Six months ago I was not in a good place. At age forty, periodic chronic fatigue was slowly destroying my life. Expensive visits to private healthcare had come to nothing and the NHS professors, clueless of the cause, had discharged me with no advice other than, ‘Come back if it gets worse’. It had never done anything else.
The problem started ten to fifteen years ago and had slowly become more serious.
Friends had told me that I was starting to get aggressive. Enjoyment seemed rare and hard to come by and work was nothing more than an agonizing struggle. This was not surprising considering that for a quarter of the day I was either asleep or the proud owner of ‘brain fog’. On these occasions, I soon got quite good (although never good enough) at avoiding conversation. Accepting the some would think I was a fool and accepting that, in fact, I wasn’t, was also a skill that I acquired more slowly than I would have liked. At parties I seemed to be laughing and joking one moment, silent, confused and staring at the floor the next. To avoid the constant embarrassments, it just seemed a whole lot easier to do and say nothing.
Constantly having my body fail at totally unpredictable times caused me a frustration that words cannot adequately describe. The enormous trauma of these feelings is with me even now. I just couldn’t say whether I would finish anything I started. While on a simple trip to the shops I might find myself in a crumpled heap, powerless, with my head in my hands, or maybe in a meeting with all eyes upon me I might simply go completely vacant, staying that way for 30 minutes unable to explain myself but able enough to watch the discomfort of others. These ‘fatigues’ occurred several times a day, every day.
Despite these daily struggles it took me a long time to realise that there was a problem. In my drive to succeed at work, I ‘worked through’ the periods of chronic fatigue. This was not pleasant but at least got the work done. Unfortunately it also damaged my adrenal system and when this also began to fail, I started to grind to a halt for keeps. There was nothing I could do. No amount of goading from an employer was going to get me going. When my desire to work was questioned, I had no answer. Faced with this it slowly dawned on me that there was a problem and that depression and ‘the benefit’ were going to be with me soon if I did nothing.
One year ago and two years into the search, a nutritionist noticed a pattern in my periods of fatigue. They were occurring an hour or two after I ate high GI (Glycemic Index) foods. I had given up sugary foods (very high GI) many years ago but it seemed that carbohydrates were now causing a problem somehow. Carbohydrates also contain sugar although it takes a while for the body to extract it. Recognising the pattern was a start. I now knew that food was, in effect, a time bomb. A huge step forward.
I was eventually referred onto a Harley Street nutritionist, who with knowledge, thoroughness and a mountain of test reports telling him what the problem wasn’t, put his finger on the problem – well concealed but ‘off the scale’ Candida. A revelation that made sense considering that many years ago my GP at the time had put me on broad spectrum antibiotics and seen fit to leave me on them (despite the well known public concerns of long term usage). Seven years, yes seven years later I recognised the danger and took myself off them. Then, with no immune system worthy of the name, promptly caught pneumonia. The cure to which is, you guessed it, more antibiotics. Antibiotics; useful but only in moderation.
I am not alone in gaining this knowledge too late. Nor am I alone in realising that no one else, in reality, takes responsibility for your health but you. I’m lucky, I had the many thousands of pounds it takes to pursue and solve this problem privately. How many people are there out there who don’t? I now have a deeper understanding and respect for the suffering that others have to deal with on a daily basis and my heart goes out to them.
What have I learnt? I have grown up a little more. I recognise when I need to talk to someone who can actually relate to the experience, that someone may not necessarily be the usual close friend. He or she may want to help but how could they possibly fully understand. Odd as it seems, I found myself sometimes pressuring, all be it gently, those I spoke too and cared about, attempting to get them to appreciate my predicament, something I now recognise. Also I have an improved awareness of others who have fought their own battles, I recognise that flicker of intensity when someone registers the scale of the problem.
So here I am, on a monster detox that will last many months. For me, when that handbrake is released and my passion for all things returns, life really will begin at forty.