Chronic fatigue syndrome (“CFS”) is a debilitating condition with a complex constellation of symptoms and a dozen names. The cause of the condition remains controversial. It is similar to fibromyalgia in that it is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that other causes for the severe fatigue experienced by its sufferers must be ruled out before it is diagnosed. Its victims suffer from extreme exhaustion, malaise and muscle aches in addition to a host of other problems including sleep disturbance and mental fogginess. It is often diagnosed together with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, and the symptoms overlap with these conditions.
Because we cannot hook you up to a machine and get a read out of how tired you are, it can be very difficult to prove disability on the basis of CFS. It is helpful if you have seen a specialist, such as a rheumatologist, in addition to your primary care physician. This is true because a specialist such as rheumatologist will usually conduct more in depth testing to eliminate potential other causes for your fatigue and other symptoms. Also, it is just typically the case that a person who truly has this condition has gone from doctor to doctor trying to track down some answers so that is the pattern the judges are looking for in your records.
So how do we prove it? Often it comes down to getting statements from the doctors who have treated you and the people who you interact with regularly. It is the very fact that everywhere you go there you are looking exhausted that helps us prove your case. For this reason, it is very important to maintain your credibility with your health care providers by always pursuing the treatments and options that have been recommended to you. I know that is difficult to do when your very problem is that you are exhausted, but it’s the only way to show that you really do have a serious problem and you are doing everything in your power to help yourself.
People who are diagnosed with CFS are usually also diagnosed with depression, probably because being exhausted all the time is depressing. For this reason, it is most helpful for proving your case that you are regularly treated by a mental health care provider. In addition to providing you the emotional support you need to get through this, a mental health care provider is in a unique position to be able to comment on how your fatigue and depression is affecting your ability to concentrate and focus, which is critical in determining your ability to work.