From Prince to Pauper: Acceptance Was the Key to My
By Gerry de Gruiter
The sudden onset of greatly misdiagnosed and misunderstood
illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia can have a profound
impact on your daily life, relationships, financial challenges and overall
mental and physical well-being. I know this firsthand.
Like many CFIDS/FM patients I had a successful career prior to
becoming ill in 2002. I started working full-time at the age of 16, a high
school dropout, and worked hard to overcome that status. I not only succeeded,
but excelled in my personal and professional lives. I was a sales manager/mentor
and coach employed by a Fortune 100 corporation and was considered one of the
best in my industry. I was at the pinnacle of my career, with a six-figure
My job demanded that I travel a great deal, and New Orleans was my
home base. I loved traveling for business. The constant change of cities,
people, hotels, meals and cultures soon became a way of life. I developed a
rhythm for accepting change and embracing this as an opportunity to better
During the week I lived and worked out of a suitcase, normally
scheduling my return home on Friday evenings to spend time with my wife, four
children and two dogs. At times my wife, Faye, would travel with me. Her
romantic picture of my professional lifeóstays in nice hotels and wonderful
dinners with associatesóchanged as she realized that what I did was hard work
that placed great mental and physical demands on me.
After September 11, 2001, it was often easier and more
efficient to drive for business rather than to fly and rent a car. On a trip
from New Orleans to Texas
, Faye and I were singing along to the radio and enjoying one
anotherís company. Three hours into the drive I felt my right hand tingle and go
numb; my chest ached and my left leg began to feel numb; sweat formed on my
forehead. Faye noticed my discomfort and asked if I was alright. I felt really
light-headed and volunteered to let her drive. I thought I was having a stroke.
I had never experienced being so out of control.
We didnít know it then, but that was the beginning of a new
era for usónot by choice but because of a sudden illness. After months of being
misdiagnosed, an infectious disease specialist and a rheumatologist finally told
me I had CFS and FM. Attempting to maintain a positive attitude, I continued to
seek medical treatment and counseling, went through the gamut of prescription
drugs, tried alternative treatments such as herbs, supplements, chiropractic
adjustments and massageóanything to get me better.
There were days and sometimes weeks when I felt better. I was
far from being myself, but I felt much better than during the prior six months.
I thought I was on the road to recovery and free of this debilitating illness. I
even sought employment during the days when I felt good. But most weeks
everything seemed so out of control. My former physical ability to do things was
gone, and my mental and emotional state deteriorated beyond my wildest
My circle of true friends declined to just a few. Even our
seemingly picture-perfect, close-knit and supportive extended family was reduced
to the immediate familyómy wife and our children. They witnessed my personal
trials and tribulations daily, and provided love and support during the most
difficult and challenging times. It was their understanding and acceptance that
was most valuable on my road to emotional recovery.
Family members and those I thought of as friends challenged
and judged me. Some of these attacks were direct insults, but most were silent,
indirect. Iíd lost everything I worked for my entire life as our home was sold,
our car was repossessed and I was forced into personal bankruptcy. They found
fault in our lifestyle and financial planning, and my integrity as a person was
attacked and open to criticism. Some people even pointed out my mistakes, saying
I should have saved more money, spent less, been more financially responsible.
Yet itís a fact that the majority of Americans are two to three paychecks away
from being homeless and bankrupt. We were somewhat more fortunate since we had
three yearsí worth of cash, investments, 401k plans and home equity to sustain
us. It has taken three years to collect Social Security benefits, and Iím still
legally battling Prudential Insurance for long-term disability benefits.
After almost three years and an array of doctors, specialists
and physical therapists, and one year of psychological counseling, Iím finally
learning not only to accept my long-term illness, but also to let others know
and respect my limitations. With my acceptance comes a different healing
process. I realized there were no magic pills or radiation treatments or
therapeutic cures that would magically return me to good health. Itís the
healing power of acceptance (versus denial) that has brought me a kind of
Today I function at 20 percent of my old self, just a small
semblance of the person I used to be. I no longer pretend to be my old
high-energy self around my friends, family, associates/peers and loved ones.
Iíve stopped fearing that others will no longer love, admire and respect me if
they know Iím sick. Like other PWCs I quickly weed out those people who care for
me as a person from those who treat me as if Iím just being lazy.
Unless we learn to accept our own illness and its physical,
mental and emotional limitations and begin the road to an emotional recovery, I
believe others will have little time for us. Learning to love the new you is
difficult but achievable. I try to remember and use the foundation my
personality, integrity and achievements are built on. Thatís still who I am
today, regardless of my current inabilities and limitations.
I believe those who are ill with CFIDS/FM are not seeking
sympathy, but are in need of empathy, understanding and respect as individuals
who have been inflicted with major limitations not by choice but by
circumstances. I sometimes wonder how Christopher Reeve not only endured but
overcame his physical restrictions. He inspired me to seek acceptance of my
limitations and to become constructive within a new framework. I think the key
was his acceptance of the new person he became as a result of his injury. He was
free of self-pity and built on the parts of him that were still his foundation
as a person. Regardless of being bound to a wheelchair and tied to life support,
he built on the strength of his personality, his character, his integrity as a
contributing member of society.
Before you judge someone who has been stricken by a
life-altering experience such as an illness, an accident or the loss of a
career, remember there are circumstances in this world that are well beyond our
control regardless of the best planning. All we can do is provide love, hope and
understanding to those who are suffering from one of lifeís many potential
setbacks. It could happen to you or a loved one at any time.
Keep safe and enjoy the moment, enjoy the breath of air that
we take for granted, hug your loved ones and learn forgiveness.