This week marks the 18th anniversary of my relationship with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s been a contentious relationship to say the least, and one I would rather not have had. During those years, I alternately wrestled with CFS, pleaded with it, cursed it, cried until my tears ran dry, and then, exhausted and depleted by all my efforts, finally began to soften towards it.
I had to. Because with a condition like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, what you eventually realize is that you are essentially fighting with yourself. It took me a long time to realize that. To really internalize it.
I heard someone say recently that if you want to heal one thing, you have to heal all the things. Man, hearing something like that would have really depressed me back when I first became sick. Back then, I was exhausted, confused, and overwhelmed. I wanted a quick, clear answer to my health problems and I wanted it fast. I wanted a pill. A tincture. Something – anything – that would get me back on my feet and back in the game as soon as possible.
What I had to come to terms with, was how much that attitude was hurting me. Unless I was achieving something, I felt like I was useless and unlovable. I was always pushing myself to accomplish more, and faster, fearing that, unless I did something impressive, I wouldn’t earn my keep. That attitude was slowly killing me.
Back then, I was always caring for others and really didn’t think of myself at all. Certainly, I didn’t think about my body and its problems. As far as I was concerned, my body was supposed to come along and do whatever my brain wanted it to do. I was furious that it was no longer co-operating.
And therein lies the rub. In order to heal my body, I needed do that one thing I didn’t want to do. The one thing I didn’t even know how to do: listen to my body. For someone who had been steadfastly ignoring her body’s needs for more than three decades, it was a steep learning curve.
It’s been a long journey, filled with many ups and downs. But over the course of the last 18 years, I have finally learned to listen. I now listen closely to my physical symptoms, taking the time every morning to jot down every little, subtle fluctuation so I can better treat myself with herbs. I listen to my heart, making sure I take the time to feel my emotions and show myself compassion – an essential step for healing your nervous system. I’ve stopped putting other people’s needs above my own – a lot easier now that my kids have grown up. And I now surround myself with people who are kind to me, who actually like me, rather than putting up with people whose only interest is in tearing me down.
In short, I did all the things. I did all the things I had previously told myself were not important. The things that I thought were secondary at best, as I searched for that elusive miracle cure. And finally, after years of isolation and despondency, I slowly began to re-discover myself and regain my lost energy.
For those who are struggling with CFS right now, who are right in the thick of it, in the middle of the worst symptoms, my heart goes out to you. I know how you feel. I’ve been there. Dear one, please put down your sword. Listen to me.
Fighting with this illness will not get you anywhere. Whatever poison you throw at CFS you also throw at yourself. What you need to do is soften. You must learn to be gentle with yourself. If you are a hard-charging people pleaser like I was, I know how incredibly hard this is to do.
In a few months, I hope to have some free yoga classes you can attend that will help you to get back in touch with yourself and develop some self-compassion.
In the meantime, I’m here to tell you that you are beautiful just as you are, even in the midst of all your brokenness. That you are worthy and lovable, even though you can’t get out of bed. Even with all your imperfections, know that you are important. Please know that you still belong.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has a BA from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and is currently studying to be a Therapeutic Yoga Teacher, specializing in yoga for depression, anxiety and burnout.