Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 01/22/2022, updated: 03/20/2023
Early January 2009. I want to photograph again. In the mountains. Backpack with photo equipment is packed, I strap on the snowshoes, there is a good 1.50 meters of
snow. I am tired. Maybe I slept badly. But it's only 200 meters in altitude. Shouldn't be a problem.
The climb is steep. My legs feel like lead. As if I was dragging a 10 kg concrete block behind me on each leg. I sweat terribly. I am totally exhausted. I feel sick. The tiny tour was a hell trip.
Back home I am lying flat. Fever, thick tonsils, sore throat, inflamed sinuses, strong headache. The doctor suspects tonsillitis and prescribes an antibiotic. It does not help. Instead, a devilish full-body rash. A colleague suspects mononucleosis. A blood test confirms the suspicion.
I lay flat for several weeks, can't stand any noise or light, can't leave the apartment. I feel like a zombie. After five weeks, I force myself to go back to work, even though my doctor warns me not to. But I'm afraid of losing my job.
This decision was a big mistake. Because I never recovered from this infection. I tortured myself into my full-time job for years, forcing myself to exercise. I had constant colds or other infections. In the winters about every 2 weeks. I was permanently terribly exhausted, had stomach problems, I was getting weaker and weaker. The more sports I did, the weaker I became.
a medical odyssey
Then began a medical odyssey. I visited general practitioners, specialists, private doctors, went to university hospitals, went to an Ayurvedic doctor. What was
wrong with me? The doctors had no idea, me neither. One examination after the other followed, one blood test after the next. Much of it at my own expense. Since nothing was found, the conclusion
was: "You have a depression", "You have a burnout", "You are healthy, we can't find anything (=it's all in your head)".
I was totally desperate and got more and more symptoms and syndromes. Irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, restless legs, nerve pain, muscle pain, in general pain of all kinds. My vision was blurry, my brain was foggy (brainfog), I was sweating and freezing at the same time, I had ice-cold hands and feet (Raynauld's disease), I got cardiac arrhythmias and constant problems with hypoglycemia. I could list about 38 more symptoms now. In short, I was a wreck.
In 2014, I heard about chronic fatigue syndrome for the first time. I read a colleague's article and thought to myself: Wow, that's exactly what I have. But all the doctors I asked were unfamiliar with it. Comments like "it doesn't exist", "only cancer patients have it", "it's a fashionable diagnosis" didn't exactly boost my self-confidence and that of the doctors.
11 years, 33 doctors
It took almost 11 years and - if I haven't lost count - 33 doctors until I was diagnosed with ME/CFS in Vienna.
And for what felt like the first time in my life, I sat across from a doctor who understood me, explained the symptoms, took me seriously and suggested further examinations. I was so relieved.
No, I'm not crazy. I really do have something. Then a few weeks later, it was pretty clear that I could add another syndrome to my list: POTS, which is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia
It was 2019 and I was at the temporary low point of my condition. Even though standard blood tests showed nothing abnormal, my body was full of inflammation. I had given up sports, including walking, and working was only possible part-time, and only because my employer was as considerate as possible. There were days when I wanted to sneak around the house, but collapsed. I crawled on all fours through the living room, I fell asleep at the dining table in front of the soup, I was too weak to eat, I held on to the walls to avoid falling, I sometimes "walked" down the stairs sitting on my butt, showering was so exhausting that I had to lie down for an hour. This was no longer life.
The ME/CFS specialist told me there was not much you could do with this disease. Pacing was the key, nutritional supplements could be tried, a few medications were being tested. He was really sorry that he couldn't do more for me.
So pacing was my first salvation to slow down the steady deterioration of my condition. I became obsessed with the subject. Monitored my activities, my breaks, noted what I ate, wrote down my symptoms and their intensity. I have two full binders of logs here. Still, it took a year before I could do pacing to any degree. And I still crashed regularly. I continued to cut back on work hours, bought all sorts of vitamin pills for hundreds of euros. I continued to see doctors, and on the advice of one doctor, I was admitted to a kind of rehab hospital that supposedly knew about ME/CFS. However, that did the trick for me.
At the same time, I started searching the internet like crazy. I also started my first Instagram account @mein_weg_cfs. By chance, I came across Raelan Agle, her book, and her then-small YouTube channel. She was fully recovered. In one video someone said, "Don't google ME/CFS,
google ME/CFS recovery." I wouldn't have thought of that on my own. That's how I came up with Dan Neuffer from Australia, who had also recovered from ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. He runs the ANS Rewire program, which I participated in and which became the foundation for my recovery journey.
My condition improved for the first time in a decade. Thanks to what I had learned in Dan's program, watched on Raelan's channel, my own research, more classes, and thanks to Covid-19, because it allowed me to work 100 percent at my home office, which was my salvation from disability retirement. Also, I definitely didn't want to catch it, and I asked people for help for the first time.
In 2021, there was a second low point in my CFS career. First, a loved one died suddenly. A few weeks later it turned out that not only chronic stress, but also traumatic experiences, adverse childhood experiences and a narcissistic person in my life had made me so ill. And, that I not only had ME/CFS, POTS, and irritable bowel syndrome, but also complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). This set me back significantly at first, causing many crashes and new symptoms. But it was also the turning point in my recovery journey. Now I knew what I had to do to get better: work through my past, set boundaries for certain people as well as myself, change my personality traits and protective strategies, question beliefs, access suppressed emotions, allow and release them, get a medical leave of absence (since 2022).
That took two years. And I really worked through my past every single day. Every single day. It took an awful lot of strength. Now, in the spring of 2023, my journey through the past has come to an end. That feels so good. Indescribable. I have now probably arrived at the final phase of my recovery journey. A phase of letting go and finding myself. Now, finally, my brain and nervous system can find balance, even though the process of healing from trauma is something long term and the past catches up with me every now and then. Now I am allowed to heal.
What has helped me so far: The ANS Rewire recovery program, countless books and courses and thus acquiring knowledge, the mind-body approach of Dr. John Sarno and
Dr. Howard Schubiner and their brain training methods, Polyvagal theory and its practical application, behavioral therapy, Somatic Experiencing, expressive writing according to Nicole Sachs, John
Sarno and Howard Schubiner, dietary changes, mindset, inner work with beliefs, protective strategies, finding access to suppressed emotions and expressing them, working through my past, childhood
and all traumatic experiences, stress management, strengthening resilience, finding the real Self, setting boundaries, adapted movement, meditation, breathing techniques, facing my fears,
physiotherapy, rebalancing, pacing.
Translated with the helpf of DeepL
Important: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for talking to your doctor or other therapist. The content reflects my personal experiences, research and findings that have helped me and that I therefore want to share. However, in your personal case, completely different things may play a role and other things may help. Please talk to your doctor or therapist before making any decisions that affect your physical or mental health. Also important: I don't want to convince anyone of anything here. Rather, I want to point out possible ways that hopefully can help some people to improve or overcome their ME/CFS or other syndromes.
PS: Of course, I research and check everything I write here as well as possible. Nevertheless, I am only human and make mistakes. In addition, I may draw completely different conclusions as someone else would. Simply because they fit my story. But every story is different.