a sobbing mess on the floor I’ve managed to talk and ask for help. That’s a pretty huge step!
- Assertiveness is crucial to recovery- I’ve always been a very easy-going, relaxed kind of person and a good communicator but let me tell you assertiveness is not one of my strengths. I am able to figure out what I want and what I need but communicating that to others has been tough. In the early days of CFS, I would just do everything people wanted me to do- attend events, socialise, etc. And then I would pay for it with a setback and a flare in symptoms later. Well, that was getting me nowhere. But with the severe flare in symptoms of late, I’ve had to learn to be more upfront with people about my energy. Sometimes I’m too tired to do things, sometimes I can do things but to a limited capacity and somethings I can only do for a limited time and communicating that to others is okay. My recovery is always number one priority.
- I’m not a failure because I went backwards- When this relapse first began, I fought it with all my might. I didn’t want to believe that the energetic, positive person that had come back was slowly disappearing again. I did not want to believe that I was relapsing. I didn’t want to believe that all the hard work I had put in to get better, all the money I had spent was a waste. I believe it is this kind of thinking that worsened the severity of the relapse. If I had just accepted it for what it is, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this bad. But here I am and there is no going back now. All I can do is be kind to myself, be grateful for the lessons I have learned and continue to work on moving forward.
- I’m not any less of a person because of these conditions- When I finally figured out what was happening with my health, that it had declined, I was distraught. I was feeling so good and finally thought I was ready to date again and to socialise as a ‘normal’ person and then this setback happened. I felt defeated. I thought to myself- ‘Who would want to be friends with someone who can’t do much with them?’ or ‘Who would want to date somebody who is unwell’. So I shut myself off from everyone and everything. I fell deeper and deeper into the black hole of depression. It didn’t help that I had tried to date a few times and had failed miserably. But what I eventually realised (particularly in the past week) is that I am actually an amazing person and the right people will stay in my life regardless of what hardships I am facing. But most significantly I realised that as much as it would be nice to have a special someone, I just can’t commit myself wholly while my energy is so focused on getting better. I’ve never been one to half-ass things, particularly dating. So while I work through this recovery, I am just happy to have beautiful, supportive friends who instill me the love and support I need.
- You must be kind to yourself- I have always been super critical of myself. It is one of my greatest downfalls. I have high expectations and am a self-confessed former perfectionist. But lately, and under the instructions of my Doctor and Psychologist, I have had to gently let those walls down. Sure, I’ve learned to love myself a whole lot more over the past few years, but nothing prepares you for the anger and frustration you feel towards yourself when you realise you could have avoided this difficult time. So now, I’ve had to slowly and elegantly learn to reframe my thoughts and essentially, tell that hardass, mean voice in my head where to stick it. When your own mind is constantly beating you up, it doesn’t really get you far in life. And while post anti-depressants this cruel voice has been even more prominent, I’m learning to be a lot gentler on myself. It’s okay if I had to defer exams for Uni, say no to things or stay in bed all morning to restore my body. I’m still frikon awesome.
- Putting yourself first is essential- During my whole experience with CFS, I’ve learned the importance of putting myself and my needs first. As somebody that has always put others first, I guess that is part of the reason I ended up where I am. Well it wasn’t until about 1 year ago, that I actually put that into practice after a breakup. But now, I need to put myself first more then ever. Sure, I’m a huge believer that helping others, helps yourself. This is why I love listening to people and friends going through rough times, why I offer my support to those who need it and why I volunteer. It is why I plan to work in the mental health sector. But to achieve these things and to get back on track, me and my health need to be first priority. Sometimes I have to say no, miss out on things or take time out to focus on my mental and physical health and that is totally okay. Because the more I do that now, the more I will be able to do in the future.
- There are greater powers supporting you- I’ve become deeply spiritual on this journey of recovery but with this recent relapse, this has become even deeper. After fighting so many things, I have uncovered the power of the Universe and connected to my guardian angels. Did you know that we all have angels that are constantly with us? Now mind you I am not religious in any shape or form but after reading this book about Angels and feeling their presence, my eyes have been opened. I have asked them for help with simple things during this relapse, and low and behold help has been granted. The most beautiful thing is I have asked for both their and the Universe’s help in this recovery, and some incredible gifts have been sent my way. I know it won’t happen overnight, but knowing I have my Angel’s and the Universe’s love and support makes me feel so confident about restored health.
Honestly, I think I could go on all day about the lessons that both CFS and this difficult period of depression and anxiety have taught me, but to me these are the most important ones. It hasn’t been easy but I do know one thing- recovery is imminent. And I tell you what I’m going to kick ass until I get there!
If you are having a rough time with your mental or physical health, I truly hope they help you!
But to you just remember- take it one day at a time. Baby steps will get you there. And don’t forget to celebrate those small wins along the way!
Together lets make 2018 the year of recovery and magic!
Much love and big, gentle hugs
– the Soulful Wanderer