December 2002 was when I lost my ability to function, and I embarked on a decade-long journey. What followed was a nightmare of doctors, specialists, drugs, and tests, none of which revealed a cause for my symptoms or gave me back my life. Just a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia and prescriptions for eight medications.
Brain fog made thinking, talking, reading or concentrating almost impossible. Exhaustion kept me stuck on my couch. I had to allow days of rest to do the smallest of tasks plus days to recover after. Those were very dark days. They made me question the whole purpose of life.
So how did I get my life back from ME/CFS?
#1 – Changed My Diet
Serendipity provided the first step when a friend of mine posted a delicious recipe for Energy Balls. Although they were gluten free (I confess I initially thought gluten free was a fad!), energy was something I desperately needed so I made some. Lots of them.
I ate those energy balls for four days straight. They did indeed give me energy. Not only that, many of my symptoms disappeared. The awful stabbing pains in my muscles stopped. My brain fog started to clear, and I could actually string two thoughts together. Maybe it was possible for me to regain my function after all.
But before I could do anything, I needed more energy!
#2 – Create More Energy
We get energy primarily from the food we eat. One of the best ways to create more energy is by eating superfoods. Superfoods are so called because they are “rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person’s health”. (Merriam Webster). They include nuts and seeds that are packed with protein, fiber and good fats; berries rich in antioxidants; dark leafy greens loaded with nutrients and fiber; beans and legumes that provide protein and essential minerals; and seafood, particularly salmon which is full of healthy omega3 fatty acids. Even dark chocolate is considered a superfood because it’s rich in flavonoids that help reduce inflammation.
I ate all of them! From roasted sunflower seeds smothered in cinnamon, to spicy pumpkin seeds, roasted vegetables, green smoothies, black bean brownies, grilled salmon, and chocolate avocado pudding. I also removed all gluten from my diet along with other foods that were making me sick, like milk, ice cream, and other processed foods. The difference in function was enormous. The combination of feeding my body powerful energy and healing foods while removing gluten and foods that were driving many of my symptoms changed my life.
This quick Food Assessment can tell you if the food you eat drains your energy.
The second best way to have more energy is to move.
#3 – Move
There’s no point in eating superfoods if you aren’t going to do anything with them. Moving gives our bodies a reason to build muscle which keeps us strong. For anyone with ME/CFS, exercise is a very sore subject, no pun intended! The more you do the worse you feel. I for one avoided it as much as possible. Unfortunately, the less you do, the weaker you become which makes getting around even harder.
Even brushing my hair made my arms ache, so I started with simply lifting my arms up three times twice a day. It felt pathetic to tell you the truth, but after a week, I could actually brush my hair without pain. Starting with tiny steps, I began to rebuild my body.
This quick Movement Assessment tells you whether you need to move more to increase your energy.
The third best way to increase energy is to detox.
#4 – Detox
Toxins can interfere with important functions in the body. Storing them where they can do the least harm (generally in fat cells), or getting rid of them as fast as possible from the body requires energy. Before I became sick, I never gave a thought to the products I used every day on my body and in my home. That was until a doctor introduced me to Skin Deep, a database that rates body care products and makeup based on the chemicals they contain.
It was eye opening. Products I had used for years turned out to be full of harmful chemicals. Not only were they robbing me of energy, they were making many of my symptoms worse. One by one, I replaced all of the products full of harmful chemicals with products free from harmful chemicals.
I used products containing nature-made, not man-made ingredients on my body. Essential oils not chemicals scented my home. Simple cleaners made from household ingredients kept it clean. I threw out my toxic non-stick cookware and replaced them with stainless steel so no more chemicals leached into my food. I replaced BPA laden plastics with glass to store my food for the same reason.
I bought organic food to eliminate harmful pesticides. Nearly 70% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides, according to EWG’s analysis of the latest test data from the federal Department of Agriculture. You can learn more here.
This quick Detox Assessment gauges your toxic burden.
#5 – TLC
Before I became sick, I expected to be able to do everything. I lived life at breakneck speed. It did not occur to me that my body might someday let me down. At least, not until I was much older. So it was a shock when I caught a viral infection that left me unable to function. I didn’t take it well.
When I look back now, I have no idea where I was hell bent on getting to, but I do know I could not and would not have lasted had I continued at that pace. Sometimes life has a way of forcing us to do things we don’t want to do. In hindsight, they often turn out to be the best thing. I’m not glad I have ME/CFS, but it has made my life much deeper and richer because of it.
It forced me to slow down and take a good, hard look at what I was doing. What I saw wasn’t pretty. I spent no time taking care of myself. I put everyone else’s needs before my own. I was hyper critical of myself and constantly angry that I couldn’t get my act together. And, I had no tools to deal with any of it.
I had to learn things like pacing and boundaries. I learned how to breathe to calm my mind and reduce my heart rate. I learned to listen to my body and take action when it needs help. I took the time to prepare healthy, nourishing food. I pampered myself with baths and foot soaks. For the first time in my life, I directed all my energy to taking care of myself. Do you know the magic that can happen when you do that?
This quick TLC Assessment calculates your TLC score.
That’s how I reclaimed my life from ME/CFS. I took foods out of my diet that were making me sick and put in foods that gave me energy and helped me heal.
I began to move my body and increased my strength.
I got rid of all the toxins in my food, body care products, and home that were making it harder to function.
I started some much needed TLC because without it, stress builds up, relationships fracture, and breakdown is inevitable.
All the time I was busy chasing down a diagnosis and the drugs that could fix me, I was neglecting the very basics that make life possible and worth living. I did not find an answer, and I did not cure myself. I still have symptoms. What I did was find a way to regain my function, minimize my symptoms, and live the kind of life I knew I was supposed to be living.
It doesn’t matter what chronic illness you have, these four elements are essential if you want to reclaim your life too. This short article makes the process sound really simple. In truth it is. Not easy, but simple. If you want to reclaim your life from chronic illness, start now by assessing what you need most. Then connect with one of the health coaches to create your own personal plan of recovery.
Click here to learn more.