Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Hard Truth

My previous post focused upon the dilemmas involved in managing an illness that is still so poorly understood. Moving on from that, I want to now address my Grand Plan of Action. Okay, so maybe the capitalisation is overdoing it ;)

The past week has contained some challenging days. Days where I've seriously wondered whether I have the desire and strength to persevere for the long haul. To clarify, I don't mean I am suicidal or depressed (although I naturally have periods of low mood, as anyone in this situation would). I mean from a more pragmatic point of view. If my life for the foreseeable future is to be led from a sofa/bed and I am unable to retain enough energy and concentration to do meaningful things that stimulate my mind then how much quality of life is there?

Part of my journey has been to learn as much as I can about my illness and how best to manage it. I now feel I have a reasonable grasp of what I'm up against and have digested the views of many different leading practitioners who have been working with M.E. patients for some time.

The first thing my knowledge has provided is a dose of realism. It's natural that people will tell me I'll get better soon etc. Even I still sometimes refer to myself as being temporarily unwell. But let's be realistic and use real data involving real people. The likelihood of me making a full recovery and being the person I was before I got ill is around 5%. Which of course means there is a 95% chance I won't ever be the old me again. Amongst that 95%, it is roughly split in half between the probability of having periods of remission and relapses (boom and bust in economic terms!) and the probability of getting progressively worse before I stabilise.

Now, I'm not being a doom and gloom merchant here and I'm not giving up all hope of a recovery. Rather, I am merely being realistic in gathering comprehensive data as opposed to anecdotal tales of individual outcomes. So, what about the stories of 'magical' recovery using techniques such as the Lightning Process or other 'mind over matter' approaches?

Undoubtedly the mind is a massively powerful tool and plays a huge part in how we feel physically. I completely accept that. However, if I do indeed have M.E. then there are various things going wrong within my body at a cellular level that positive thought or determination cannot possibly cure. I mentioned in my previous post that the landscape of understanding of M.E. is a rather unruly mess. To expand on that a little, I think I now have a better grasp of why M.E. and CFS should not be used on an interchanging basis.

Chronic fatigue is a symptom rather than a diagnosis. Yes, I have fatigue but it is only one element and probably not even the main one. I have had post-viral fatigue before and I can say with absolute certainty that this is way different. In fact, this all probably started with post-viral fatigue (I was sleeping lots and lots in the early period) but it has developed into something much wider. I'm still not totally convinced that M.E. (as defined by the World Health Organisation) is the correct term for whatever is wrong with me but I must accept that there is currently not an adequate clinical definition at this stage. It is my belief and hope that this will change in the future and that a better understanding of my condition will lead to a more appropriate clinical definition. It's not an easy task as every time I try to pin a description on it I am reminded that I am describing symptoms rather than disease itself.

I am therefore convinced that there needs to be a separation of those who have chronic fatigue syndrom/post-viral syndrome from those who have what we currently know as M.E. in order that clinical diagnostics are more readily definable. It might sound like I'm saying I am more ill than someone with post-viral fatigue syndrome or more deserving of research/sympathy/compassion but that isn't it at all. The waters are murky because a whole load of conditions are being lumped together under the M.E./CFS bracket and that makes the task of classifying, researching and treating the conditions almost impossible.

So, now that I've dipped my toes into these politically charged waters and risked the wrath of those in the community who disagree with me, what next?

Independent research is still the way forward, I feel. I've been able to build up a comprehensive understanding of what different treatment methods are being used in various specialist clinics (not NHS ones, i'll come to that in a minute!) and of the theories surrounding what is going on within my body. I am still of the view that nobody has yet uncovered the full picture and therefore I must approach each theory with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, impressive track records exist in various countries, including my own, in terms of managing similar conditions and I should not ignore that.

I mentioned the NHS. The current NICE guidelines worry me a lot and the more research I do the more I am convinced that I should retain control of my own treatment plan. Graded Exercise Therapy is a key tenet of those guidelines and is something I will be encouraged to partake in. There is overwhelming evidence that suggests to me this increases the likelihood of a severe worsening of the condition and I will be refusing that particular method of treatment.

So, now I've mentioned all that is wrong - what is right? Well, I will make use of this blog to cover in detail the treatments I am going to be relying on. In fact, my next post will begin that process in earnest. I say this with a full understanding that I am merely 'managing' my illness. There is no cure (yet!) but my understanding of what is going wrong within my body, and the clues afforded by various pioneering souls in the medical community, does allow me to make some pragmatic choices about how best to lessen symptoms. That in itself would have a major impact on my daily life. Imagine if I could have a shower without feeling like I'm going to pass out afterwards or walk to the bathroom without feeling like my heart is going to burst out of my chest or without breathing like a breathless old man. Yes indeed, managing symptoms and reducing their severity even a little will benefit me greatly.

Take care,


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