The Olympian Challenge of ME/CFS

I went with my family to see the Olympic torch this week. It was passing my brother’s house which is the perfect distance away for my daily walk. I have to admit that I didn’t have much excitement for seeing the torch. I really went just to get my walk in. I found I had to force myself to conjure up some respect for what the Olympics represent: the pinnacle of sporting achievement, pushing the human body to its extreme of performance. And there’s the problem: everything I have had to learn since getting this illness has been the antithesis to the Olympics. In fact I’ve had to make an Olympic scale effort not to exert myself or push my body to the limit.

Like an athlete I’ve had to become finely tuned to my body’s messages. But the messages I have to listen to are those which tell me where my limits of physical and mental energy lie, and these change on a daily basis. I then have to employ Olympic style discipline to make sure that I don’t surpass those limits. My training schedule is all about pacing myself, making sure I get sufficient rest whilst changing activity regularly. Making sure I never spend too much time doing one thing or in one position. Tackling sleep disturbance has also involved a strict behavioural regime. I have had to learn and refine new skills such as relaxation and meditation. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation, with self-healing meditations and an unshakeable belief that I will get better again in time. One extremely important skill involving mental acuity is that of approaching all tasks with relaxed effortlessness, taking extreme care to never exert myself. This has been an extremely difficult skill to refine. My food intolerances mean I have a very carefully controlled diet. But even during my first illness when I didn’t have food intolerance problems I had to be careful to get a healthy balanced diet to give myself the best chance of recovery.
It seems to me that doing everything we need to do to overcome this illness really is like an Olympic training program, the main difference being that we are striving for efficient effortlessness instead of efficient exertion. I’ve never received a gold medal on an Olympic podium but I have looked down on the world from the top of a mountain which I had climbed, at the end of a 5 year period of chronic illness, knowing that it was over, knowing that I was better. I can’t imagine that receiving an Olympic medal could be any better than that feeling! Like the promise of a medal, the promise of that feeling keeps me disciplined and motivated to excel in effortlessness. What other choice do I have?

Leave a comment