Towards Wellness

While there is, as yet, no known cure for the disease nor a proven pharmaceutical treatment for ME/CFS there are effective steps that can be taken to relieve a number of its symptoms. There are also much that can be done towards leading a productive life in spite of a serious chronic condition.

Dr. Benjamin H. Natelson, M.D. and Patricia Fennell, MSW, LCSW-R are two authors who have published particularly important works for those afflicted with ME/CFS and FM. Their easy to read and highly informational books are highly recommended.

Dr. Benjamin H. Natelson, one of the world’s leading experts on ME/CFS, details his pathway towards wellness in helping sufferers to take charge of their health in his book, Your Symptoms are Real: What to Do When the Doctor Says Nothing is Wrong.

The book is perhaps the single, most comprehensive, yet easily readable source of information on ME/CFS and its associated illnesses. Sub-titled: Overcoming Pain, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, IBS and More it covers patient/doctor relationships, medical tests and specialists as well as complementary treatments and supplements to help sufferers.

In the book, Dr. Natelson outlines a practical, and effective, four step path towards wellness.

Step One: Getting beyond depression

With this first step, Dr. Natelson is quite emphatic that the purpose of step one is “ not to ignore your complaints by calling them depression related.” Quite the opposite is true. To treat and improve hard to diagnose illnesses, Dr. Natelson believes it is imperative if depression is present “to whack it with the medical hammer”, since depression will worsen the symptoms of any medical illness. In this chapter, Dr. Natelson describes how he goes about swinging that hammer. 

You might be tempted to skip Step One if depression has never been an issue for you. Dr. Natelson refers to depression as a tip-toe disease since it can creep up on people very gradually and his straightforward discussion will help the reader identify the signs if and when they should appear. This chapter is critical even if you have never experienced depression because “it’s possible you may- later on, if you feel beaten down by being ill and not being helped by doctors who simply tell you there’s nothing wrong.”

The good news is that if depression is present, treating it successfully will help reduce symptoms and symptom severity and take you down the path of wellness. Dr. Natelson explains: “Whenever I diagnose depression in one of my patients I explain that having depression on top of CFS, FM or IBS is like turning up the stove under a pot: everything gets hotter. The symptoms of pain and fatigue increase while the patient’s ability to cope with them in the face of other daily demands decreases. So an important component of my evaluation is to consider the possibility of depression.

Step Two: Removing Stress and Improving Sleep

Similar to depression, stress will make the symptoms of any illness worse. In this chapter Dr. Natelson urges the reader to address this most overlooked factor on the path to wellness even if there are no significant stressors present in one’s life in addition to illness.  Dealing with chronic pain and severe  fatigue, in and of itself, is enough of a stressor and "ignoring the role of stress in inhibiting wellness leads to continued illness". His discussion of the biology of stress will help the reader recognize its signs and the suggestions that follow aimed at stress reduction are concrete and practical.

This chapter is rounded out by a discussion of common causes of disturbed sleep and the various sleep disorders. People with medically unexplained fatigue and pain complain bitterly about problems sleeping. As is the case with stress and depression, a sleep disorder may be at the very least worsening extreme fatigue if not causing it in the first place.

Step Three: The Role of Drugs in Relieving Pain, Fatigue and Poor Sleep

In keeping with the themes of the previous steps, Dr. Natelson reminds the reader that “just because a doctor does not know the cause of an illness doesn’t mean he or she cannot help the patient reduce the severity of the symptoms.”  He notes “that while most medicines are not curative, they can certainly help the patient by beating back the cause of the disease or by reducing its symptoms”.

He goes onto discuss both the time tested as well as the most recently developed primary drug treatments for fatigue, for chronic pain and disrupted and unrefreshing sleep. Drug treatments are not presented as the sole answer but are offered up as another set of tools for one's arsenal.

Step Four: The Integrative Mind-Body Approach

This section dealing with complementary treatments to drug therapy and other parts of the course of your treatment will transform the reader from the role of passive patient into an active participant  walking  down the path towards wellness. Drawing from techniques used in rehabilitation medicine, Dr. Natelson discusses how to conserve energy and engage in “energy building” as he outlines how you can take control of your body.

In this chapter the patient is in the driver’s seat so to speak. Dr. Natelson speaks to the empowering effects gentle conditioning can bring about as symptoms are reduced and quality of life is improved. He insightfully points out how a sense of helplessness and a fear of activity can interfere with wellness but step four provides a detailed roadmap as to how to turn that around. Dr. Natelson’s  goal is to help his patients feel better (to what degree varies with each individual), and he has succeeded in doing so with those who have followed his program.

The book is available from for as little as $0.99 plus shipping.

Patricia Fennell is a noted researcher and clinician who is a leading authority on chronic illness treatment and management. Her book, the Chronic Illness Workbook: Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back Your Life is a highly recommended resource for all who suffer with a chronic condition.

This comprehensive guide to living a quality life in spite of the ravages of ME/CFS or fibromyalgia may very well change your life. It is a valuable and practical resource for learning how to live well even when you do not feel well.

The book is available from for as little as $1.92  plus shipping.

Ms. Fennell's other publications include The Handbook of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Leonard Jason and Renee R. Taylor as well as Managing Chronic Illness: Using the Four-Phase Treatment Approach.