In my opinion, the first treatment step for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and/or Fibromyalgia should be telling the patient to read this essay. Maybe it should be the first step in response to any human condition, from love to fear. It is reprinted here by permission of Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., who published it in his book From Fatigued to Fantastic!
Ask for What You Want
Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.
–Jean Jacques Rousseau
As a counselor for the past thirty-five years, I have worked with many, many people who have overcome chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Through this experience, I have come to the conclusion that enlisting the aid of someone who can see the situation in a more detached and objective way is one of the quickest ways you can find your way out of the maze of CFS/FMS. Just treating the body without bringing the mind, emotions, and spirit into balance is, at best, a partial solution and often only a temporary one. Enlisting the aid of a guide or counselor, meanwhile, can help you figure out what you want and how to most effectively express those desires so as to enlist the help of others. This is not because one is broken and needs to be fixed, but because it is a shortcut to returning to a healthy and vital life and it enriches one’s life and relationships.
One of the most consistent problems that people have is that they do not directly ask for what they want. This problem is particularly relevant, not to mention ubiquitous, in those who suffer from CFS/FMS, and if not properly dealt with will definitely impede their recovery from this condition.
As Dr. Teitelbaum has noted, it is common for those who suffer from these conditions to have been type A overachievers prior to becoming ill. CFS/FMS sufferers may thus have extreme difficulty accepting the transition from being the caregiver, competent and in charge and juggling many balls at once, to being in a state of dependency and unable to perform the simplest of daily chores. You may feel guilt at not being able to shoulder your fair share of the burden in the office and/or home setting. You may find yourself caught in a bind: you need more help than you did before you got sick, and you may have more difficulty asking for it.
The reasons people find it difficult to let others know what they desire begin early in our development. As children, we find it natural to ask for what we want. However, as we grow older, we find that when we do express what we want, others frequently do not fulfil our wishes. Even worse, they may tell us that our desires are unrealistic, opportunistic, or an imposition on them. In order to avoid the feelings that often result from such rejection, we may unconsciously develop a strategy of not directly asking for what we need or want.
There are two major problems with this strategy. The first is that most of the time we simply do not get what we want or need, for the obvious reason that no matter how observant and accommodating the people in our lives may be, they are rarely mind readers. The second major complication of this strategy is that it undermines and harms the relationships that are important to our well-being.
Those with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia further suffer from this predicament because they often look healthy and may be met with skepticism, doubt, and some unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of their problems by associates, friends, family, and health-care providers. If this were not bad enough, the CFS sufferers may encounter ignorance and misbelief by a medical establishment that does not know what is wrong with them or mistakenly believes that their problems do not exist or that there is no treatment for their illness. You may have been told that you should see a therapist or take antidepressants, that you should go on a vacation (which you have neither the will nor the energy to do), or that you will have to tough it out and learn to live with it. All of these struggles lead unendingly into more stress, feelings of failure, discouragement, and frustration.
Many people with CFS/FMS, then, come to an impasse and crisis. Their predicament now is that their inability to function adequately leads to more psychological and physical stress, which causes more frustration and which then creates further stress – until the entire situation spirals out of control. If this unholy mess were not bad enough, the stress causes muscle tightness that precipitates pain, which leads to sleeplessness, which generates more stress, which creates more pain, and so on.
But just as there are many ways of breaking up and diminishing destructive physical patterns in the body, there are ways of breaking up and diminishing the psychological patterns that threaten to keep us enmeshed in pain. First, we can learn not to be ashamed of wanting help, and second, we can learn how to ask for that help in ways that will be beneficial to ourselves and also to our relationships with others. It’s not easy to overcome the cultural indoctrination that we all must be superhuman men and women. However, the ultimate reward for acknowledging and validating our wants and needs can be high. When we are able to ask for the most basic of wants and needs, we may find that we discover inner wants, needs, desires, and yearnings we never knew existed.
How do you more directly and effectively ask for what you need and want? You may wish to begin by cultivating self-acceptance. Your wants and needs are valid. Articulate those needs and wants to yourself. Then approach the person you are asking for help with candor and respect. This is obvious, but it is amazing how often we forget it. You may also want to think about the possibility that there may be a number of ways for you to get what you need and want. Be open to brainstorming with others.
Of course, just because we know what we need and want and are able to express those needs in a clear and effective way does not necessarily mean that we will always get those needs met. Those who we ask have their own needs, time constraints, and difficulties, and it is unlikely that they will always be able or willing to come to our aid every time we ask for help. No one person has the time, knowledge, understanding, patience, sensitivity, intelligence, and will to minister to all of our needs. Therefore, it is helpful to develop a network of resources, information, and people that we can rely upon. Ideally, this network would include friends, family, a significant other, some kind of spiritual community, and health-care providers. It is best not to exclude any possible source of help. I have on many occasions received comfort and even inspiration from total strangers whom I encountered on a given day.
As you learn to ask for what you need, you may want to explore the related issue of setting limits and learning to say no. Most of you know that this is one of the things that can be gravely difficult. You may have a long history of trying to be all things to all people. This can frequently cause setbacks in your recovery. I would simply like to recommend a book that addresses this predicament in an effective, humorous, and enjoyable manner: The Book for People Who D0 Too Much, by Bradley Trevor Greive. And while you are at it, you might practice what I have been talking about by asking someone close to you, very sweetly, if they would be a dear and pick it up for you the next time they are in a bookstore.
The importance of achieving a mind-body-spirit balance cannot be underestimated for those struggling with CFS/FMS. Working with a counselor may help you better define your needs and goals and communicate them effectively with those in your support network.
I end with a quotation that I learned many years ago. It is not meant to serve as advice but rather as a thought to be contemplated and an idea to be played with.The secret is to be And not to wonder How to be.
Stop trying To be And realize That you Are!