The experts agree that lifestyle change is the foundation for recovery from CFS. According to Paul Cheney, MD, this is "easily the most important and often the least emphasized" part of treatment.
CFS is a cyclical disease. One important aspect of lifestyle change is how you manage your cycles. You can be "doing everything right," and you'll still have cycles, often for no apparent reason. You can, however, learn to reduce their severity, and even use them to your advantage. Here's how.
On the "Good Days"
Waking up to one of those precious "good days" is like finding an unexpected $100 in your pocket. What do you do with this extra money? The temptation might be to go out and spend it all. You may want to "make up for lost time" and do everything you've been deprived of: go shopping, go for a long walk, do the laundry, clean the windows, go to a movie, wash the car, shampoo the carpet, and finish those three or four other projects... knowing that this is a rare opportunity to "get a lot done." And then, of course, you crash.
There is an alternative way to work your cycles. You can actually use the good day to help build momentum toward healing. Think of the good day as a form of "capital" that can be invested in your healing process–rather than being spent or squandered.
I call this "the fifty percent solution," and it goes as follows: When you awaken to a good day, make an assessment of how much you feel you can do. For example, you might make a list often things you feel capable of doing and want to do today.
Now, instead of spending all your newfound capital, you would do half the things on your list, and then stop. For the next day or two, you observe your body's responses.
If you crash, your assessment is adjusted downward on your next good day. If you feel fine, you may want to repeat this process, each time doing just half of what you feel capable of doing. As your confidence grows, your appraisal of how much you can do may increase, but you still do just half.
"The essence of the fifty percent solution is that you spend half your energy and invest the other half."
What to do with the other half of your energy? This is the key. It takes some self discipline, but here is where you have a chance to do something clever.
The essence of the fifty percent solution is that you spend half your energy and invest the other half. What is not spent outwardly is used inwardly to support your body's self-repair mechanisms. Thus, even though you don't feel you need to, you take extra time to rest.
The rest that you get on a good day is of a higher quality than that on a bad day.
By gaining extra "unneeded" rest on a good day, you are investing in a savings program that collects interest.
Your body's self-repair mechanisms are what will eventually lead to your recovery. By giving them the benefit of this extra good quality rest, you build momentum toward a higher baseline of functioning.
As you move further toward recovery, your assessment of your available energy will gradually rise. By managing your energy conservatively on your good days, eventually your periods of remission can lengthen, and the severity of your relapses can gradually diminish.
Let your wealth grow. Don't spend every penny you find in your pocket. The fifty percent solution has served as a useful guideline for many former PWC's in promoting recovery.
* William Collinge, PhD, is a consultant, author, speaker and researcher in the field of integrative health care. Currently he is directing an NIH-funded research study - the "Fibromyalgia Wellness Project" (www.fmwellness.org), now also enrolling ME/CFS patients. This Web-based project involves computer analysis of patients' daily activity & symptom data to identify patterns and opportunities for improvement.
This advice is excerpted from Dr. Collinge's book Recovering From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Guide to Self-Empowerment. The chapters of this book and other helpful articles are available for download free of charge from his website www.healthy.net/collinge/writings.html.