Turn, Turn, Turn: The Commingled Cycle of Chronic Illnesses

By Wanda

When you are tired, you rest. When you are in pain, you see a doctor who gives you the proper treatment for what ever hurts. When it’s bedtime, you sleep. When you are sick, you take medicine. When you have a migraine, you follow the treatment plan your doctor gave you and it goes away. Theses things happen to most people, it’s all part of life. According to a song by The Byrds,

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven”

But, what happens when resting doesn’t make you FEEL rested? If the pain doesn’t go away? If you’ve gone to bed but can’t sleep, or can’t stay asleep? If the migraine days happen more than they don’t? This is when an annoying problem becomes a chronic condition. A chronic condition or illness complicates your life and impacts those around you.

21908729_10214490283760900_743894214_oChronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as CFS) doesn’t just mean someone is tired; there are eight signs and symptoms besides the one that gives the condition its name including an impact on the immune system. CFS causes an abnormal amount of fatigue even when someone is “well rested.”

Insomnia is, interestingly, not part of CFS. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can drain your energy, mood, level of performance, concentration, and overall quality of life.

Chronic pain is a broad term used to describe pain that doesn’t lessen or disappear with normal treatment. Chronic pain is unrelenting, real pain that lasts far longer than pain from an injury or surgery and requires other forms of treatment.

Chronic Migraine is something we are familiar with here at MM, and you probably are as well. Most people have seen the commercials on television advertising help with at least one of these problems, but what happens if you have two or more of them?


For me, the first thing I remember is the pain. Always the pain, with little reason for it. Not sleeping, or having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep is my second “medical memory.” I used to spend my nights telling Lady Bear, my teddy, stories.

To this day, I still tell myself stories or write articles in my head when the insomnia strikes. The headaches started about the same time school did. We tried medication, eye doctors, eye specialists, big coke bottle glasses — you name it, and we tried it. By middle school, I had bifocals with prisms to force my eyes to work together; the headaches were chronic and being called sinus headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

My official Chronic Fatigue Autoimmune Disorder (a type of CFS) diagnosis came from a Naval doctor in San Diego when I was in my mid-twenties. He was an immunologist and VERY impressed with his latest lab rat because of my multiple commingled chronic illnesses.


I recall once he showed me a paper he had published using my patient number. I had a hard time being congratulatory, much less pleased for him since it was MY LIFE and only his career. He could walk away, while I had never been able to even take a day off. It didn’t help that there were already multiple papers about bits and parts of me, or that my tonsils had been donated to science. Poor man never had a chance.  

Why was the Navy doctor so pleased, you wonder? Chronic illnesses are complicated things. A patient with more than one often notices trends in severity and symptoms — the diseases impacting one another. A patient with the four listed above? Well, you have a perfect storm of diseases.

Think about it. When you are sick — lets say you have the flu — its hard to get comfortable because everything aches, its hard to sleep because of the coughing, your head hurts from the congestion, and even if you take all the medicines available it takes time to get well. One thing like the congestion making the head hurt, feeds another like the coughing that doesn’t let you rest, which makes the aches worse because you are so tired. It’s a cycle of commingled symptoms. Now, imagine all of that on the level of chronic pain, insomnia, CFS, and migraines that NEVER GO AWAY.


First you have the chronic insomnia, getting you about five hours of sleep a night, and those using heavy medication. Then you have the Chronic Fatigue Autoimmune Disorder which means even if you slept a solid twelve hours without medication you wouldn’t feel rested. Now lets add in the Chronic pain; lack of restful sleep means your pain centers are on high alert — your nerves are on edge. Finally we have the chronic migraines; for me its twenty-two migraine days a month WITH aggressive treatment and medication, and headaches on the days I don’t have full blown migraines.

Lack of sleep and rest are key causes for headaches and migraines. Now, because you have such horrible migraines, you can’t sleep… You see what’s happened? It’s a vicious cycle with one disease feeding another endlessly, and the wheel just turns, turns, turns.

One thought on “Turn, Turn, Turn: The Commingled Cycle of Chronic Illnesses

  1. Photobaugh says:

    Sleep is so critical to our physical health and such a problem for me, with my fibromyalgia. I was just sitting here thinking I should try to get to bed earlier tonight! Driving home from work tonight I got honked at – not for mindlessly looking at my phone at a red light – but because I dozed off and didn’t notice the light turned green. 😦


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