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Multi-System Breakdown in CFS: Central Nervous System

By HERWriter
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Wellness related image Photo: Getty Images

The name "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" gives the erroneous idea that someone with CFS has had a long, wet weekend. Aren't we all tired? Surely they just need to suck it up like the rest of us. Don't the same rules apply to CFS as for the rest of the weary world?

Nope and nope.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not a simple disease with a simple solution. In reality, this syndrome is a multi-system breakdown of epic proportions.

Nobody knows where the cycle originates. Allergies? Environmental toxins? A genetic predisposition? We may be dealing with allergies and toxins and frail genetics, but lots of people do so, without getting CFS.

For many of us, Day One of this nightmare came after the onset of a bad cold or flu. For others there is no virus to point to, no Day One. Their symptoms have increased gradually over time. This is a designer illness. Whatever the root cause, it dresses in different garb for every CFS sufferer.

Though we don't know the Why, we do know the What. And that What cascades into a bewildering pool of systems breaking down.

What systems are not affected by CFS? I can't think of one. Central nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system, lymphatic system, all take a profound hit.

In the central nervous system, breakdown is so extensive, and still so unexplored, that I can only paint a partial picture here. Messaging from brain to body in all respects goes haywire. Thoughts are disjointed and cannot land or form themselves fully.

The cilia (tiny cellular hairs) in our ears are not all picking up the same information and we get vertigo, which disorients us, as conflicting messages distort our sense of positioning in the world.

Orthostatic Intolerance is an umbrella term for the inability to stay upright. A faulty nervous system causes a drop in blood pressure when standing and a need to sit or lie down.

Our vision gets fractured. We can see, but what we see seems ... out of time somehow, broken up, blurry.

Parasthesia, the spooky swirling sensations, numbness and tingling, and sharp sparks of pain that come and go, are nervous system misfires. These neurological symptoms alone are enough to thwart any CFS sufferer's day-to-day life. But what you've seen is just a small glimpse into the destruction caused by the multi-system breakdown of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


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Add a Comment8 Comments


Hi there.

I'm sorry to hear that you're having such a bad time with your eyes. You have my sympathy.

You may have something different going on than me, but I'll share my experience with you anyway. I went to an optometrist, and found I needed slightly stronger glasses. That was early on, in 1999.

After I suffered a mean bout of vertigo a few years later and everything got substantially worse, I saw an ophthalmologist. He said, the problem wasn't with my eyes. He couldn't find anything that my regular glasses didn't take care of.

He said from what I described to him, the problem sounded neurological. In fact he said it was obviously neurological. But he said my eyes were functioning just fine ... just a little near-sighted.

And a little far-sighted. :-) I have one of each. But that wasn't new, my eyes have been that way since I was a kid.

Neurologist by the way couldn't find anything wrong. But he did make a point of saying, he has to tell people that every day. Neurology is a relatively new field he said and there is still so much they don't know. And he didn't want me to think that his not finding anything didn't mean there wasn't anything. Just that he could not find it.

He didn't doubt that I was experiencing exactly what I said I was, and he didn't doubt that my symptoms were real and distressing.

I've since heard about many far different responses alot of people have gotten from doctors and I realize how fortunate I was to find this guy.

Funny you should mention a book. My naturopath was just saying yesterday that she thinks it may be time to think about writing one.

Thanks for writing today.


March 18, 2010 - 8:36am
EmpowHER Guest

hi Jody!

what are the chances that i google "cfs and blurred vision" and your article is one of the first i open!... love it!

my vision has gotten VERY bad as of late. i'm suspecting my change in habits, with going from being online just alot, to a WHOLE lot (with the small online business, now). very worried, as normally i get the blurred vision when my fatigue is EXTRA bad, but now it seems to be constant.

i'm avoiding an eye doctor, as the dilating drops are very toxic for me.

but also, i have never had my symptoms described so perfectly, as you always do. right here, this time:
"Our vision gets fractured. We can see, but what we see seems ... out of time somehow, broken up, blurry."

yes, "out of time"! more like being drunk, often, than anything else i know to compare it all to.

i will come back and reread. my vision has really been limiting my ability to read anything longer than a Facebook status or multiple comments, lately.

great article!;) as always!... i wish i could get them in book form!;)... i suppose i could print them out! never thought of that!;)

March 18, 2010 - 12:16am
EmpowHER Guest

This is the first thing I have read in a long time that described my symptoms so well. When I am feeling "CFS-ish" I often get severe vertigo and feelings of burning in my hands and feet when I touch something cold, etc. in addition to the exhaustion and aches.

I had a severe onset about 16 years ago and then numerous relapses of feeling ill - some minor, maybe a few weeks in duration whereas others have lasted months and caused a lot of upheaval and stress in my family life.

Here I go again. Complete with feeling misunderstood at home and work and very frustrated with my inability to perform as usual. No wonder we get depressed - this is depressING.

I would be interested in hearing from others who have had a long duration like this. Does it ever, ever go all the way away?

October 4, 2009 - 5:31pm
EmpowHER Guest

Our vision gets fractured. We can see, but what we see seems ... out of time somehow, broken up, blurry.

"Parasthesia, the spooky swirling sensations, numbness and tingling, and sharp sparks of pain that come and go, are nervous system misfires.

These neurological symptoms alone are enough to thwart any CFS sufferer's day-to-day life. But what you've seen is just a small glimpse into the destruction caused by the multi-systems breakdown of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."

Powerful stuff! So nice laid out. Thanks!

September 15, 2009 - 7:42pm
EmpowHER Guest

Jody I do understand how you were using the phrase :) And I agree, it is a one size fits one illness. I may be confused about the term 'designer illness', but from the Anonymous comment above it seems I'm not the only one. I agree that it connotates that M.E. is 'trendy', or in other words a fad, which suggests it shouldn't be taken seriously. I think breakdown is an apt word for what is going on, but do agree that the difference between 'nervous breakdown' and 'breakdown of the nervous system' is a distinction that some people might not understand. There many semantic issues revolving around CFS/ME, and such things take attention away from other important issues. But unfortunately there are so many misconceptions about this disease out there, we awareness-spreaders must be vigilant and careful about our words. I've done similar things in the past myself. Another place it gets tricky is when you are discussing the role of psychology, which you also wrote about recently. We walk a fine line between recognizing that working on your thoughts - which do have real chemical correlations in the body and can indeed affect health - and the idea that your mind can cure you entirely. Such discussions often lead people with ME/CFS to feel they are being told "it's all in your head", which makes us defensive and angry, because it is like blaming us for being ill. My personal opinion is that with this illness, our bodies are too far 'broken down' for cognitive therapy to reverse the effects, but that it can definitely help us cope. It took years for our bodies to break down enough to become this sick, and it takes years for our bodies to recover, if they can at all. I've read about things such as the Lightning Process, which claims to cure you in a 3 day course without any medical intervention at all, and I find such claims prey on our desperation - the cost of the course is high, especially for those of us on disability and other extremely limited incomes.

Anyway, that is besides my point. When it comes to semantics, us M.E. advocates do need to be meticulous in order to avoid reinforcing the myths about our disease that perpetuate stigma.

I enjoy your column very much Jody, keep up the good work! :D

September 10, 2009 - 10:28am
EmpowHER Guest

I also think the term 'designer illness' is misleading. I understand what you are meaning but it does risk giving the impression that M.E is the current 'trendy' illness bandwagon to jump on. Sadly, that is a view still held by uninformed doctors and others and such a description could perpetuate that view. I also think the use of the word 'breakdown' in this piece risks being understood as a nervous breakdown, which M.E certainly is not.

Very good article but for these terms. Thank you

September 9, 2009 - 7:09am

You're right, that's not the way I'm using it at all. Far from it. I have never heard the term "designer illness" used to mean "made up". Not sure where that would come from.

What I am saying is that this illness is unique to each of us who has CFS. It is custom-tailored, so to speak, to every person who suffers from it. There is such a wide range of symptoms, which makes diagnosis and treatment even harder.

September 8, 2009 - 2:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

Doesn't the term "designer illness" mean "made up illness"? I know that is not the way you are using it here but ...

September 8, 2009 - 1:50pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.