Saturday, May 11, 2013


I suppose I have to address this topic, eventually. I am reluctant for a couple of reasons.

One is that it is sixteen years ago, now, and feels like ancient history. The other - and probably more important reason - is that I know now that if I had done things differently then, I could have avoided a lot of the problems that came later. It's difficult looking back and knowing that fact.

It began in 1997. I was living in Portugal, teaching English, twenty-five years old. The previous year I had been living in Iceland, and began getting these sore throats that took ages to clear, and which really took it out of me.

This continued in Portugal. Any time I went out late, or drank too much, I would inevitably contract a cold, a chest infection or a sore throat two or three days later. I initially tried to continue working through them, but eventually ended up having to take a lot of time off to recover from my various ailments.

It was a very stressful time. I was living in a foreign country, getting ill all the time, and then developed stomach problems, reflux, bloating. I later discovered that it was largely down to a candida overgrowth, because of the all the antibiotics that I had been prescribed, but I didn't know that then.

1997 was a horrible year, yet it was my last pre-CFS year. I was getting these constant infections, taking a few days off, returning to work before I was really better, and then getting ill again. My immune system felt like it was moving at snail's pace.

So the illness created stress, which in turn made me more prone to getting sick again. I crawled through most of the year, with some periods of being well before being hit again with another infection. Eventually, at the beginning of December, I got a cold. The symptoms passed in three days, though the fatigue didn't. I ended up managing to work through that month, I don't know how, and made it to Christmas, when I returned to Ireland.

I was still exhausted, though began to feel a little better with rest. And then came the nail in my coffin.

I decided to get my tonsils out. I felt that I had to do something, and seeing as the majority of the issues I had were in the throat, I figured that the tonsils would be a place to start.

I had the operation in early January, and nothing has been the same since. I don't mean to say that there was anything wrong with the operation, by all accounts it was perfectly standard. The problem was that I was suffering from what was then post-viral fatigue. Some energy had begun to return during my three weeks off over the Christmas period in Ireland, but I was still a long way below recovered.

I believe that if I had just given myself another month of rest, before putting my body through such a trauma as an operation, I would have been healthy enough to go through it as anyone else would.

Yet I felt that I had to get back to work, and went through with it in early January. I was exhausted after it, and wasn't feeling any better over the next weeks. I began to spiral down, sleeping fourteen hours a day, exhausted when I was actually awake. Any kind of exertion seemed to totally wipe me out. For six months I was in bits, and had no idea what was going on.

And that was that. I made a partial recovery, got back to full time work eventually, had relapses, made other partial recoveries, more relapses, and fifteen years later, here I am.

The onset of this condition for me was clearly down to a number of factors. There was the combination of my slowly collapsing immune system and constant infections with the immediate trauma of the tonsilectomy. Those two factors have brought me to where I am today.

It is hard to look back on it, as it was all avoidable. If I had known then some of the things I know now, I could have saved myself.


  1. "The other - and probably more important reason - is that I know now that if I had done things differently then, I could have avoided a lot of the problems that came later."

    So you might say, but hindsight is always 20/20, right? I myself am sick with ME after two subsequent bouts of infectious mononucleosis. Sure I could have avoided ME had I even known about it. But it's life; we live it forewards and understand it backwards.

    I think of it as an accident unfolding at a very slow pace. For example a car crash. Sure, you're getting behind the wheel a little tired, stayed up for too long (stress). What you don't know is that there's a drunk driver coming at you from the opposite lane (bad luck). You're not paying attention in the critical moments (infections) and then there's The Event (the other driver swirling and me shifting radio station). For me it was a break-up that triggered mono relapse. Ah, and there's the car you're driving (genetics, immune defense), that will affect damage level.

    So what caused the accident? Sure, The Event. But come to think of it, letting out any part of the equation, and you're not even behind the wheel in the first place. But is it possible never to drive when even the slightest bit tired? I think not. So I'm not beating myself up over it.

    Now, for saying something a little less pointy-fingerty. I really like you blog! It's sober. And that's what helps in ME.

  2. Thanks Sondre, nice to get feedback.

    The truth is that I don't dwell too much on the mistakes of the past. I used to, but have generally managed to try and focus on the present. It's just, when I am forced to think about it, it is hard to avoid ruminating on what could have been different.

    I agree that beating yourself up over things is unproductive. The past is a fact, cold, hard, concrete and unchangeable, and eventually has to be accepted.

  3. "I crawled through most of that year"...god I know that feeling. Interesting to read about your tonsils. If I go back to when I was 19, I had tonsillitis non-stop for 3 months, antibiotics did nothing and in the end I had to have them out. I think, with the joy of hindsight, I can say that was when my health really started to deteriorate. Though I had been prone to sore throats all my childhood. Who knows. As you say in the comment above, the past is unchangeable. The best thing we can do now is focus on recovering as that will lead to the future.