Personal Story: Jennifer Warner
Jennifer Warner describes her road to CFS diagnosis and looks to her life ahead with a marathoner’s
I remember the day I went to the doctor
for the sixth time in one month because of overwhelming fatigue and brain fog.
It was almost two months to the day that I had successfully completed the New
York City Marathon and eight months from the time that I had started producing a
documentary on a very difficult and controversial subject. Both events now over,
I thought that I would be feeling better, but my body and mind kept screaming at
me to stop, close my eyes, sleep. What was going on?
I had been
a TV producer for ten years and a highly active person my entire life.
Friends and family teased me that I walked faster than most people ran; that
I was a natural-born vegetarian; that I was the healthiest person they knew. Though I
sought out successful treatment for anxiety in my late twenties, I still kept to
my routine of running or walking to relax myself; to give my body the chance to
catch up with my mind which was always on the move. I was an avid reader and
writer. I had a thought and an opinion for everything. I enjoyed talking about
current events or the latest movie I had seen. Now I could barely get out of bed
in the morning. At work, I would read and re-read a script because I couldn’t
remember or comprehend what I had just looked at. Books and movies overwhelmed
me. I told my partner “I think I’m getting stupid.”
On this particular day, the doctor who had seen me multiple
times over the past month looked exasperated and ordered a blood test. “People
who run marathons don’t have cancer” he said as if to answer some unspoken
question. I looked him in the eye and said “I might not have cancer, but I
definitely have something.”
And so began my journey from specialist to specialist:
hematology, rheumatology, infectious disease. I had a CT scan, a surgical lymph
node biopsy and more blood tests than I can count. Nothing was coming up to
explain what was wrong with me.
I left TV production to start my own company where I could
control the hours and stressors. It didn’t help. I tried to keep exercising as I
had been, but the fatigue and joint pain made it impossible. The day after
exercising, I couldn’t think straight, and all I’d want to do was sleep. I
couldn’t believe my life had come to this point.
Eventually, my primary care physician recommended me to an MD
with a specialty in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She carefully reviewed my lengthy
chart and told me matter-of-factly, “This is not all in your head. You
definitely have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and we’re going to do something about
Truthfully, before I was diagnosed, I
always had a bias against the diagnosis of CFS, reasoning that everyone in
our modern world is "chronically fatigued." But this was my comeuppance. I
understood what it meant to be so exhausted you wanted to cry; so foggy
that simple tasks seemed overwhelming and confusing; feeling as though your brain and
body were playing a cruel joke on you. Having a diagnosis—even one that was difficult for
me to hear—helped me come to terms with myself.
Now I take it day by day. Supplements,
healthy food, moderate exercise and knowing when to stop (and I mean really
stop) have helped me move forward. Finishing the
Marathon was a great accomplishment that took physical
and mental discipline. I’m using those same skills to manage my CFS diagnosis.
It’s the biggest challenge of my life, but I know I can do it.
Jennifer M. Warner is a former TV producer and currently owns
a baked goods company for people with food allergies called moonface &
wally™. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner.