I hear people say it all the time. I am tired. I am exhausted. I need more sleep. But what would you do if one day you no longer had the energy to do even the most simplest of things? Cooking dinner, showering, even thinking and all you wanted to do was just sleep.
Well this is what happened to me and after two and half years of suffering from this multi-faceted illness, I am still struggling to reclaim the life I once had.
Before I got sick, my life was fantastic. I had just moved to Newtown, the lesbian capital of NSW, and as a single lesbian was excited about the prospect of living life to the full and exploring my sexuality. I was working my dream gig at JB HI FI and was an avid gym-goer, training once, sometimes even twice every day to offset my weekend partying habits.
As an overachiever, I always had a habit of taking on to much. And because life was going so well and I was feeling on top of the world, I thought why not fulfil my passion of becoming a PT? So I decided to put my marketing degree on hold in the hope that I could become a fully qualified PT and combine my marketing expertise and fitness qualifications to start my own business. Typical Teaghan move.
I enrolled with the Australian Institute of Fitness, commencing studies around about the same time that I got another job working at Platypus Shoes. So now, not only was I partying, training and working at JB a couple of days a week, I was also studying and working a second job. Now that I look back, it’s no surprise I crashed and burned.
Slowly, I started to notice little things happening. As somebody who used to be really great at talking to people, I was finding trying to articulate myself was becoming increasingly difficult. New people I met, customers at work, whoever I communicated with I struggled to not only get the right words out, but found myself becoming exhausted just talking to them.
I found that studying and learning new information became almost impossible. No matter what it was I just couldn’t remember things, or even worse found that information was getting confused in my head making it even more difficult when trying to communicate that same information back to others. For the first time in my life, I felt stupid and unintelligent.
Then came the more obvious signs of exhaustion. I no longer had the stamina to work out at the gym, get through a whole day at work or even read a chapter of a book. Even the simplest things like blow drying my hair, cooking dinner or showering had become the biggest effort. All I wanted to do was just shut off from the world and sleep. But adult life doesn’t really let you do that. Especially when you got bills to pay.
As I tend to do, I pushed through just thinking it was just me feeling depressed or just being plain lazy. I had always been very hard on myself and as somebody who refused to give up, definitely wasn’t going to let my body crash on me. I just kept drinking my double shot macchiatos and pumped myself full of supplements and pre-workout to keep me going.
Despite all of this going on, I still maintained my avid party lifestyle going out to all the latest lesbian clubs with my group of gay friends and meeting girls. While I enjoyed it for a bit, it wasn’t until I met a girl that I decided that I needed to take a break from this lifestyle for a bit and just settle down.
With much struggle, I finally finished my PT course and after resigning from JB HI FI, got a job at Vision PT. I was absolutely ecstatic and finally felt like all my goals were starting to align, even despite the 4am wake ups and 6am starts as a personal trainer. Despite feeling mentally and physically exhausted, I still continued to build my business all while training clients and myself and working at Platypus Shoes.
But a few months of early starts, my body finally gave in. I found myself being unable to train at all, consistently unable to get out of bed and taking a shit load of sick days to try and get some rest. But no matter how much rest I had, I still felt exhausted. I kept drinking coffee and eating loads of sugar to try and increase my energy but that just ended up making me feel worse.
24/7 I felt like crap. I was consistently getting sick. My muscles ached. I felt sick in the stomach and bloated all the time. I craved endless amount of carbs to try and increase my energy. I was running out of breath walking 100 metres. As somebody who was used to having control over their life, I became increasingly frustrated, depressed and anxious as that control began slipping through my finger tips. I was becoming somebody I no longer knew or even liked.
But I put on a brave face. After beginning to date the new girl I had met, I couldn’t show my vulnerabilities and weakness to her could I? Especially not this girl as she was something special and I feared if I did I would lose her.
I had never been one to show anyone my vulnerable side or ask for help, even from my family, so I continued to suck it up. But deep down, I was struggling so badly.
I began to come increasingly scared of what was happening. And Dr. Google wasn’t much help. My endless searches of trying to match my symptoms with a cause resulted in several possible outcomes: cancer, severe mental illness or an incurable autoimmune disease, among others. As stupid as this sounds, I began to think that I was dying. And endless Doctor visits didn’t ease my concerns.
In the space of six months, I had more Doctor’s visits then I had ever had in my life time trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. Blood test after blood test, every result came back normal with no answers. The Doctor’s began to believe it was psychological, and quite frankly so did I. But this illness whatever it was was making me depressed as I was no longer able to work, train or do things I used to once enjoy.
Then, in the cloudiness of everything, I made a big decision. After a less then 6 months of being together, my then girlfriend and I decided to pack up and move from Sydney to Melbourne. With all my family back on the Central Coast, and my friends scattered between the Coast and Sydney, I knew absolutely nobody in Melbourne. However her family were there and wanted us to move to be closer to them. So I thought why not? I could see a future with this girl and at the time, it didn’t seem like such a stupid idea.
After quitting my job at Vision PT, we moved to Melbourne and while I enjoyed the sea change, things continued to get worse for me. I ended up having to quit my job at Platypus Shoes despite getting a transfer to one of the Melbourne stores and found myself struggling to get through the days. I could no longer keep up with anyone else and found myself getting so stressed and exhausted from normal everyday tasks.
My search for what was going on continued. More blood tests, more tests and no answers. After more Doctor’s visits with no avail, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I continued to research my symptoms, and finally found something that correlated with everything I was going through, Chronic Fatigue.
After months of frustration and no answers, I went to my Doctor with my findings whereby she agreed that Chronic Fatigue could be a possible cause for my symptoms. Finally, I was getting somewhere. I was referred to a Rheumatologist where after the process of elimination I was given a diagnosis. Fibromyalgia and later Chronic Fatigue.
I thought I would be relieved after this, but I found myself reigned with disappointment and heartache after what the specialist told me and what I read about the illness. According to both sources, my life was never going to be the same. I would probably never be able to work, study or socialise again as my limited energy levels were not likely to ever improve. I was heartbroken. In that minute, all my future hopes and dreams were crushed.
I already knew I was depressed. But this just took me to the next level. I would often have suicidal moments where I thought that to continue living would just be a pointless feat. I felt like I was just a waste of life and without being able to fulfil my passions and ambitions, my purpose in this world was invalid. I cried and grieved for my old life, the old me.
I tried so hard to remain positive. Not only for myself, but for my girlfriend. I feared that if I showed her how much I was hurting or what I was going through she would no longer love me anymore. I mean who would want to be with a depressed, exhausted girl with no future right? To be honest, I didn’t blame her if she ran away. She had her whole life to live and I was just holding her back.
So I took a few months off from work to try and sort things out. I refused to let this illness get the better of me and take hold of my life. I spent my days resting, researching chronic fatigue recovery and putting into practice some of my teachings. I joined some groups with people going through similar illnesses, but quite frankly just found them more depressing then uplifting me up so decided to continue the journey on my own.
That was when my entire recovery journey began. And I tried everything in my power to try and get better. A specialised health program, high fat diet, Graded Exercise Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, detox, meditation, vegetarian diet, eliminating Gluten and Dairy, fasting, juicing, Psychology, naturopathy, vegan diet and endless amounts of different supplements including glutamine, magnesium, b vitamins, ginseng, astragalus, fish oil, flax seed oil, maca powder, vitamin d, coq10, gama, acetyl l-carnitine, curcumin and medications such as anti-depressants, steroids and pain killers. Some of it has worked. Some worked for a little bit and the benefits have subsided. And the rest have just had no affect whatsoever or the adverse effects whereby making me feel worse.
The most success I have had so far is with the help of an Exercise Physiologist in learning to balance my energy levels and disperse energy effectively. After implementing meditation to break up the days, alternating between physical and cognitive tasks and building a graded exercise plan, there has definitely been some progress. Regular meditation and yoga has been particularly helpful.
The switch to a healthy, wholefood vegetarian diet has also seen a huge increase in energy levels. Starting the day with a green smoothie, a salad for lunch and a stir fry for dinner, as well as consistent meal breaks, I have found that my energy levels can remain relatively consistent. However if I eat dairy, gluten or too much sugar, that is when I can see the rough effects of fatigue, pain and stomach issues beginning to emerge.
And by far more then anything the most significant thing that has helped me get to this point is personal development. I have had to completely restructure my thinking, trying to divert my negative, depressed mind to think more positively. I have had to completely transform my weaknesses to become my strengths. Anything that was holding me back from succeeding with my recovering I have had to challenge myself and work through. And I have had to teach myself to be grateful for the simple things in life in lieu of the bigger things that I used to require to secure my happiness.
Its still difficult learning to grasp the fact that I am still not up to a normal capacity and am not my old self. I still have days where I am unable to get out of bed because I am just so fatigued. Some days I just can’t even talk to others because I am so cloudy and confused and the things I say will make me sound like a weirdo. And then there are days where I am just so depressed and stressed as I grieve my old life. But I am strong and these days will not last forever.
Its safe to say, the recovery process from Chronic Fatigue has been very much trial and error. In between all of this, I have attempted to work two jobs, one at an Insurance Company and currently with a bank, and while I have seen short term success, the long term outcome is still the same. I am still struggling with this illness but my future is looking brighter. Chronic fatigue was just the world’s way of rerouting my life purpose.
The reason why I share this story is not for sympathy for what I have been through or to gain greater respect. I share this because I want to raise awareness of invisible illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue and other auto-immune diseases and teach people to understand that you don’t always have to look sick to be suffering. Not only that, but I want people to know that pushing through stress, illness and suffering is not the answer. It only makes things worse for you, your loved ones and anyone else that bares interest in your life and well being. And invisible illnesses do not discriminate. It can reap havoc on anyone’s life in a heartbeat.
Through this illness I have learned so much. But by far the most significant thing that I have learned is the importance of health.
Health is the most important thing in this world. If you have it the world is your oyster. The moment you lose sight of that, problems start to emerge and your life becomes a whirlwind of challenges, for the most part of which we have control over. And a healthy life constitutes a magnitude of happiness.
Now I am no Buddha or Gandhi, but my advice to you is simple. Look after yourself. Eat healthy, wholesome foods. Avoid stress and toxic relationships. Get out in nature. And practice gratitude for the even the smallest pleasures in life.
Your health and happiness define not only who you are but your life and how you live it.
So why not make it count!