Life with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: 11 Lessons from My “Mother-in-Law”

Medically reviewed by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR on May 12, 2017Written by Adele Paul on May 12, 2017
life with chronic fatigue

Imagine this. You’re going about life happily. You share your life with the man of your dreams. You have a few kids, a job you enjoy most of the time, and hobbies and friends to keep you busy. Then, one day, your mother-in-law moves in.

You’re not sure why. You didn’t invite her, and you’re pretty sure your husband didn’t, either. You keep thinking she’ll leave, but you notice her bags have been thoroughly unpacked, and every time you bring up her impending departure, she changes the subject.

Well, this is not unlike how I came to have chronic fatigue syndrome. You see, for me, as is the case for most people with CFS, chronic fatigue syndrome arrived in the form of what I thought was a simple stomach flu. As you would for a short-stay visit with your mother-in-law, I mentally prepared for a few days of misery and unpleasant interruptions and assumed life would return to normal in a few days. This was not the case. The symptoms, particularly a crushing fatigue, took up residence in my body, and, five years on, it would appear that my metaphorical mother-in-law has moved in for good.

It’s not the ideal situation, and it’s one that continues to perplex me, but it’s not all bad news. The years of living with “her” have taught me a few things. Having this wealth of information now, I think everyone should know that …

1. Living with CFS is not all bad.

Like any respectable MIL-DIL relationship, life with chronic fatigue has its ups and downs. At times, you can’t lift your head off the pillow for fear of her wrath. But other times, if you tread lightly, you might go weeks, even months, without significant confrontation.

2. Living with your “mother-in-law” comes with some perks.

The other day a friend asked me if I wanted to join her in canvassing the neighborhood selling chocolate almonds. The answer was an easy, “No. I’ll be entertaining my mother-in-law tonight.” Living with this less-than-desirable house guest doesn’t come with many up-sides, so I figure using it as a (valid) excuse now and then is fair.

3. You can’t beat your mother-in-law.

Though you’d like to, you can’t beat CFS physically or metaphorically as some might “beat,” or cure, another disease. Any attempts to fight, defy, or otherwise defeat it only make living with it worse. Having said that …

4. A little kindness goes a long way.

When dealing with this unwanted resident in my life, I have found it best to simply exercise kindness in all ways. A nurturing, peaceful, and patient approach will often yield periods of what is known in CFS lingo as “remission” — a period of time in which symptoms ease and one can increase their levels of activity.

5. Do NOT, under any circumstances, involve your mother-in-law in extreme sports.

The real kicker of CFS is a nasty little thing called post-exertional malaise. Simply put, this is the all-kinds-of-terrible you feel 24 to 48 hours after participating in rigorous physical activity. So while your mother-in-law may appear to be enjoying her time on the BMX track, make no mistake, she will make you pay later. There will be no telling what injuries she may acquire and how long you will have to hear about them.

6. Whatever you do: Choose your battles.

Chronic fatigue syndrome never misses a chance to be heard when, say, you have a late night with friends or you try to do some strenuous gardening. Knowing this, I only go to battle with this illness when it’s worth it. For me, this means saying no to things like the office social or volunteering for the PTA. But a Garth Brooks concert? HELL YEAH!

7. You won’t win every battle.

My metaphorical mother-in-law is a formidable character. There will definitely be bad times that in CFS-speak we call “relapse.” When this happens, I can’t stress enough the power of accepting defeat as the first step towards recovery. For my own sake, I use these times to drink a lot of tea with the MIL, reassure her that everything will be OK, and convince her to watch Downton Abbey with me until she’s ready to bury the hatchet.

8. Throw her a bone now and then.

It might feel like your MIL is needy at times. She wants to rest, she doesn’t want to dig the weeds today, work is too stressful for her, she wants to be in bed no later than 8:00 p.m. … The list goes on and on. For goodness sake, throw her bone now and then! No. Scratch that. Throw her all the bones she wants and then some. I promise you the pay-off in terms of your health will be worth it.

9. The best of friends don’t mind if MIL tags along.

I’ve always had good friends, but I’ve never appreciated them more than in the past five years. They are good and faithful and don’t mind if my mother-in-law decides to slow us down on an outing — or even if she insists that the whole lot of us stay home instead!

10. Accept the things you cannot change.

I didn’t agree to this whole living arrangement. I’ve begged and pleaded for my MIL to take up residence elsewhere. I’ve even left her things on the doorstep, hoping she’d get the hint, but to no avail. It would appear she’s here to stay, and it’s better to …

11. Change the things you can.

No doubt, when an illness barges into your life unannounced and takes up residence, it can leave you feeling angry, defeated, and powerless. For me, there came a point, though, where those feelings needed to take a back seat to a more constructive focus on the things I could change. For example, I could be a mom. I could take tai chi, and I could pursue a new career in writing. These are things I find enjoyable, fulfilling, and, best of all, my “mother-in-law” finds them quite agreeable too!

If one thing has become clear over my journey with this illness, it’s that we are all called to make the best of our living situations. Who knows? One day I might wake up and my metaphorical roommate may have found herself other accommodations. But, safe to say, I’m not holding my breath. For today, I’m happy to make the best of it and take the lessons as they come. How do you deal with chronic fatigue syndrome? Share your experiences with me!

 


Adele Paul is an editor for FamilyFunCanada.com, writer, and mom. The only thing she loves more than a breakfast date with her besties is 8:00 p.m. cuddle time at her home in Saskatoon, Canada. Find her at http://www.tuesdaysisters.com/.

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