What is M.E.?

what is me

What is M.E.? A look at symptoms, treatment, and methods to stay positive if you are an M.E. sufferer or know someone who is.

What is M.E.?

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (try saying that when you’re drunk), or M.E. for short, is a severely debilitating and long-lasting illness which affects around 240,000 people in the UK. What makes this such a difficult illness to have and to diagnose is the sheer number of different symptoms that it causes. Headaches, chronic pain, dizziness, nausea, insomnia and a weakened immune system are just some of the most common symptoms of M.E., but the defining symptom is the extreme and chronic exhaustion it causes.

The constant fatigue caused by M.E. is different to tiredness experienced by healthy people. It feels as if you’ve just run a marathon, been hit by a truck, and have a bad hang-over, all rolled into one, and all of the time. As well as this, people suffering from M.E. cannot regain their energy like normal people. Instead of waking up feeling refreshed after sleeping, people with M.E. often feel just as tired as when they went to sleep, or even worse. Because of this, M.E. sufferers can take days or weeks to recover from an activity as simple as going out shopping, or going for a walk.

How does M.E. start?

To begin with, M.E. just starts with a cold or virus. After a week or so the virus symptoms of the illness clear up (so the sore throat or delightfully runny nose), but the feeling of complete mental and physical exhaustion remains. M.E., also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), can be very similar to Post Viral Fatigue, which is a lingering feeling of tiredness after a virus that disappears after a few weeks. The big difference between Post Viral Fatigue and M.E. is that M.E. is a chronic illness which can last for months, years, or even decades. No-one knows for sure what causes M.E. and why some people get it and others don’t, but put your faith in the scientists: already there have been some promising discoveries.

Treatment for M.E.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for M.E.. Fortunately, in most cases of children and teenagers, M.E. sufferers will recover, though adults are less likely to make a full recovery.

For those lightly affected by the illness, gentle exercise to build up strength and stamina is recommended, as well as cutting out high sugar and caffeinated foods from your diet. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a type of counselling) can also be beneficial.

However treating those who are severely affected by the illness is much trickier, and depends more on drugs and medicines to treat the symptoms.

Examples of this are using a sleep hormone called Melatonin to treat insomnia, or using a low dose of an anti-depressant like Amitriptyline to help relax people and therefore help them sleep at night. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements essential to your body making energy, such as Zinc and Magnesium, can sometimes help a little too. The last resort treatment for people with M.E. who show no improvement with any of these treatments is an anti-candida medication and diet. Candida is a yeast infection that everyone has, and this treatment helps control the levels of infection. The diet recommended to go along with this treatment is broadly known as the ‘No fun diet’ by M.E. sufferers. This is as it basically involves cutting out all foods containing yeast or that are high in sugar, so say goodbye to those toasted jam sandwiches and midnight chocolate binges.

Most importantly though, is not to let yourself get scammed. There are hundreds of ‘treatments’ for M.E. out there that do not work. Wrapping yourself in sea weed and drinking the blood of blue chickens will not make you better; it’ll only get you in a sticky (no pun intended) situation with animal rights protestors. Go to a good doctor that you trust for treatment, there’s a reason they have a medical degree.

Helpful tips for M.E.

As a M.E. sufferer myself, I have put together my top 5 tips on how to deal with M.E.. This may also be helpful if you know someone with M.E.

Stay positive with M.E.

Positivity is 7/10 of the battle with M.E.. People suffering with M.E. frequently become depressed, and so it’s vital to look on the bright side of things and try to see them for what they really are. Instead of telling yourself how bad things are going and how your whole life is a mess, look yourself in the eye (a mirror is useful for this), take a deep breath, and tell yourself that everything is going to be okay. Do not give up hope that you will recover. Also when M.E. symptoms start to get you down, concentrate on positive things, or put a positive spin on things. For example, increased light sensitivity (one of the weirder symptoms of M.E.) can be unbelievably annoying, but it does give a legitimate reason to wear cool new aviator sunglasses everywhere like a total rock star. I am proud to say that this is something I do.

Get out there:

Being stuck indoors a lot is awful. To prevent cabin fever and long staring contests with inanimate objects, organise small, manageable trips out. But make sure that you don’t over-tire yourself as if you do it will be a while before you regain the little energy you had. Try to have an event planned each month to give yourself something to look forward to.

Me time, not M.E. time:

Your whole life does not have to revolve around your illness. Use your spare time wisely to stave off boredom, and to also remind yourself that not everything is about M.E.. Use this time to take care of your body, but in the way you want to. This means manicures and long bubble baths, girls (or guys, if you are into that sort of thing). Activities like beauty treatments are an ideal low-energy way to spoil yourself. Alternatively you could take up a fun hobby that doesn’t need much energy, such as jewellery making, painting, or writing letters of complaint to various government agencies.

Try yoga:

Okay, so some of the poses do put you in a rather awkward position if someone walks in on you doing them, but trust me on this one, yoga is definitely worth it. Not only does it keep your muscles toned with gentle stretching and exercises, but it relaxes you too. If that isn’t enough, yoga was recently voted one of the top 10 most attractive hobbies to have as it improves posture and flexibility. Get into yoga by joining a yoga class, or by buying a DVD so that you can do it at home.

Don’t go it alone:

Fellow M.E. sufferers, you are not alone. It is estimated that 240,000 people in the U.K have M.E., a lot of which are teenage girls. Charities such as AYME are directly aimed at young people with at M.E., and joining their website (http://www.ayme.org.uk/) can be massively beneficial, as on their website you can chat to other young people with M.E., people who genuinely understand what you are going through. Also, getting the right medical treatment for you is very important; you are entitled to medical support, whether that is medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, or nursing help.