Buzzfeed news blog post, by Camilla Maxted, 6 Aug 2017: This is why I quite exercise therapy
When it comes to my illness, I’ve learned to listen to my symptoms, trust my body, and give it the one thing it really needs: rest.
It turns out that the only thing more scary than developing a life-changing disease is finding that there is no effective help available. Reality drops away from you. Nothing in your previous life carries any weight any longer; nothing can give you strength or sense; all is swallowed into an enormous void, and the void is waiting for you, and it says: You’re on your own, and there is no resisting me.
After the worst phase of physical punishment for my efforts had passed, I also found that I’d lost the little function that I’d had before starting the exercise program. And when you get as bad as I was then, you become unable to advocate for yourself. You can’t leave your bed, and even if you could, you can’t hold a conversation in real time, because your brain won’t process things quickly enough.
There I lay, abandoned by the medical establishment – or had I abandoned it? Either way, I was full of fear, and the self-doubt instilled in me by the doctor remained. Should I try again, at some point? And what was going to become of me?
It was at that point, lost, alone, that I decided to do my own research. Sure, I’d done some light googling before, enough to find out that graded exercise was the only real option open to me (it was either that or cognitive behavioural therapy, designed to persuade me that I should think more positively and get active again – sound familiar?). But now I took a different approach, going beyond the official literature. I joined discussion forums, I started asking questions on social media, and, eventually, I learned to make sense of scientific papers.
As I dug deeper, I found that I wasn’t alone in finding the exercise programme damaging. Around the world there were hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people stuck in their beds like me, and in the UK a sizeable proportion believed they had been put there by exercise therapy. And the rest of the world kept on spinning, and nobody knew.
From my bed, I learned that chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is sometimes also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME. And I learned that the history of ME/CFS is a story of people bewildered, in pain, and often severely disabled, and suffering the even greater cruelty of being told their symptoms are only in their mind.
On the internet I met people who had been told they were “sick, not ill”. I met people who had been informed that “you must want to die, then”. (And I spoke to several who at times had felt that death would indeed be preferable.) I read the stories of children who had been removed from their families due to their parents’ refusal to force them to exercise.
I also met – online of course – several sufferers who had lived for months or years in darkness, unable to speak or interact, just strong enough to drink liquidised meals and drag themselves to the bathroom when necessary. But in this darkness I also found hope, support, and a sense of community.
Read more about Camilla’s experience