Recently I was asked to decide what my two primary conditions are. ME/CFS is the indisputable elephant sitting on my chest. But the chance to pick another one – so much to choose from.
The other day, I came to a conclusion: it’s really horrible, what’s happening to me. It sounds obvious, but it’s taken me ages to figure it out. I feel like I’m drowning in treacle. All my skin is sore and sensitive, and I can’t remember what it’s like to not be in pain. If I climb more than one flight of stairs, I feel dizzy and breathless and I need to have a sit down and a drink of water. Usually, I get cross with myself about all these things. My twenties are slipping through my fingers. I need to try harder, do more exercise; I’m overreacting, perhaps I’m making the whole thing up. If it’s my fault, if I’m sabotaging myself, that means there’s something I’m doing wrong, something I can correct. Something I can control. Trouble is, I’m not sabotaging myself, I’m not doing anything wrong, and I can’t really control any of this. I’m doing everything I possibly can to get better, and it is working a little bit. But this was never something I chose. It is really horrible, what’s happening to me, and to a certain extent I have to surrender.
What exactly is happening to me? If ME/CFS is elephant number one, can depression be elephant number two? It is possible that both of these conditions, independently of one another, are in fact labels assigned to a number of different illnesses with similar symptoms. I am floating around in two separate circles on two separate Venn diagrams, and perhaps one day it might be nice if I could slot into a smaller circle within one or both of the bigger circles, but I’m not holding out much hope. The point is, I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me, or why.
(At this point, I want to stress strongly that while ME/CFS and depression have similar symptoms, and I suffer from both, I am not saying they are the same thing. They are not. The former is a physical illness, the latter a mental one.)
Having said all of that, depression goes hand in hand with CFS. It’s not really surprising that if you’ve got an illness that makes you unimaginably tired for reasons we don’t really know why, and that plenty of people (including yourself) might tell you it isn’t actually real, that you might get depressed along the way. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often suggested as a treatment for CFS, but no amount of therapy can teach you to be less fatigued, or less in pain. It can only teach you to think differently about that fatigue and that pain.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been suffering from CFS for about two and a half years now. Half a year into this period, I was diagnosed with depression, but it wasn’t until six months ago that I was diagnosed with CFS. The two have been playing ping pong with me for so long now, and their arms must be getting really tired, because I am not a light and bouncy ping pong ball. Hopefully, soon, I will beat them both.