The very name of the illness that had so totally derailed my life sounded like a joke, as if it were nothing more than ordinary life in our too-fast age, the complaint of someone too lazy to keep up. The words stung my lips with insult: “chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Though I felt like I was suffering in my own private hell, more than a million Americans shared my fate. Worldwide, the number is estimated at between 17 and 30 million. Though the disease has been characterized as the “yuppie flu,” it is more common in poor people. It occurs in all racial groups and ages but most of us are women—around 80 percent. Hidden in these numbers is astonishing suffering. But public health agencies have treated chronic fatigue syndrome as if it were the jest the name suggests.