There IS life after chronic fatigue
My story began when I was 18 years old and the picture of health. I was a straight-A student and involved in every after-school club you can imagine. Choir, orchestra, athletics, school council — you name it, I did it.
I loved school and enjoyed studying my favourite subject, music. I lived and breathed music and it was a huge part of my life and identity, so studying it at university seemed like the natural thing to do. When it came to choosing my course, however, my parents had other plans. I was also good at languages and my parents convinced me I’d have more employment options if I studied that instead. Not daring to argue with them, I resigned myself to studying languages.
It was just after submitting my forms for university that I started to get cold after cold. I’d never been ill before and didn’t know how to react to it, so I didn’t give myself any time to recover. It all came to a head, though, just before I went to university, when I collapsed on a holiday in Italy. My family and I put it down to dehydration and didn’t think anything of it.
However, three months after I started university, I woke up one morning and couldn’t move. Thinking it was just a spell of flu, I stayed in bed curled up in a ball for the day, hoping I’d be better tomorrow. I stayed this way for about three weeks. I thought I was going mad. I would painstakingly drag myself to the bathroom and return to bed.
I couldn’t attend my classes, so my parents picked me up and brought me back home. I’ll never forget that day: I was so ashamed of leaving but, most of all, for being so ill.
On returning home and after countless medical tests, I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), as it is more commonly known. I was too tired and brain-fogged to see it at the time, but my diagnosis was a gift. I’ve since realised that not everyone in the medical profession has experience with, or knowledge of, the illness and not all CFS sufferers are diagnosed.
At this stage, I had been spending about 22 hours a day in bed. Mum had been encouraging me to move around more and to try to take car trips, and after my diagnosis I found I was able to be around people and talk more. Mum found me a job doing very easy administration two days a week and I’m still so proud of myself for the work I did then.
Luckily, I was able to resume my university studies the next year. I still couldn’t attend all my classes but I did the best I could. I met some really understanding friends and knew I had to be true to myself and listen to my body. I also managed to find a singing teacher who agreed to see me once every few weeks and I took lessons sitting down. This slow process was incredibly painful for me, as I had lost my indestructible 18-year-old confidence. Eventually, though, I was able to stand and sing in front of audiences again.
By the time I’d graduated from university and found work as a teacher, I believed my days of being ill were behind me. My life was incredibly busy and stressful, but I just assumed that’s what happened when you got your first real job.
Then, a few months in to my new position, I woke up one morning to similar symptoms to what I’d felt as an 18-year-old. I knew instinctively that I hadn’t been listening to my body and I hadn’t given myself the time I needed to recover. I was back in the same place and felt unbelievably disheartened.
It was around this stage that the name Louise Hay kept appearing in my life. I was still too ill to work or go shopping, but I ordered her book You Can Heal Your Life online and read it from cover to cover. Something clicked for me then and it was a moment I’ll never forget. I found myself in floods of tears — tears of anger and frustration, but also tears of gratitude at the words Louise wrote.
In a moment of clarity, I realised that my illness had come about after I had betrayed my true self. I hadn’t followed through with my desire to study music; instead, I’d followed the wishes of others. I hadn’t listened to my body or my intuition, and realised that the point when I was taken to hospital in Italy was when alarm bells should’ve been going off. I believe the stress of this transition into a new life that didn’t belong to me, and my subconscious need to hide from it, led me to develop CFS. I had become tired of not living and loving my own life, and this had manifested as exhaustion in my body.
From that day on, I devoured books on spirituality and mind–body medicine. The more I read, the more I felt an improvement in my physical symptoms and outlook on life. I gradually improved my diet and started practising yoga, meditating and focusing on the present. My healing was finally cemented two years ago, when I was 27, when I discovered a healing modality called AcuEnergetics. I believe this technique released emotions held in my body and allowed me to heal totally and instinctively.
As for music, I still love it and will sing my heart out whenever I get the chance. I’ve discovered the power of using my voice in a different way, in showing people a new way of looking at CFS. After years of pushing “me” aside, I’m completely true to myself. I now realise that life and healing are mine, and yours, for the taking — all we have to do is say “yes”.
Katie Manning is a writer, coach and teacher whose website Conquering Fear Spiritually seeks to support and inspire those recovering from ME or CFS. Katie’s mission is to encourage others to see their illness in a different way and become inspired to lead their own healing.