by Claire

Why am I so sick? “Why me” is always a tempting question, but after the first five years of Chronic Fatigue I stopped asking – focusing on the ‘unfairness’ of having Chronic Fatigue was stopping me from accepting the illness and working on managing myself effectively. But the sudden onset of such bad symptoms at the start of this year really provokes the question “Why Now”? Why, after being able to work three and a half days a week, doing moderate exercise, and socialising during the week did my energy levels reduce to the point where I could not walk more than 20 metres?

The glandular fever was back; Just before Christmas I spent a lovely evening chatting to a friend who had glandular fever. Could I have been exposed and somehow the glandular fever in me could be ‘reactivated’ and the immune system thrown into chaos?

The stress got to me; Part of my job at the school in 2012 was to organise the school concert in September. This was an enormous job for which the preparation started in January – I was doing much of the work from home and spending long nights at school to get everything organised. By August I was beyond stressed and upset; I had a complete breakdown in the vice-principal’s office (so embarrassing) and was suffering from anxiety. After the concert I flew to Queensland for a week of drinking and dancing to get away from it all, and then came back to do the Christmas concert. By the time the school year had finished I was ready to collapse.

I had unhealthy eating habits; I was a single person living in St. Kilda with a stressful job and a disinclination for cooking for one. I often ate rubbish for lunch or skipped it altogether. Dinner was mostly a frozen lean cuisine or scrambled eggs. I wasn’t drinking enough water as I often don’t notice thirst. I had a huge chocolate habit that I just couldn’t kick and drank socially. I was not particularly healthy, but not extremely unhealthy either.

I had no job security; From about the start of November my job as a classroom music teacher was very uncertain. When in mid December I finally knew that I would have a job to come back to in 2013, I was told that I my beautiful and extremely well-resourced music room would be converted into a classroom and I would be teaching music in the gym-hall. In the last week of school I was told that the music program would be run differently; longer lesson times, but I would teach half the school for terms one and two, then the other half for terms three and four. This effectively ruined the music program I had been building up for the last two years. I am very passionate about my work. Reducing the music program in this way meant that I would not be able to teach the students effectively. This upset me deeply and I was extremely stressed, anxious and angry from about November through until February.

I am allergic to Guy; I laugh about this but the fact is that I met Guy in late November and I first noticed symptoms of unusual tiredness and post-exertional malaise in late December. As I spent more time with Guy I became steadily worse and hit my lowest point shortly after moving in with him. Coincidence or cause?

I was too happy; Chronic Fatigue really messes with your head. To the point where I was considering this as a legitimate possible cause of my relapse. There are always people (doctors, friends, relatives) who are ready to tell you that your symptoms are psychosomatic or a result of depression, and that thought is always in the back of my head. Maybe I’m making all of this up, maybe I just want to be lazy. Maybe I can’t stand being so happy and need more problems in my life. Ignoring the stress from my job, I had never been more content. I was so happy in my new relationship, I was saving up for another European holiday, this was the first summer holiday I had not worked though in a part-time job of some sort, and I was finally getting the hang of being social and not being afraid of social engagements.

After almost an entire year, I might have an answer. I am allergic. Not to Guy (thankfully), but to where he lives. I am seeing an allergist who has identified several inconvenient allergies including nitrogen oxide – a by-product of car pollution. Guy’s wonderful (tiny) apartment is in the middle of the city, right at the entrance to the M3 (one of the main traffic arteries into Melbourne’s CBD). This explains the gradual increase in my symptoms from the time that I met Guy, staying in the city with increasing frequency as my symptoms worsened. Finally I moved in around March – right around the time that I accepted that I could only work half-days. From this time on it was just a downward spiral; the more I stayed at the apartment, the sicker I became until I couldn’t work and was totally house-bound. Finally I had my ‘square one’ collapse which left me incapacitated. Moving back with my parents in the suburbs started a very slow recovery, but it was difficult to attribute a mild alleviation of symptoms to anything specific.

Until now. I am spending two weeks in Fairhaven to ‘test’ my allergies. We want to see what my fatigue levels are like in the absence of high levels of nitrogen oxide. So far the results are very promising, and it is very difficult to not get extremely excited and overly happy about the prospect of being well again. I have walked, I have cooked, I have washed dishes, I have vacuumed. I have done more than one thing on a day and not collapsed or ‘paid the price’ by being completely wiped out the very next day.

How much of my fatigue is allergies? Did I ever have Chronic Fatigue? Will I be able to live in the city or suburbs? When did I become so allergic to everything and why? I’ll come to these questions later. For now I’ll just enjoy this respite and the lovely beach weather that’s on its way.

My new Fairhaven friend!

My new Fairhaven friend!