Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: When life falls apart

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by Gouny Araguas

I am a young, thirty-five year-old woman. I left France a little more than three years ago in order to settle in Quebec. For the past twenty months, I have been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, although far from its most virulent form.

My story is straightforward and far from unusual for a person suffering from CFS. Before this illness struck, I was a dynamic and efficient individual, I didn't fear anything or anyone. I gave myself wholly to my work and lived life to the fullest, often forgetting myself in order to give to others. I was an active sportswoman with lots of energy.

In February of 1998, I caught a flu that kept me bedridden. Then, a sense of exhaustion took over, which was accompanied by the onset of depression. I didn't have any energy left, didn't feel like doing anything I had zero drive. I was functional for about two to three hours per day, and I used this time for basic care, mainly, washing and eating. I could not understand what was happening to me. I went to see my woman doctor as well as alternative therapists; they all declared that I must be suffering from burnout or else that I was under great stress. Because of the fatigue I experienced, other uncontrollable symptoms soon appeared in quick succession, and were at times overwhelmingly strong. Fevers, allergic reactions, angina-like attacks, numbness of the limbs, electric shocks, loss of libido, and more...

We often feel sorry for the person suffering from CFS. It's important, however, not to forget the other person, the partner who experiences the disease in her or his own way. I have been living in Montreal for the past two years, with my partner. Since chronic fatigue syndrome struck, a lot of things have changed and many questions remain without answer.

We were a young couple, full of hopes and desire. We made love often and with passion. Overnight, all my sexual drive was gone, dried out: panic time. Then, the questions, the frustrations, the feeling of being abandoned; one fear engendered the next. My partner and I were lost. "What should we do? Should we split up? Do you want to have flings on the side while... "

While what?! Time doesn't change anything. You know when it starts but you don't know when it's going to end. So you have to find other ways and that's when you realize how strong the relationship actually is. Our choice was to establish meaningful communication, based on respect and trust. As soon as something bothers us, we try to express it. I use the word "try", because establishing dialogue is not a skill given to everyone. It was more difficult for me to open up, as I come from a culture in which much remains unspoken. The energy spent is beneficial to me and to our relationship.

I also experienced another hardship from which I learned a lot. I was no longer able to work. Overnight, working was a thing of the past. And I had all day to think about it. "What should I do? How should I go about doing it?"

I am fortunate to live with a partner who takes care of me financially, unlike other women without resources, who end up on the street. I feel lucky about that too. For now, I take care of small chores at home, I cook meals. But this can also be a source of frustration and anguish. My partner is a freelancer and works at home. Life sometimes goes by without obstacles, but there are times when I feel guilty about not contributing any money to meet our home expenses. At times I feel uneasy, when rent day comes along or when it's time to go grocery shopping. I can't pay out of my own pocket and have to ask for money. But here again, talking things over helps to work through such moments of disarray.

Like many others, I couldn't accept the fact that I suffered from CFS. I used to be a strong woman, who was never sick. I struggled against this disease for a whole year to no avail.

Before this, I had foolproof resistance. I gave my time without counting. I slept five hours a night. Today, I am a young woman aged 35 who is learning to live more in tune with herself. I now work five hours daily at home and take a compulsory nap of two to three hours for my physical and mental well-being. My level of energy is slowly increasing but I still cannot stock up any reserves. I have finally accepted that I am indeed suffering from this disease and that it may last a while longer yet. Since becoming conscious of this reality, I can live better with it, I keep my spirits up and hope for better days.

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