Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a designer disease. It etches a unique signature into each of its sufferers. My worst symptoms are different from someone else's. But certain things remain a common experience. The following symptoms seem universal.
1. Cognition Problems
There are days spent as a CFS vegetable, and times when everything in our heads is tumbling like clothes in a dryer. Thoughts dissolve before they're fully formed, thinking is disjointed, short-term memory evaporates. We may experience difficulty in talking, and understanding speech. We may have problems with dyscalculia (dyslexia with numbers).
2. Unrefreshed Sleep
Some have insomnia, others can't stay awake. Sleeping hours may be erratic, whether short or long. Night - day, sleep - wake, may be reversed. Whatever the CFS sleep dysregulation, many of us never wake refreshed.
3. Muscle and Joint Pain
Pain can be pervasive. Joints and muscles become stiff and sore, and sometimes stop working at all, seemingly for no reason. These symptoms can take weeks or months to ease -- or move right in and never go away.
Vertigo comes in many forms. Dizziness, mental disorientation, tinnitis, vision fractured and blurred, I have seen the world through all these prisms. I've seen floors rise up, and walls undulate inwards and outwards. Some people with CFS are bumping into things, falling down, unable to move, overcome with nausea and vomiting. The cause of these symptoms is uncertain, cure -- you guessed it -- unknown.
5. Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM)
PEM really makes life with CFS unpredictable. Will I be bed-ridden tomorrow because I spent an hour doing paperwork today? Will I awaken in pain because I went for a walk? I can go to the store tomorrow if I don't do anything now. That's because two days in a row of "extra" activity can cost six weeks recovery-time.
6. Increased Sensitivity to Sight and Sound
A ticking clock, flashing lights on a jazzy website, the busyness of a TV screen. People talking in another room. Any of this -- and more -- can send CFS sufferers to their room with neurological symptoms swirling.