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Is Your Chronic Fatigue Linked to Stress and Painful Emotions?

Posted Jan 08 2010 4:38pm



Patsy swallows her feelings and gets tired out
Patsy spent her forty-fifth birthday  with her elderly mother who  complained about the food being cold and bland. Patsy bit her tongue and tried to make something more appetizing. Her sister called to wish her a happy birthday, then made excuses as to why she couldn’t take care of their mother next weekend.  Patsy was outraged that she was expected to be the dutiful child while her siblings got away with it. She ground her teeth, stuffed the indignation and continued with her chores. She was tired and didn’t want to create family tensions.

At the birthday dinner that evening Patsy heard Jasper and the  kids fight. She was upset that the family bickering never took a rest. She was hurt that no one considered her feelings. She felt lonely, sad and unimportant at that moment. Fighting back tears, Patsy took a sip of water and swallowed her feelings. She stepped in and made the peace. Drained of energy and enthusiasm Patsy pretended to enjoy herself when the cake and candles arrived.

Patsy's stuffed emotions erased her energy

Patsy was tired and achy the next day.  She wished she could just put her body down and walk away from it. She didn’t want to shop and make dinner. She didn’t want to pick up the kids from school. She didn’t want to do the laundry or take the dog for a walk. If only she could stay in bed and watch television, and never have to worry about anyone or anything else.

Patsy is exhausted but her family think she is pretending

Waking up feeling wiped out was familiar. This had been going on for a few months. Her doctor gave her tonics, supplements and vitamins but nothing  helped. Her blood work came back normal and  no hormonal imbalance was detected after a thorough panel of tests. Her family mocked her tiredness feeling like she was putting it on.

A diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Shames Patsy

The diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome stunned Patsy and her husband. How could she have this condition for which there was no physical cause? It just didn’t make sense that her body was suffering real exhaustion and lack of energy when every organ and system was working efficiently. Patsy felt accused of malingering. She felt ashamed to speak about her constant fatigue without having a medical reason for it. Unable to handle the implication that she was a bit ‘screwed up’ and weak, Patsy refused to join a support group. She decided to struggle on and push past the exhaustion.

Patsy is so tired she forgets things and puts her family in danger
Patsy began forgetting things. She was making mistakes and getting easily distracted. She began to cry quietly in the car when she missed her turns, forgot to pick up her son from basketball practice and left the stove on all day when she ran out of the house in a hurry. The harder she tried to remember what jobs to do, when and in what order, the more fatigued she got. It was becoming very tough to concentrate fully on keeping everything running smoothly. Her bones ached and her muscles just didn’t want to move. She was worried about letting her family down. But she never said anything about her fears, her worries and her alarm about her errors and memory problems.


Trauma, stress and suppressing of emotions are factors in CFS

Patsy experienced childhood trauma, prolonged stress and experienced much psychological distress. Research has detected links between these three factors and the likelihood of getting CFS in later adulthood.

The Center for Disease Control reports on a study published in 2006 that links stress and childhood trauma to later life Chronic Fatigue syndrome. The experience of marked and sustained psychological distress was found to be a distinguishing factor in CFS sufferers as reported in a 1997 study by the Institutes of Health. A 2007 study also reported by the Institutes of health indicates that not being able to talk about your emotions (alexithymia) is often a marker of CFS sufferers.

Patsy finally deals with her emotions when her fatigue leads to serious mistakes
The weight of Patsy’s stress, unacknowledged emotions and distress made her chronically fatigued. It was so huge she buckled. The suppressed  feelings overflowed into other areas, affecting her memory, clarity of thinking and ability to make sound judgments. Basically Patsy collapsed under the burden of undigested emotions. Alarm let her to therapy. She learned that feelings are normal and useful. She began to connect to all those experiences that had broken her heart.  Her energy levels returned. As she found strength in expressing herself so her body regained it’s strength and vigor. Patsy is learning to talk about her feelings as she experiences them with her family and friends. There is a feeling of  lightness in her muscles and bones. She plays a round of golf every morning and is volunteering at her local pre-school.

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2010

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