Living with Chronic Fatigue

John ArmstrongPersonal

Many of my friends know that I have battled with a strange illness called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for about thirteen years. This illness seems to work on the auto-immune function of the body in a way that results in a cluster of symptoms that commonly fall under the title of fatigue because of the overwhelming fatigue that is common with the condition. No matter how much I rest I am "very tired" 24/7. The CDC says that symptoms can be as disabling as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. And there is no known cure. (Suggestions of cures are really not helpful to me. I study CFS, get treatment from a very knowledgeable physician and do what I can to deal with the illness properly.)

There are a lot of ways to treat the illness but the only ones that routinely seem to help at all involve various types of cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these claim to provide a cure but none have been proven under serious testing to be widely effective in a way that has been accepted in the medical mainstream. I have been exceptionally blessed to have the compassionate care of a physician who has been treating me for well over a decade.

This past July I took a course that has given relief to a number of CFS sufferers. The teacher is a physician from Great Britain. He employs a method of coaching and counseling that relies upon principles that might be called bio-feedback or cognitive therapy. This course helped me gain insights into my own emotional life and how to improve some things that have plagued me since childhood; e.g. my perfectionism, lack of proper self-love, etc. I am profoundly grateful for what this course taught me but I have not been cured of CFS. This all tends to push me deeper into the syndrome when I get discouraged through trying another "cure" that fails. I have no doubt that the program I took in July helps some people but in God's wisdom it did not fundamentally help me at the deepest level of my abiding struggle with CFS.

Two weeks ago a new breakthrough was announced that suggests that CFS is related to a retro-virus known as XMRV. This virus was found in the blood of 68 of 101 CFS patients in a study group. The same virus was found in only 8 of 218 healthy people. This study holds immense promise for future treatment of CFS. The good news is that this study gives some possible ways to treat CFS. The bad news is that this same virus is commonly found in some prostate tumors and is known to cause leukemia and tumors in animals. Does XMRV cause CFS or is it just a passenger in the immune system of most CFS patients?

One thing I know personally from thirteen years of dealing with this strange illness—God's grace is sufficient for life with chronic illness. I would be delighted if God removed this disease entirely but so far he has chosen not to do so. I have pursued many medical options and special times of fervent biblical prayer for healing as per James 5. For now I live with the illness as best I can and try to balance my life carefully and rest more than most people need to each day. The odd thing is that most strangers do not know I even have an illness. This is good since I can hide symptoms and function in normal ways. It is bad since many have a hard time understanding how you can be productive and ill at the same time.

I ask (only) that my friends pray when you remember me. If I am ever slow to respond to you in any way please understand that it is not because I do not care. Sometimes the fact that I do care gets me into more trouble since I do not know when to stop on most days.