Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is an illness from which an estimated 1 in 300 people suffer, a good number of whom are active evangelicals. Some recover fully. Some recover partially. Some never recover.
My own story of battling this terrible illness begins in January 2005 when I was taken ill with a virus. I was left with a tiredness I couldn’t shake off. Initially I could still cycle the five minutes to the doctor to get advice, though a couple of weeks later I needed a taxi. A few weeks later I couldn’t even manage twenty paces outside. For the next year and a half, I would go to bed at nine and sleep twelve hours, plus resting in the daytime.
During that time, people were keen to tell me what I needed to do – so I put a bowl of water on my radiator and I ate Indian mud (don’t ask...). It didn't work.
In the summer of 2006, I met someone who had been healed of Chronic Fatigue due to something called 'Reverse Therapy'. The approach argued that much of CFS was psychosomatic.
I wasn’t at all impressed. Many people had tried to suggest CFS was in my mind, but mentally, I was doing fine. I wasn’t down – I knew I didn’t have to be healed for life to have a purpose and I was relaxed about that. And I'd been a missionary for two years. Surely I couldn’t have any mental problems, could I?
Well it turns out I did. And I discovered it by journalling.
As I journalled, I began to notice that some of my symptoms were related to things which would happen in my life. My sore throat came on when there was even a slight conflict. My sciatica appeared when I did too much of the same activity. I started adjusting my life so my symptoms reduced, and my energy started returning.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the founder of Reverse Therapy had drawn from a Christian book - Don Colbert’s Deadly Emotions - which explores psychosomatic illness from his experience as a doctor.
These principles gave me a significant step forward – I now only slept 8-9 hours a night. I had more energy than at any point in two years. I was close to being back to normal again! However, I was terribly unstable. This emphasis on my symptoms and my emotional state left me constantly checking my symptoms for their deeper meaning. Every indigestion, every muscle twinge was analysed and reanalysed to see what changes I should be making. I would go to church or church meetings, but at the instigation of a symptom, I’d get up and walk out again. I was not an easy person to be around.
I needed to do more, but Reverse Therapy wasn’t able to take me there.
I soon discovered a new approach to fighting CFS. It's called the Lightning Process. It works by focusing on how you think. It's designed to eliminate negative thinking and help the patient see things positively. I decided not to go on the course (I didn’t fancy shelling out £500), but I started working on my thought patterns, noting when I tended to despair and challenging those thoughts (similar to other standard cognitive behavioural approaches). I did this while maintaining sensitivity to my psychosomatic nature. This process of readjusting would take months, but ultimately it completed my recovery.
As I look back now, I am grateful for this difficult period of illness. Why? Well I discovered that God was enough when I had no energy. I didn’t have to get better. I didn’t need to fulfil my plans or my dreams. He was – and he is – enough. This is a lesson that's always worth learning - whatever stage of life you may be in.
I also thank God that when my illness was getting worse and worse and I even wondered whether this might be the end - I still felt peace. God's spirit was real and present even in those dark moments.
And I thank God for training me in psychosomatic issues. I’ve been surprised and delighted at how many people have been helped by my story. The principles I've learned have enabled a range of people to get better and recover from a variety of issues and illnesses, from marriage problems to sleep disorders to depression.
At the end of the day, each person is unique, but God is with you whether you get better or not and that is where our real hope lies.
Since 2008, Paul S. Chatfield has had no relapse. He now works as an evangelist in Italy averaging 60-70 hour weeks.