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A chronic fatigue syndrome sufferer reconnects with the world

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Suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome meant I was exhausted all the time. I felt like I had cotton candy where a brain should be.

Embarrassingly for a former English major, I lost words, even simple ones. "You know, those things! They go on feet!" I'd cry, frustrated.

"Shoes?" my mom would ask. "Socks?"

I also lost my life as I knew it. One week I had a full college load, my nights spent clubbing or writing essays, surviving on caffeine and chocolate. The next, I became so exhausted pulling on pantyhose that I had to lie down for an hour. I became weepy, confused by how weak I felt.

So I took a month off, planning to return to college when I felt more rested.

I never did.

In short order, my world shrank to the couch, the remote control and one slowly unraveling brown blanket. My mom would tape my favorite shows for me, and I'd watch one while I ate my lunch (which my mom prepared for me before leaving for work). Television occupied my mind and made me feel less alone.

One day, I pressed "play" on a new show. "The Closer" flashed onto the screen, the titles alternating with scenes of a frowning blond detective squinting against the sun as she struggled to navigate her way to a grisly murder scene. As she finally pulled up at the right house, pushing past crowds of reporters to the front door, the breath caught in my throat.

"I should be doing that," I thought. Not solving murders — I was far too squeamish. But my dream had always been to become a journalist. And while I didn't want to race around town chasing ambulances, I did want to have the energy to research and investigate features.

Suddenly I couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than being able to leave the house every day. I had become so accustomed to living this way that I had forgotten there was nothing normal about being a 26-year-old shut-in.

I started to sob: huge tears filled with grief and regret. I cried for the life I had lost. I cried for the life I wanted: one in which driving through a busy city on a sunny day was no big deal.

The next day, I asked my mom if she would drive me around the neighborhood. It was early spring, and weak sunlight filtered through the windshield. I squinted, unused to the light. My mom looked over at me and smiled. She had been begging me to do this for months, but I hadn't seen the point. Now I saw there was value in just leaving the house.

In reminding the world I was alive. In reminding myself.

I wasn't solving murders. I wasn't writing features about interesting people. I wasn't even well enough to go back to school. But this was better than nothing. It was a start.

Diane Shipley is still a huge fan of TV but now she's a freelance writer too. Her website is http://www.dianeshipley.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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