A full recovery is, unfortunately, not certain when you have one—or both—of these conditions.
However, what is certain is that you can very much improve your situation.
What’s more, you can be as happy as, or even happier, than before you were ill—even if you don’t belong to the group of patients who make a full recovery. And I don’t mean the “pretty-happy-for-a-sick-person” happiness. No. I mean real, unconditional, no regrets, “life-is-as-awesome-as-it-can-get” happiness.
I’m aware that this last statement might be hard for you to believe at this time, so I’ll prove and explain exactly what this means for you as part of this lesson.
What does the scientific research on recovery mean for you?
Given the nature of the illnesses, it is extremely hard to predict recovery rates in ME/CFS and FM. Some studies can be found online, however, and these suggest that full recovery occurs in only a minority of cases.
If you’d like to read a couple of study results about the prognosis of ME/CFS, have a look here:
To read a study about the prognosis of FM, click here:
To gain an understanding of recovery rates based on doctors’ and patients’ experience, you can have a look at this this blog together with its many interesting comments:
What the above studies don’t mention
Reading these studies and first-hand experiences can be disheartening.
Therefore it’s important to keep in mind Charles Shepherd’s words, reminding us that “these studies are conducted on the most severely ill patients, which means that, if you don’t belong in that category your chances for recovery are most likely better than these studies suggest”.
Even if you are very severely affected by your illness, please keep in mind that your situation is unique, which means that anything is possible.
Also, important social- and work-related matters have changed since these studies were published.
First, today you have many more resources—specifically designed for people with ME/CFS and FM—within reach via new education blogs such as Health Rising, this CFS Recovery Project and the Phoenix Rising forums; books like How to Be Sick; and products such as Amygdala Retraining Program and the Online Self Care Hour. This new wealth of resources can help you cope better with these illnesses, and improve your levels of functionality and well-being.
Second, it’s been my experience that the degree of disability and isolation that people experience with ME/CFS and FM can be tempered courtesy to the connection and work opportunities made possible through our internet-based interconnectivity. People who were previously not able to work at all may now be able to do some work from home with the World Wide Web as a way to provide their services.
Here some real-life examples of people leading a good, fulfilling life despite being sick.
Toni Bernhard, who came down with ME/CFS in 2001, gives people inspiration and guidance for making the most of their lives with chronic illness through her books (highly recommended), blogs, and social media. At the end of her book How to Be Sick Toni expresses the fulfilment she found in her life: “I smiled, realizing that my life is indeed perfect.”
Joan Buchman, who shares about her life with Fibromyalgia in this essay, is not just getting by with her illness, but is finding meaning and happiness within it. She concludes her essay with the sentiment that she is currently enjoying the best phase of her life, “not in spite of [her] illness, but because of it.”
How I learned to live a fulfilling life with my illness
In hindsight, I regret that my doctor forgot to tell me, when he first diagnosed me with ME/CFS, that a fulfilling life with ME/CFS is possible. I believe that it would have made my first two years with the illness a lot less dark and hopeless.
When I got diagnosed, I thought my happiness depended on all the wonderful things I was able to do at the time: playing soccer with friends, dancing my heart out on the weekends, and striving towards my engineering degree in university.
I could no longer do any of these activities when I got sick, so I felt despondent and depressed.
I didn’t know that my happiness didn’t depend on these activities! I didn’t know that this period of my life, in which my illness robbed me from doing anything that was fun, would be followed by a period in which I would learn to befriend my changed body and live a fulfilling life within it.
Today, seven years after getting ill, I still don’t play soccer or solve difficult mathematical equations as an engineer. However, for everything that I lost back then, I’ve found another activity that makes me just as happy. Instead of playing soccer, I go on walks in the park; instead of dancing, I sing or listen to music; instead of connecting with my friends over a beer, I connect with them when I share with them heart-to-heart during my weekly meditation group meetings.
I’ve even learned to get back to contributing to this world—not as an engineer, but as a health coach and guide for people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia, which feels just as meaningful to me.
In a nutshell: what your prognosis means for you
In summary, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia are likely to have a big impact on you and your family. There is no guarantee that your body will ever return to its former level of health, or if it does, how long it might take. Therefore, it is important to balance optimism with a realistic idea about your prognosis, so that you can make plan ahead and ensure that, wherever your illness takes you, you’ll be okay.
Despite the possibility of having a huge impact on your life, your illness does not condemn you to a life of misery. It poses a huge challenge, but one that you can–and will–overcome. It won’t be easy or free of emotional pain, but I believe that you have all it takes to make overcoming this illness a fulfilling challenge and a rich life experience.
Homework (Tip: spread it out over the week)
Although some of the decisions I had to make in the beginning of my illness were difficult, I’m glad that I made them. Making those decisions allowed me to create a strong foundation for reaching my optimum health and happiness, and to rebuild my life.
- Communicate to your family and friends that you have a chronic illness and how they will be affected by this in terms of your ability to earn money and fulfill their expectations of you as a parent or spouse.
While both my girlfriend at the time (now wife) and I, cried when I told her that my illness forced me to drop out of university, it was also incredibly freeing to get real about my situation. People will appreciate you for having the strength to be real. It will also make it easier for your network of support to adjust to your new situation.
Sharing the truth with them is a necessary step in the process of forming a strong, illness-withstanding alliance.
- Make sure you track the course of your illness with the help of a medical doctor, so that you have the necessary evidence you would have to provide if you ever needed to file a disability claim.
- If your illness is debilitating and you’ve been ill for a long time, consider adjusting your current career or even transition into a new career, a career that you can be happy in even if you have physical and cognitive limitations.
- What other decisions do you have to make to prepare for a life in which it is unknown whether you will return to full health?
It’s not easy to face your prognosis and make important decisions regarding your future.
You may be in a phase of your illness where you’re just holding on for dear life and any long-term decisions seem daunting. In this case, it’s totally OK to just have the goal of feeling better in the near future.
However, when you get to a phase of your healing journey in which you feel up to thinking about the future, I urge you to make these decisions.
They will pave the road for a fulfilling life with or without ME/CFS or FM, regardless of whether you belong to the group of people who return to their pre-illness level of health.
If you’ve got here without being subscribed to the free CFS Recovery Project E-Course, you’re missing out. This is lesson #3 on how to reach your optimum health and happiness when you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia. If you’re not already a subscriber, click here to learn more.