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Acupuncture and chronic fatigue syndrome

Claire Donaldson, 33, a complementary therapist and acupuncturist, is single and lives in York. Six years ago, while working as an investment banker, she developed overwhelming fatigue and aches.

"Working in investment banking had always suited my driven, energetic personality. Lived my the motto ‘Work hard, play hard’. Every day I’d be up at 5.30am and would stay at my desk until 10pm, then I’d leave the office with colleagues and party into the early hours.

"But after two years of burning the candle at both ends, I started having dizzy spells, felt staggeringly tired and struggled to even think straight. Initially, I put it down to too many late nights, but the fatigue got worse and I started to ache terribly, particularly in my legs. Then one morning, six years ago, I woke up and found I could barely move.

"When the symptoms didn’t ease off after 24 hours, I literally dragged myself to the doctor. He carried out blood tests to check for diabetes and thyroid problems, as fatigue is a symptom of both conditions. But everything was clear. "You’re exhausted,", he said. "You need a good, long test," and he signed me off work for two weeks.

"During that time the pain in my legs became excruciating, as if someone was twisting the bone. I was lucky if I got five hours of sleep a night because of it.

"Returning to see my GP two weeks later with no improvement, he confirmed that I had all the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a condition affecting around 250,000 Britons, with symptoms including overwheling fatigue, aches and pains as well as reduced short-term memory. I had never heard of it before and was terrified – how would it affect my future?

"When my GP revealed that my high-stress career and lifestyle were clearly the catalysts for my illness, I was extremely upset. My job was my life – I just couldn’t imagine a future without it. And I couldn’t stop the tears when he said that there was no cure or specific treatment. The only solution was no stress, total rest and relaxation, plus a healthy diet.


"I was signed off work for a month, which made me extremely anxious because I didn’t want to lose contact with my clients. CFS isn’t a well-understood condition – and some people just think it’s psychosomatic. But I knew how real it was – I was so tired I could barely lift my head off the pillow each morning.

"Reading more about the condition on the internet, I tried many of the suggested remedies, switching to a healthy eating plan and taking up yoga. Then I read that acupuncture might help so, barely able to move and with low expectations, I went to see a therapist.

"Acupuncture works on the principles of Chinese philosopy – ultra-fine needles are inserted into the skin to stimulate the body’s own healing resources and to restore its natural ‘qi’, or energy balance.

"After just one session I couldn’t believe the difference – for the first time in two months. I felt a buzz of energy and even walked home. After that I had regular weekly sessions and gradually got better and better.

"And the more I discovered about acupuncture, the more interested I became in complementary medicine. Eventually, I resigned from my job six months after being signed off for ill health. Using money I’d saved from work bonuses, I enrolled on a four-year, part-time course in Chinese Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, and temped between lectures to provide myself with a modest income.

"Finally – and happily – last year I qualified as a complementary therapist and acupuncturist. Although there have been times when I’ve missed aspects of my old job, I’ve now learned to lead a calmer, more fulfilling life. I enjoy going for long walks, cooking and having friends over for supper. My CFS might have been hell at the time, but without it I’d probably still be working in banking – stressed out, materialistic and now nearly as happy as I am now."


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