Too sleepy to be social?
As model Laura Dundovic knows, chronic fatigue syndrome is so much more than not being able to get out of bed in the morning.
(Expert tips to fix your fatigue)
It’s normal to feel run-down from long hours of work or study, a stressful situation, or one too many late nights out. The solution? A few days of R&R. Where this tiredness enters chronic fatigue syndrome territory is when it’s unexplained, worsening, and comes with a host of flu-like symptoms.
Model and former Miss Universe Australia Laura Dundovic is one of 180,000 Australians affected by chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s a battle she tackles every day – and some are worse than others. “I’ve had chronic fatigue for around 10 years now,” she says. “It can get hard but I just have to know my limits and rest when I have time off. A great day is getting by without a nap and a good day is not having any pain.” The name ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ leads people to believe it’s about being very tired, but it’s actually a complex, chronic illness that affects a number of systems in the body including the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Because it affects so many parts of the body, the array of symptoms people with the condition experience makes it hard to lead a normal life. Dr Nicole Phillips, medical advisor to a non-profit organisation helping sufferers, explains, “Some ome are able to work part-time. Others are housebound and, at some stages, spend 18 to 23 hours in bed.” Laura is able to work, but has to put strategies in place so she can manage her busy schedule. “I don’t really drink alcohol. I try to eat clean, , but I am a chocoholic! I feel great when I exercise, but sometimes it’s hard because I’m so tired. And I sleep whenever I can. I can sleep anywhere!” In some severe cases, however, a life outside the house is impossible. Ketra Wooding, 28, from the Gold Coast, Queensland, explains, “I live in my bed in a dark, soundproofed room. If I lie very still and think relaxing, positive thoughts, I ever so slowly get a little bit better. I miss the normal things – friends, talking to my family, music, TV, my computer, and most foods.”
A great day is getting by without a nap and
a good day is not having any pain
Tiredness is only one aspect of chronic fatigue, and Dr Phillips says it’s more akin to flu-type symptoms. “Sufferers experience infective symptoms such as swollen lymph glands, sore throat, low-grade fevers and night sweats. Other symptoms include limb pain, headaches, sleep disturbances, dizziness, sensitivities to light, smell, and noise, and cognitive difficulties with tasks involving brain power or multitasking.” These symptoms vary from one person to the next, and can even shift within the person themself – one of Laura’s symptoms is her throat closing over. Ketra was training to be a teacher before chronic fatigue left her bedbound. “It feels a bit like having a very bad flu with sea sickness, migraines, noise sensitivity, sunburnt eyes, arthritis in the joints, tingling nerves, ants crawling over you, a burning spine and neck, frozen feet, and extreme brain fog all at once, day after day, month after month, year after year.” In their entirety, these symptoms take a toll on the body and, unsurprisingly, result in extreme lethargy. “The condition is characterised by severe fatigue that is not alleviated by rest and typically has ‘payback’, meaning it gets worse with mental or physical activity,” says Dr Phillips.
The range of symptoms makes chronic fatigue syndrome difficult to identify. “I had to be tested for everything under the sun before chronic fatigue was diagnosed,” says Laura. A trivialised perception of chronic fatigue also exists among the general public, and even some of the medical community, thanks to its name – which doesn’t do the condition’s severity justice. Jessica Wynne, 27, from Bendigo, Victoria, was a cook and a sailor prior to developing chronic fatigue but hasn’t worked since. She says, “I would love to get back to work, but have a body that fails me. People with this condition are seriously ill but unbelieved, including by the medical profession.” Clearly there is far more to this syndrome than simply being “tired”.
Prevention And Management
There is no cure for chronic fatigue, but Dr Phillips says a good practitioner will aim to minimise discomfort. “We can alleviate symptoms such as pain or sleep disturbance. There are also management strategies, such as ‘switching’, which is about moving from a physical activity to a mental activity to a rest period.” Jessica copes by conserving her strength. “If I’m going out, I do very little in the days before and after or I’ll relapse.” Laura’s advice is simple: “Listen to your body. If you start getting run-down, slow down.” Dr Phillips says the easiest preventative measure people can put in place is taking time off to properly rest and recover. “Continuing to ‘push through’ can lead to disastrous consequences.”
Laura stuggles with the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome daily.