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I was able to have CBT at the Maudsley hospital after 4 years of progressively worsening Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. By that point I was mainly housebound and so physically weak I thought I’d have to get an ill-health pension at the age of 40.
However, I found the CBT immensely useful. I’d already tried all sorts of other varied, bizarre and often expensive treatments with no improvement. I’ll add that, at first I couldn’t see how Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, a talking therapy about how the mind works, would help my physical symptoms of fatigue. In fact, I was somewhat against it as I felt it suggested my illness was all in my head.
But I gave it a go and found it was much easier to go along with when I understood that there is a link between the mind and the body’s health. I learnt that when I felt symptoms of exhaustion it wasn’t correct to immediately rest, even though in the short term this made me feel better.
By mentally understanding that the body’s signals of fatigue weren’t something I should always be beholden to, I was able to change my thinking and act differently. So I agreed to a strict plan of slowly increasing my activity every day, despite the signals my body was sometimes giving me. Although the symptoms were persisting I soon noticed I could do more and more. This, along with the regular CBT sessions, helped me break the vicious cycle. Ultimately, I became much more aware of how unhelpful ways of thinking can contribute to a physical illness.
During my treatment my therapist Antonia was always kind and sympathetic, as were all the other staff at the Maudsley and I’m now back to work, doing a 21 hour week as well as socialising regularly, which is an astonishing improvement.
To anyone thinking of trying CBT for their fatigue, I would urge them to be open to it and to be aware that how you react to and manage your physical symptoms can be improved hugely by the course.
I think that for me, the only way to improve the course would be to make it clearer from the very outset that how the person physical feels is real, despite the therapy being of the talking kind. I feel that many people with CFS would be expecting a pill, medicine, diet change or similar to be the cure for such an ailment.