Today I am sharing my story of overcoming chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I don’t have a magic pill or formula, but what I do have is my story. And a message of hope.
My message is for anyone and everyone who feels they will suffer from their illness forever. I will not tell you recovery is easy or straightforward. But I will tell you there is hope.
(This photo represents hope for me because it was from my trip to St Lucia where I was able to enjoy vacation without chronic fatigue)
My fatigue first came on in summer 2017. It started with feeling really tired around 2-4 PM, and eventually became an all day, every day kind of thing.
For several months, I experienced debilitating daily fatigue that required 4 mugs of green tea to make it through a 5-hour work day. Even a 20-hour work week was excruciating.
My doctor told me I would just have to learn to live with the fatigue and related symptoms. But I refused to accept that. Just as I had refused to accept 7 years prior that IBS symptoms were forever- and I’m here to tell you, they don’t have to be!
Fatigue & Related Symptoms
My severe fatigue began a few months after I developed chronic vaginal yeast infections (after an antibiotic for a UTI). And the fatigue would get worse as the yeast did. At first, it would come and go.
My journey to try to overcome chronic vaginal yeast infections was extensive- I tried drug store suppositories, oral diflucan, oral nystatin, and all sorts of other remedies, including FMT. Many worked temporarily, but I could not find sustainable relief.
And then the fatigue got really bad. Chronically. When my fatigue was at its worst, it was also accompanied by a very red sore throat (especially upon waking), 3 AM insomnia (the fatigue would set in BEFORE the insomnia though), canker sores near my tonsils (very painful), sinus congestion (especially upon waking), and a swollen lymph node in my neck.
At the time all of this was happening, I was also living in a space with mold problems. Though we didn’t know it at the time.
But I kept hearing from those in the natural health community that dampness can contribute to yeast overgrowth. And my apartment always felt damp. It was also prone to mold growth on the walls, windows, and exterior door.
I eventually became so fed up with my symptoms that I hired a mold inspector to investigate whether the mold was endangering my health. The company I used was called Mold Inspection Sciences.
The inspector found active water leaks in the basement. And moderate-high levels of mold growing on the sheetrock.
The water from the leak was travelling across the sloped floor and directly into a sheetrock wall. Sheetrock is excellent food for mold growth.
The level of humidity was also abnormally high in the basement, allowing mold to flourish.
Initial Signs of Relief
Between the financial pressure of being chronically fatigued and the increasing difficulty of nourishing myself due to fatigue, I decided to move in with my dad temporarily.
Initially, I continued having fatigue and the accompanying symptoms.
But about a month into the move, I started feeling some relief. It was subtle at first. It started with being able to go more days between tea tree oil vaginal suppositories (to kill yeast) than I previously needed.
And slowly over the course of the next few months, I began to have more and more days of normal energy levels.
On days that I would overdo my sugar, fruit, or simple carb intake, I would feel the fatigue creep back in. But previously, even avoiding these foods completely could not provide the relief I found myself experiencing.
It has now been six months since leaving the moldy environment. Most days I feel quite good. I am able to work 35+ hours per week and cook for myself without issue. I still experience fatigue on occasion (usually when I overdo it on my sugar intake), but I no longer identify as having “chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Here’s How I Did It (I Think!)
It’s hard to know for sure what resulted in my recovery. And it certainly wasn’t one factor alone.
I believe the following factors contributed to restoring my energy levels and paving my path back to wellness:
- I moved out of a moldy living environment. As I learned in a recent mold summit, mold suppresses the immune system and makes it harder for your body to ward off and overcome infections. I believe it was one of the factors that let my yeast overgrow initially and also kept me from being able to recover.
- I mostly avoided foods that contributed to yeast overgrowth– for me, that meant steering clear of wheat, dairy (except butter/ghee), sugar (including natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup), fruit (except lemons/limes), and simple carbs (corn, potatoes, tapioca, arrowroot, white rice, etc.). My number one priority though was to get food in my belly, so sometimes I would eat foods such as corn, rice, and potatoes- especially when eating out. But I felt better when my carbs came from higher fiber sources such as winter squash, brown rice, quinoa, and beans. I was more strict when my body was feeling most sensitive- such as near ovulation and a few days before my period started.
- I tried nystatin again– this time, it was after I had moved out of the moldy environment. Nystatin is a prescription antifungal that my naturopathic doctor prescribed. And it seemed to be more effective this time. Perhaps because I was no longer being chronically exposed to an environment that favored yeast growth. Also, she prescribed it in a powdered form instead of a tablet so that it could be effective higher up (in my mouth and esophagus).
- I temporarily decreased my exercise intensity & frequency. My level of exercise wasn’t extreme (moderate intensity ~3x/wk), but when my body was already struggling, it was too much. During my recovery, I swapped out racquetball and weight classes for stretching, yoga, and gentle walks.
- I switched to a more absorbable form of iron to boost my low ferritin level (I took this supplement– I don’t love some of the ingredients, but it worked well for me– note: it looks like the manufacturer may have gone out of business so this product might not be available for much longer). I should clarify that I do not believe my fatigue was only caused by low iron stores. My symptoms were too closely linked to yeast overgrowth & sugar consumption.
I can’t guarantee that you will see similar results. Even if you do exactly what I did.
That’s because there are many reasons for fatigue (for example, see table 4 of this article).
But I do know that at my worst, it crossed my mind that I might one day become disabled from work due to chronic fatigue (as some with this condition do).
My doctor treated me like there was no hope. Like there were no other options for me.
But she was so wrong.
And there’s hope for you too.