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Panelist: Danielle Warner
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Danielle Warner

Former High School Biology Teacher
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patient

Imagine that you woke up one day with a terrible flu. Now imagine that that flu just never went away. This has been my life for the past seven years, thanks to a medical condition called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). My illness is caused by a viral infection, and it left me completely bed-ridden for the first few months. At first, I could barely even lift a bite of food to my own mouth. Over the years I have regained some of my strength, thanks to the tireless support of my loving husband and family, but I still operate at a small fraction of the of the functional capacity that I once had.

There is no relief from this illness, never a day, or even an hour or a moment, when I am not sick.

Because my medical condition is commonly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, many people believe that I am simply tired all of the time. Fatigue is definitely part of the illness, but only a small piece of the overall picture. On a good day, I have a window of time where I feel like myself, but just completely exhausted. The fatigue is not a feeling of being sleepy, but rather a tired to the bone, unable to lift my arms or legs, feeling like I've gone out for a run and gone too far kind of a feeling.  Even if i were to think of the most exhausted that I ever felt before I struggled with ME/CFS, it does not come close to the weight of the debilitating fatigue that I experience now.  Then, over a short period of time, my other symptoms also set in. I experience headaches, sore throat, cough, an inability to focus or process my thoughts, and every muscle in my body aches. Any sort of mild activity such as making the bed, a very short walk, or chopping some vegetables to prepare a meal brings these symptoms on even more quickly.  

The basic activities of daily life are very difficult for me.  Each day I eventually reach a point when I am so sick that I am unable to stand, walk or even sit up. I can do nothing other than just go to bed. On a bad day, I wake up already feeling all of the symptoms that I mentioned above, and a day when I push my energy limits can leave me feeling even more sick than usual for days or even weeks afterwards.  ME/CFS also causes me to have many other symptoms such as a compromised immune system and sleep dysfunction.   However, because ME/CFS is an invisible illness, others often have no idea that even things that I used to take for granted, such as getting dressed or taking a shower, can be a struggle for me now.  

One of the most frustrating things about ME/CFS is the cognitive limitation that it places on me. Any activity that requires even a small amount of cognitive activity, such as reading for a few minutes, answering an email, or having a conversation with a friend, is difficult for me, and brings on all of the physical symptoms that I mentioned above. I feel as though my brain is covered in a dense fog, I am unable to focus my mind, I forget words and am unable to organize ideas.  it is as though my thoughts are on a shelf that is just out of my reach.  This severely limits my ability to write, create or learn new things.

But by far the most devastating thing about ME/CFS  is that it has taken away my ability to build the future that I've dreamed of.  Before this illness, I was a vibrant, hard-working biology teacher.   Now I am physically unable to carry on in a career that I loved, and I am unable to have a family with my loving husband. People often think that this ME/CFS isn't serious because it isn't fatal.  However, while this illness most likely will not kill the millions of us who have it, it has still stolen our lives away. There is no cure for ME/CFS and no treatment available within the medical system, a fact that can make the future seem bleak at times.

I am so thankful for the support system that has made it possible for me to have a full and wonderful life despite being sick.  My amazing husband and family give me unconditional love and support, and work hard to meet my physical needs even when I can’t do the same in return.  My naturopath and other healthcare practitioners have fought tirelessly with me to help me regain more of my strength over the years.  And my faith in God gives me strength to carry on in difficult times.  The fight is not over, I will continue each day to work hard and do everything I can to regain my strength and my health.  But even though my life now is quite different from how I had once envisioned it, this faith continues to give me great joy and purpose in every day of my life.

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