Alison T. Smith tells us about living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or M.E. and how to avoid burnout …
Just over a year ago, I celebrated a big birthday and I don’t mind telling you that I reached my fabulous 50s.
I didn’t experience any of the usual reluctance and bad feelings that many people have about reaching this age. I think that’s because fortunately I’m in good health, have plenty of energy to live a full and exciting life and am totally content with my lot. It hasn’t always been like that though.
From about the age of 22 I suffered with regular bouts of burnout, so bad that the doctor sometimes signed me off from my stockbroking job in the City of London with, what he called, a virus, aka ‘Yuppie Flu’.
For over 12 years, I mainly slept for only 5 hours a day, going to bed at midnight and getting up at 5am. I left for work in the dark and got home in the dark, I had a 4 hour daily commute and my weekends consisted of food shopping and household chores, which didn’t leave much time for sport, exercise, ‘me time’ or even socializing!
My eating habits were erratic, I never ate breakfast and my first drink of the day was a latte, when I arrived at work three and a half hours after getting out of bed. I would often go 9 hours between meals, eating lunch at my desk at 11.30am and dinner about 8.30pm, whilst snacking on sweets, biscuits and crisps in between.
I became depressed, waking up each morning with a black cloud hanging over my head, and having to drag myself out of bed after many strikes of the snooze button on my alarm clock.
My New Baby Boy
So, I was elated when I left work and my alarm clock became the happy gurgles of our newborn baby boy. Finally, for the first time in years, I felt happy and full of energy all the time. My life was perfect, I had everything I wanted and needed.
However, that wasn’t to last. On Christmas Day, just 16 months after our son was born, my husband had a seizure, which we later discovered was due to pressure on his brain, from a brain tumour. The tumour was malignant. My darling husband, and daddy to our baby boy, had cancer.
At 29 years old, my life came crashing down around me. I nursed my husband for 11 months and when he took his final breath in our bed with me lying by his side, I howled like an animal in pain. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to carry on without him. But I did carry on, because I had our 2-year-old son giving me the biggest reason I needed to get out of bed everyday.
Six years later, our son became my reason for carrying on once more, when after a time of immense stress and many struggles, the burnout had raised its ugly head again but this time it was much worse. It was as if I had permanent flu and there were days when I just couldn’t get out of bed. I slept fitfully all night and most of the day, and it was painful to lie in one position for more than 10 minutes at a time.
I could fall asleep standing up, and if I did drive, I had to take the weight off my arms whilst holding the steering wheel, by resting my elbows on my knees. Blow-drying my hair took ages as I had to rest my arms every few seconds, and going out to socialise left me exhausted for days or weeks.
Bright lights and loud noises stressed me. I had brain fog, my memory was poor and I couldn’t concentrate on anything for longer than a couple of minutes, which meant I couldn’t read or watch TV.
I had become intolerant to many of the foods I had previously been able to eat, and eating them caused painful cramping in my stomach and a mix of constipation and diarrhoea. It was as if my body, brain, digestive system and immune system were all shutting down!
This inability to live a normal life and having to fight against all these symptoms just to survive caused me to have mini breakdowns, to such an extent that, on one occasion, I had suicidal thoughts.
Diagnosed with M.E. aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
It was the fear of coming close to leaving my son without a daddy as well as a mummy that led me to finally seek help from my doctor. I needed to find out why I was feeling so wretched. After seeing my doctor, and an Endocrinologist, and having many blood tests, I was diagnosed with M.E., or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as it’s now often known.
Researchers estimate that there are over ¼ million people, who have been diagnosed with it in the UK and over a million in the US, and only about 20% have actually been formally diagnosed. Worse still, children and young adults are being diagnosed with it – it’s becoming a 21st Century epidemic!
I took a positive acceptance of the diagnosis, in that I finally knew what I was dealing with; in my opinion, my body was telling me that if I didn’t stop abusing it, it would pack up for good! So, I took responsibility for my own health, with no help from the medical profession and no prescription or over the counter drugs.
It took me 4 years to fully recover and those years were like a roller coaster, very up and down. Some of the things I did worked and relieved my symptoms permanently, and some didn’t, but eventually I found the winning combination.
Change My Habits
In order to recover from the debilitating symptoms I was experiencing, I had to change many of the unhealthy habits I had got into with my diet and my overall lifestyle. However, there were two other very important things I needed to do before my new healthy habits would make any difference to the way I was feeling.
The first thing was to heal my gut. If your gut and digestive system aren’t in top form, no amount of ‘good’ nutrition will make the slightest bit of difference.
Eating processed foods and drinking alcohol and coffee etc. causes the digestive tract to produce mucus layers to protect it from the toxins within those foods and drinks.
These layers build up, a bit like layers and layers of woodchip wallpaper, which not only prevent the body from absorbing the good nutrients from the food we eat, or the supplements we take, but they also prevent the colon from being able to work in the way it needs to, to force food waste through and out of the body.
Therefore, food rots away in our gut – putrefying, fermenting and leading to bacterial growth, which can lead to unbalanced gut flora and food intolerances. Add to that the effect that stress has on the digestive system and it doesn’t stand a chance of working at its optimum!
The secret ingredient, which I believe made all the difference to my complete recovery of M.E., and further health problems, was Colonic Hydrotherapy. The main purpose of which is to loosen impacted faecal matter from the intestinal lining and to flush out the old faeces, bacteria, parasites and other toxins.
Only then can the healthy foods you eat and nutritional supplements you take make any real positive impact on your health. And on the occasions when you do enjoy a ‘not so healthy’ meal and a glass of wine or two, your body will be able to more easily release the toxic waste quickly and efficiently from your body.
The second thing I needed to do was to heal my mind, or rather change the programming that had led me to push my body to the limit, as well as prevent me from dealing with the grief of losing my husband, and other past traumas. My chosen route for doing this was with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Hypnotherapy; techniques that I found so life-changing that I later trained in them.
Once I’d healed my gut and my mind, I was able to make real inroads into recovering from the extreme burnout I was experiencing, and the changes I made then went on to become everyday habits, which I still do these days without even thinking.
Top Tips To Help With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Depression
Here are 8 of my top tips to help prevent mental fatigue, depression, aching muscles and digestive problems, and which when done simultaneously will help to avoid the stress on our body, which can so easily lead to a total Burnout:
- Ensure that your diet consists mainly of unprocessed meals, lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables and healthy fats; avoid processed, sugar-laden treats or drinks; limit your intake of alcohol and keep products containing gluten to the absolute minimum, or avoid altogether.
- Avoid looking at technology during the hour before going to bed, and unwind by reading, meditating or having a warm, not hot, bath.
- Keep to a regular bedtime and wakeup routine during weekdays.
- Walk in fresh air and nature for at least ½ hour every single day.
- Fit some Yoga, Pilates and/or dance classes into your week.
- Make time weekly for both quality ‘me time’ and fun!
- As soon as you wake up every morning, say to yourself, or write down, 3 things you are grateful for, and throughout the day say ‘thank you’ for the little things that go well.
- Before going to sleep, write your thoughts in a journal. Keep it positive and congratulate yourself on everything you achieved that day, however small it may seem.
No More Burnout
Life will always throw us curve balls and I’ve had my fair share of stressful events even since I recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / M.E. But in over 10 years, I haven’t had a sniff of Burnout. My body is stronger now, and life’s challenges don’t seem to bring me down like they used to. My digestive system works better than it ever has and I’m even able to tolerate all foods with no bad side effects.
Taking care of my physical and mental health in this way, all year round, means I’m able to sail through the Christmas preparations and month long party of the festive season, without becoming stressed or paying for it afterwards. Come January, when colds, flu and viruses are doing the rounds, my immune system is strong enough to fight them off.
I no longer go into a downward spiral of negativity when the going gets tough, or in those normally depressing weeks after New Year, in fact I am constantly excited by the opportunities available to me everyday and in the future; opportunities that I’m not scared to take, and for which I have the health and ability to do so.
So reaching my 50s was no bad thing and I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years or so have in store for me!