Chronic Fatigue Syndrome hands each sufferer a unique grab-bag of symptoms. But one thing we all share is post-exertional malaise. It's the phantom that we healthier ones glimpse over our shoulder, on days of good energy and clear heads. For those more grievously afflicted by CFS, it's the heavy arm that crushes them into their beds, denying them even the ability to struggle.
It's the CFS "crash" after the "push", when we've done too much. (Never entirely sure what that is until afterward). Later — tomorrow, or the next day, we'll have a crash. Homeostasis — our bodies' ability to stablilize — leaves us for a time. Maybe a long time. We'll find out how long, when ... or if .. this crash passes.
We only know It awaits us if we expend more energy than we can afford. And though we know It's lurking, we cannot know when It may strike.
A family visit may put us to bed for days. Gentle exercise can initiate muscle pain for months. We didn't lay down after dinner. We bought groceries instead of napping.
Some days we can get away with a little push. And some days we can't. Later ... we'll find out.
We'll celebrate a good day by picking up beloved hobbies abandoned long ago. Laughing with a friend. Enjoying a walk in the fresh air.
"Slow down," say our spouses, afraid of losing us again. "Take a break," say our friends, worried by our merry pace. "I'm okay," we say, and mean it. We feel invigorated.
We've been trapped in this CFS snare before, but it keeps reappearing in new guises. We can still be caught unaware. "How can this hurt me? I'm fine."
Later the sick sensations of CFS post-exertional malaise pour in like a heavy fog on the rolling deck of a storm-tossed ship. And we realize with a sinking feeling, It's here. And wonder how long the crash has moved in for THIS time.
Researchers have theories. Our mitochondria (the little batteries in our cells) are weak. We don't oxygenate properly. Our immune systems are over-active in some ways and under-active in others. Our blood volume shrinks for no known reason and affects everything. We're full of viruses.
Wait, there are more theories.