I finally received a long-awaited diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which is the common name for myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), an understudied and underdiagnosed condition that affects approximately 2.8 million Americans, the majority of whom are women, after years of going to the doctors and being told my lethargy and brain fog were a result of my “student lifestyle.” Managing chronic fatigue is difficult since, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently no therapies or treatment protocols for ME/CFS (CDC). Those diagnosed with the disease, however, are recommended to control their symptoms with self-care, therapy, and antidepressant medication, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Following my diagnosis, doctors advised me to focus on improving my sleep, food, and exercise habits, all of which I had attempted before with no success.
Because of my “incurable” chronic weariness, I had come to accept that I was doomed to a life of torpidity. I was able to get on with my life for the most part, tolerating my symptoms to the best of my abilities. But then came the pandemic, and things got a lot more tough.
Because I was confined to my four walls, I had a severe case of cabin fever, and my energy levels began to dwindle to an uncomfortable level with each passing day. Worst of all? It seemed as if there was nothing I could do about it. I knew the physicians would simply give me the same advice they’d given me before: take a walk, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine, take your vitamins, and eat the correct foods.
Not only were my chronic tiredness symptoms growing worse, but I was also developing a crippling worry that, combined with my lethargy, made it impossible for me to get out of bed. Because I’d accepted the fact that I’d never find a treatment for chronic exhaustion, I turned my attention to anxiety-relieving tactics.
Increased social media consumption during the epidemic was a prevalent theme I discovered in my research. As a result of this, I decided to go on a social media fast. While this helped to reduce my worry, I saw that my exhaustion worsened, and I thought there had to be a reason for this.
After examining my lifestyle, I discovered that since I stopped using social media, my overall media intake has increased. I’d given up mindless social media scrolling in favour of binge-watching Netflix shows and listening to audiobooks for hours on end.
I resolved to give up all types of digital media that could only be consumed on autopilot, including audiobooks, TV shows, movies, documentaries, and, of course, social media, after suspecting that my increased media intake was the cause of my rising exhaustion.
This was a way for me to fight back against the mental fatigue that frequently comes with online entertainment intake.
Instead, I became more picky about what I read, watched, and listened to on a daily basis, and I discovered that actively partaking in media reduced my exhaustion.
My brain was continuously attentive and challenging the little media I was ingesting, in addition to anything I was reading, rather than simply receiving information on autopilot. As a result, I no longer had the brain fog and lethargy that I had grown accustomed to as a result of chronic exhaustion. After years of doctors telling me there was no remedy for my chronic weariness, I had finally discovered one in this digital detox.
I spoke with Sue Peacock, a consultant health psychologist at A Pain in the Mind, who says that her CFS clients “often don’t realise that accessing social media requires mental energy” and that she “discuss[es] energy conservation and activity management plans” with them as a result. Having said that, Dr. Peacock says that this varies from client to client because many people use these types of media to relax, which is a crucial aspect in reducing chronic fatigue symptoms.
Current medical advice for persistent fatigue is frequently out-of-date and unsupported by evidence. Doctors encourage CFS/ME patients to be deliberate and selective about the foods they eat and the physical activities they engage in, and the same should be said about digital usage. Unknowingly, the forms of media that are only viewed, listened to, or read on autopilot are frequently the ones that sap us the most.
Switching off digital autopilot reduced my chronic fatigue symptoms to the point where I didn’t notice them at all, and I believe that other people with CFS/ME would benefit from doctors including it in the lifestyle changes they recommend to manage their symptoms, which feel outdated to me in today’s overwhelmingly online world.
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