It’s been a good few months since my last post, and you’ll soon find out why, I’ve had a lot going on. With so much happening, my limited brain function has had to be directed elsewhere, and my poor wee blog has been neglected as a result. I then found that the longer I spent away from my blog, the less motivated I felt to get back into it. However, I have recently been following a discussion in one of my ME support groups, it got me thinking, and it inspired me to write this post.
The discussion was about what information/advice we should share with people who are newly diagnosed with ME, which I have shared this at the end of the post. I was especially interested in what we should tell them about the likelihood of recovery.
Once people with ME reach the five year mark, recovery is unfortunately, statistically unlikely. Should we warn those who are newly diagnosed about this? Or is that too harsh for them to hear at this stage? Should we never tell anyone that recovery is unlikely? Is keeping hope alive more important than facing the truth? Does belief affect neurology? By telling someone newly diagnosed that they may never recover, are we setting them on a course of certain non-recovery? Or, is it possible to face reality, accept that recovery may not happen, but still retain hope that it could?
This is where I stand. I think people need all of the available information, however upsetting. I think living in false hope is exhausting, cruel, and ultimately incredibly damaging. I think acceptance is key. I think we need to tell people who are newly diagnosed the truth, that recovery may never happen, that they may have ME for the rest of their lives, and they should prepare themselves for that, but, some people do recover, it is possible, so accept your reality, but also don’t lose all hope.
When I was newly diagnosed I was told by many doctors that I would recover. One NHS GP said I would recover within four years, and a private doctor even told me that I would recover within one year.
I didn’t know much about ME back then, I was naive and I believed them. I was quite sure that taking time off work and temporarily moving from Edinburgh back to my hometown Peebles (to be nearer my mum) would help me recover.
When I moved back to Peebles I decided to rent out my flat in Edinburgh. This covered my mortgage and meant that when I was well enough I’d be able to give my tenants their notice and move back and get on with my life. I was so sure that this is what would happen that I was actually really worried about what I’d do if I recovered within six months of moving back home. My tenants lease was fixed for a minimum of six months, meaning that if I wanted to move back into my flat within six months of moving out, I wouldn’t be able to. I was genuinely concerned about this, it was a huge source of worry for me at the time.
Well I needn’t have worried, as time went on I realised that those doctors were wrong. The more I learned about ME, and as my ME progressed, the more I began to understand my reality. Most people with ME who do recover do so within two years, and once you hit the five year mark, recovery becomes statistically less likely. I am now in my sixth year of ME, and so far my ME has been on a path of gradual deterioration. It seems that positive thinking and genuine belief of recovery has little effect on an actual recovery.
I wish I had been told the truth when I was diagnosed. I don’t think the doctors told me an outright lie, I think they just didn’t know, so they made an uneducated guess.
My goal is to reach a state of acceptance. Of course I want to recover, that is my biggest wish, but I cope best by facing reality. How can I reach a state of acceptance if I’m not in possession of all the facts? Knowing what my reality is, however grim, is so much easier for me to bear than living in false hope.
What I am doing now is trying to build a life for myself as I am now. For the first time since having ME I am planning for a future that includes severe ME, and I feel so much calmer now than when I was living only in hope of recovery.
When my focus was solely on hoping and waiting for recovery, my mental health suffered. Because with that hope came the constant fear that I might not recover. With that fear came a near constant feeling of nervous dread and anxiety, and a very strong desire to no longer be alive. Without acceptance, I put more time into planning my death than I did my life.
Now, my focus is on living my life with what I have, severe ME. It won’t be anything like a non-ME life, it’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s the life I have, and I want to make it as good a life as possible. Accepting my reality is the healthiest thing I can do.
To achieve this goal I recently made a huge decision, well, two huge decisions. I had to let go of my pre-ME life. I had to let go of my flat in Edinburgh. In January this year I gave my tenants their notice, and in April I put my flat on the market. It sold within three weeks of being on the market, and the new owner has now taken possession of the flat.
Now, this next thing happened very quickly. There had been a house on the market in Peebles that seemed perfect for me, but I couldn’t do anything about it until I sold my flat. So the day that I accepted the offer on my flat my mum contacted the estate agent responsible for selling the Peebles house and expressed my interest in viewing it. We found out then that a closing date had been set for four days time. In those few days I viewed it, I liked it, I panicked, I doubted, I decided it was perfect and I made an offer. My offer was accepted. Within the space of one week, I both sold a flat and bought a house!
The house is in Peebles, just outside of the town centre, but as close to the town centre as possible while meeting the rest of my requirements. It is fully detached. This has been my ultimate dream. A house with no neighbours on the other side of the wall. It’s also a bungalow, which is so much more suitable for me. I thought a detached bungalow, my dream house, would remain a dream. I never expected to find one, and in such a good location.
It will be a couple of months at least before I move in as it needs some work to make it accessible for me – widening of external door frames to allow wheelchair access, ramps to the front and back doors, knocking down a wall to make the kitchen bigger, new and accessible bathroom, etc.
This house I hope will allow for an easier, calmer and hopefully a happier life. I won’t have the various obstacles that I do in my current home, and I’m really looking forward to living there. I never thought I’d experience that again, feeling excited for the future. I can’t promise that I’ll never feel stressed again, or have periods of feeling low or anxious, but with everything combined, this house should be as close to what I need to live with ME in as much comfort as is possible.
If I hadn’t recognised and accepted the likelihood that I may never make a full recovery, this wouldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t have been able to let go of my flat, and without the money from the sale of my flat, I wouldn’t have been able to buy this house. I would likely remain living in my current temporary accommodation, and hanging onto a state of mind that left me in constant limbo and anxiety. Nobody can thrive in that mental state.
The best chance I have of regaining some health and some function, if I ever do, is to accept my reality and plan accordingly. If I do make some improvement, then that will be a very happy and welcome surprise. Denial, false hope and superficial positivity though, while they may help some people, they don’t do me any good at all.
Advice to share with people who are newly diagnosed with ME.
This was written by a member of the support group who has had ME for 25-ish years. He prompted the conversation and after some discussion and a few changes this is what we came up with. I think it’s good and practical advice. Not too gloomy, but also not steeped in false hope. This is the advice I wish I had received when I was first diagnosed.
The main tip for someone newly diagnosed is that most people who recover do so within the first two years, and if you haven’t recovered in 5 years, then you are unlikely to ever recover*. The moral is: do whatever you need to do in the early years to maximise your chances of recovery. In particular, put money and ambition aside. That can wait, because if it doesn’t, you may never be able to do it again. Most people with long term ME pushed themselves in the early years. There is no way that you can do that AND recover. Take having ME very very seriously. The rest of your life depends on it. Pace yourself. Never over do it. Avoid stress like the plague.
If you haven’t recovered within 5 years, you don’t have to give up hope of recovery (it’s not impossible) but you do have to learn to live with it. That’s a different battle. Avoid stress, but remember that life is for living, so overdo it if you must, but do so with a plan. Take control of the illness by deciding when you are going to be active and when you are going to be inactive. Have a predictable weekly – even monthly – routine. Expect to be better in the summer and worse in the winter (or vice versa) and plan accordingly. Try and keep an emergency reserve for the unexpected. Have a contingency plan for when your bad days – when you can’t do anything – last longer than you expect them to. Have a contingency plan for when your best days – when you can do things with minimal cost – last longer than you expect them to. Do you take the opportunity to do even more? Or do you try to build on your success in the hope of some long term improvement?
Over the long term you will have not just bad days and better days, bad weeks and better weeks, bad months and better months, but bad years and better years. Strive to listen to your body and the rules that you have set for yourself. Contact support groups and share. You aren’t alone.
*The statistics for the low recovery rates in long-term ME were shared by ME Research UK during a presentation at the Scottish Parliament, at which he (the member of the support group who began this discussion) was present.
While searching for confirmation of these statistics we found the following…
*These statistics also appear in this report published in 2002 by the Working Group on CFS/ME, a group established by the Chief Medical Officer in 1998.
“Overall, there is wide variation in the duration of illness, with some people recovering in less than two years, while others remain ill after several decades.Those who have been affected for several years seem less likely to recover; full recovery after symptoms persist more than five years is rare.”
*The same statistics were shared by The ME Association in an open letter in 2015 to ITV’s ‘This Morning’, in regards to a segment on ME.
“Sadly, the prognosis for many adults with ME/CFS, especially when they have been ill for several years and not made any significant progress even with good management is poor and, as the Chief Medical Officer’s Report on ME/CFS noted in the section on Prognosis: ‘Full recovery after symptoms persist for more than five years is rare’.”
Stanford Medicine. Biomarker for chronic fatigue syndrome identified. Stanford scientists devised a blood-based test that accurately identified people with chronic fatigue syndrome, a new study reports.
CNN. He pioneered technology that fueled the Human Genome Project. Now his greatest challenge is curing his own son.
Health Rising. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Article Rocks Top Medical Journal.
MDPI. Post-Exertional Malaise Is Associated with Hypermetabolism, Hypoacetylation and Purine Metabolism Deregulation in ME/CFS Cases.
Health Rising. “Just Be Positive!” Toxic Positivity, ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia.
The Herald Scotland. Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch on ME battle.
Not The Science Bit. If you spend 20 years gaslighting your patients, perhaps you should think twice before accusing *them* of trolling *you*.
The Guardian. Rod Liddle vilifies disabled people. I’m tired of the hate. We all should be. Whether it’s ME patients or another target, huge swathes of the media have normalised hatred of minorities for years.
Disability News Service. UN’s torture committee probes UK on ‘grim and unacceptable truths’.