What syndrome do I have again? AF, CFS, FM or ME?

This post was written by Megan on January 20, 2010
Posted Under: definition of burnout


Fatigue market plummets


Let’s play ‘What’s in a name?’  This is one for those burned-out folk who have a diagnosis that falls in the realm of a ‘syndrome’.   

The most popular acronyms seem to be: AF, CFS, FM and ME.  Kind of like the top stock exchange listings for burnout. 


The AF bit

I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue.  From what I gather it’s one form of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).  Adrenal fatigue has also been referred to as: Non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, subclinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, and adrenal apathy.  

Let’s face it, ‘adrenal apathy’ isn’t going to pull sympathy from your loved ones.  Certainly not from curious by-standers.  The rest on the list makes even zappy brains go foggy.  So the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ tends to be bandied about in certain sections of Western Society with gay abandon. 

A case in point: 

I have a friend who has no trouble going swimming in the morning and playing tennis in the afternoon.  She hit a low patch last year, feeling despondent about her career and life in general.  With that said, my friend still had no trouble going swimming in the morning and playing tennis in the afternoon.  Her doctor said that she might have adrenal fatigue.  I have no idea why he said that.  I’m sure that those who genuinely do have adrenal fatigue would like to fatigue his adrenals.


The CFS bit

‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a popular reference, but more people light up when they hear ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’.  They start to smile because they are more likely to have heard of it – like it’s a new and exciting type of gourmet lettuce.  I look at them as they nod at me with wide-eyed encouragement, waiting for a dressing recipe.  

Some CFS’ers get narky if you just call it ‘chronic fatigue’.  Apparently the ‘syndrome’ bit is paramount to earning credibility points.  I’d like to debate that, but I’m too tired.


The FM bit

Fibromyalgia.  It’s never come up in conversation, but keeps appearing on the names and websites of various burnout-syndrome-type associations.  Like those on the CFS team, people with fibromyalgia can suffer a vast array of symptoms.  Apparently, a common one is pain felt from head to toe.  Horrible, but helps those with CFS feel lucky for about three minutes.  


The ME bit

I came across someone who seemed to have something similar to me except she called it ME.  While the woman was quite elderly, she still scared the bejebus out of me.  I’ll tell you why…

ME is the abbreviation for ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’.  The aged soul got quite stern with me when I said I had chronic fatigue.   ‘ME’ she repeated back at me with emphasis, frowning determinedly through her bifocals.  There’s nothing like a bit of dodgy referencing to get one’s bile up.

I had heard of this grand alternative before.  But it filled me with dread and I have avoided it like the plague (though, on my bad days, sometimes I wish I had plague…).  The reason for avoiding ME is simple.  People will ask me what ME stands for (given that they know it doesn’t mean ‘me’ – not “I’ve got you, babe”, but “I’ve got me, babe”). 

To this day the idea of pronouncing ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ is just one more challenge I don’t need.  We’re tired people for Christssake.  Many of us also have memory problems.  So it’s just cruel to give us such a long tongue twister to explain what ME means.  And if you do manage to splutter it over a concerned citizen, they tend to reply with “What?”.  For surely the meaning of ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ is as obvious as a puppy’s privates.  


The problem with naming symptoms in names

The reason why the aged ME flag-waver was getting her nose out of joint about ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ is because we don’t actually have fatigue. 

Fatigue is tiredness that is earned from such activities as running a marathon or from having lots of sex for long periods (actually, not sure if they studied that – Mr Kinsey?).  No, we just have a ‘virtual’ version of fatigue.  An Xbox type of knackeredness. 


The alternative?

So an alternative could be ‘chronic ennui’ which sounds exotic and conjures black and white melancholy images of lonely well-dressed women on French bridges.  People might want to actually hear about it, film it even.  But unfortunately CFS is more than just a cigarette-smoking, brie-sniffing world-weariness. 

Straight-up no-fuss ‘Chronic tiredness’ could be a go-er but here’s where the whole thing gets unstuck.  Feeling tired is just the beginning of our colourful list of symptoms (want to see mine? visit my about page – pleeeease).  And that’s why the ME grandma was getting her full-briefs in a knot.  

The term ‘ME’ promises nothing about what symptoms might actually be involved, and so it keeps the possibilities open.  Because, as anyone with AF, CFS, FM or ME knows, the possibilities are many and varied.  Like ice-cream, but different.


Motto of the story: 

Don’t make any assumptions about what we have by what it is called.  And, no, we don’t really know what we have either.  


This post was written by Megan Hills – Megan is a writer who often finds classifications simultaneously handy and disappointingly limited.  Megan lives in constant internal conflict about a lot of things.  Find out more about Megan.    

Reader Comments

Great to see some reality put forward for a change…..and with humour. Thanks

Written By Wilhelm on January 20th, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

Megan – this made me laugh so hard! It made me better about feeling tired- at least we can be tired and funny at the same time.

Written By Amber on February 16th, 2013 @ 7:32 am

Thanks for drumming up the energy to make a comment, Amber. I mean this. Just thinking of giving feedback while feeling tired is no mean feat. And what a lovely comment it was! Your words give me energy, knowing I have managed to tickle somebody’s funny bone.

Written By Megan on February 18th, 2013 @ 9:53 am

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