Source: sxc.hu

Source: www.sxc.hu

Sadly, Syzygy has encountered several cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)* among mission workers recently.  For those who have not discovered it yet, this is a post-viral illness which leaves the victim feeling incredibly weary, both emotionally and physically.  Sufferers may be confined to a wheelchair, unable to do even basic tasks, and find it hard to motivate themselves to deal with even the simplest tasks, even though their outward appearance is unaffected.  This has led to unhelpful suggestions that victims should ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘stop malingering’, because it is hard for those who don’t have CFS to understand how debilitating it is. One former sufferer explained it by saying:

 “Imagine you have the toughest week at work.  Colleagues have been off work and you’ve had to take on their responsibilities.  There’s been a crisis and your boss is furious that you let it happen.  You’ve worked late every night this week to keep pace so your partner is annoyed when you get home late.  Your kids have been ill and are up at night so you’re not sleeping.  There’s a heatwave and everyone’s losing their tempers, and the gridlock is worse than ever.  How do you feel on Friday night?  That’s how I feel on Monday morning.”

Souce: (www.sxc.hu)

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Although it has been known for some 30 years, this illness still is little understood, and there is no generally-accepted medical cure for it, although some alternative therapies claim success, and the use of anti-depressants can help mitigate the symptoms.  Syzygy knows people who have been miraculously healed and others who have recovered with the help of neuro-linguistic programming, but for most people the illness can persist for many years, and they simply learn to live with it.

So why might it affect mission workers?  There is some evidence that CFS affects people who are highly stressed, with the  suggestion that people who get it may be overworked or have been through a recent emotional trauma.  This may indicate that as an illness it is potentially more widespread, but people who have been suffering from stress are for some reason less able to fight it off than others.  Syzygy’s experience is that many mission workers lead extremely stressful lives, with long working hours, emotionally-challenging situations (frequently at the hands of their colleagues), significant responsibility and heavy burdens.  In addition to this, many of us pay insufficient attention to keeping ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically fit and to healthily managing our stress-responses.  We are susceptible to fatigue and burnout.  Which means we are prime candidates for CFS.

Some of the people we know who have CFS have helped us compile a short checklist which may help those who are struggling with this difficult illness.

What to do if you have CFS

  • Don’t feel guilty.  You’re ill, so take sick leave for as long as it takes.  The needs of your organisation, church or ministry are not your problem.  Your health is.
  • Make sure you get complete medical support.  Sometimes something as simple as a vitamin injection can help, though it’s not a cure.
  • Listen to your body and get to know the signs of impending exhaustion.  Don’t wait to stop till it’s too late.
  • Don’t fight it.  Recognise that you’re ill and there are certain things you can no longer do even if the devil tells you you’re lazy.  Having said that, it’s good to have little targets, like getting out of the house every day, just to make some small victories.
  • Don’t be afraid to get prayer.  Sometimes the disappointment of not being healed holds people back from getting prayer, but who knows if this is God’s time for your healing?
  • Learn to take regular breaks between activities.
  • Conserve your energy for things that are really important.  Don’t waste it doing things you don’t need to, or seeing people you don’t really like.
  • You may find a support group helpful, but take care it encourages you rather than dragging you down.
  • As you start recovering, take the opportunity to reflect on your work/life balance, your motivations and attitudes as decide what changes you can make so that you live more sustainably.

How you can support people who have CFS

  • Recognise that CFS is a real illness.  The people who have it are not lazy and would love more than anything else to get better.  Read up on it so that you are well-informed.
  • Understand that it can take all the energy they have just to get to the bathroom.  They’re often not able to pray or read the Bible, and many can’t even think clearly.  So they’re not ‘enjoying a rest’.
  • CFS sufferers can find it hard to process information, as thinking takes energy.  They can’t handle complex conversations, challenging plotlines or demanding literature, so don’t bombard them with books and DVDs.  The exception to this rule is Tony Horsfall’s excellent Working from a Place of Rest which is easy to read and profoundly helpful.
  • Appreciate that anything which takes emotional energy is exhausting.  Even conversing with friends can be demanding, so please limit your contact, and be understanding if they ask you to leave.
  • People with CFS can get very frustrated with their limitations, so be tolerant if they are irritable.
  • If you’re married to someone with CFS, recognise that they may have no energy to invest in the relationship, either emotionally or physically.  Sorry, but this is not the time for you to be making demands on them.  That will only make them worse.
  • When they get better, people who’ve had CFS will be incredibly appreciative of those who’ve supported them.  It may make them a better person.
(Source: www.sxc.hu)

Source: www.sxc.hu

In our experience, CFS can be a transformative life experience, and people come out the other side with a new understanding of themselves, God, and their approach to life.  Many say that it was ultimately worthwhile going through it all, and talk about it not as lost years, but as invested years.  This may be little encouragement to those still suffering, but we pray that this will eventually be your response too.

You can learn more about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from the NHS website or the ME Association.  If you are suffering from CFS, do please contact us for more specific advice on info@syzygy.org.uk.  A followup blog will address issues of maintaining our general wellbeing so that we minimise the risk of getting CFS.

* CFS is also known as Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME) or Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS)

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