How do I experience chronic fatigue (CFS)? A few friends have asked me lately and I thought I would share my answer here as well.
The simplest way I have found to explain it is that it’s like having a flu without the fever, runny nose, or sore throat. It makes it hard to do much, exertion deepens the fatigue, and the brain is foggy. Sometimes, it’s like having a severe flu, sometimes it’s a little lighter. But it never goes away.
I experience the brain fog partly as a “cotton in the head” feeling and partly as a cognitive fatigue. It’s hard to take in complex information, and I get tired quickly when using the brain / mind.
There are additional symptoms, some of which are a bit weird. For instance, light and sound sensitivity. Temperature dysregulation (too hot or cold, or hot and cold at the same time, or cold sweat). Muscle tension and pain. Sleep problems (not anymore for me). Digestion problems and food sensitivities. Crashes if too much exertion, especially if combined with heat and/or lack of proper food. Feeling better in some climates (for me, warm and dry).
My best guess is that my CFS was triggered by a combination of a virus infection (Epstein-Barr), exposure to toxic mold, psychological stress, and perhaps more. When I initially got it, it was in my teens following mononucleosis a few months earlier, when I lived in a basement (mold), and had the usual teenage stress and angst. I got much better after high school when I was able to set my own schedule, make my own food, and engage in activities deeply meaningful to me. And then the CFS came back severely a few months after a pneumonia I never really recovered from, while again living in a moldy environment (Oregon), and stress from my life situation at the time.
It makes sense to approach it from a multitude of angles and to support and strengthen my system as much as possible. I have found a few things very helpful: Herbal medicine (mostly adaptogens), Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE), Breema bodywork, diet changes (minimize dairy, yeast, wheat, refined sugars, processed foods), mindfulness practices (natural rest, inquiry, heart-centered practices), spending time in nature, resting (do half of what I feel I can do), and energy work (Vortex Healing).