Your road to self-empowerment

How 4 Years of Chronic Fatigue Woke Me Up

November 12, 2022.Merijn Duchatteau

4 lessons that set the stage for the rest of my life.

“Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.” 


“To be honest, we have no idea what’s wrong with you.”

I was 13. Sitting across from 2 doctors that I hadn’t seen before. By this time, I’d estimate that they were doctors #20 and #21. Which is also what I called them in my mind because I stopped bothering myself with remembering names.

I was diagnosed with ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ not long after that. Which is a fancy term for being extremely tired all of the time with a bunch of white coats hovering around me like I’m a shiny limited edition of the newly released ‘Stethoscope 3000’. Unfortunately, none of those white coats were wrapped around Hugh Laurie (a.k.a. “Dr. House”), because the doctors never had a clue what was going on with me or how to fix it.

It improved naturally when I went off to college at 17. But in the 4 years before that, my day-to-day wasn’t at all similar to those of other students.

I went to school for a maximum of 3 hours a day. Now that may seem like the dream of any 13 year that wants to drink energy drinks and play video games all day, but I drowsily walked to my bed the instant I walked through my front door without exception.

I also missed a ton of parties, dealt daily with people asking me why I was leaving school so soon and had to keep up with schoolwork on my own while missing over 70% of classes.

It wasn’t ideal.

But during those 4 years, I learned a ton. About myself, others, and the interaction between the two. It taught me lessons that I’m still applying 10 years later. And though I’m a big fan of first-hand learning, I thought I’d save you the trouble of going through a 4-year burnout and share them with you.

4 Lessons From My 4-Year-Long Nap

1. Time Alone Is One Of The Biggest Shortcuts To Growth

As we move through life and slowly grow our grey hairs, we all pick up more responsibilities, hobbies, and friends.

2. Prioritizing Yourself Is A Necessity For Your Health

From a psychological viewpoint, one of the strongest factors that determine how we behave is social desirability. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted. We want to be part of the cool kids’ club.

3. Trying To Control The Uncontrollable Will Lead To Unhappiness

Some things cannot be changed.

The sun will set. Rain will come. We will lose loved ones and the Kardashians will always have a large fanbase.

We know these things intuitively. Yet we still structurally aim to change and control inevitable outcomes.

With this, we embark on a task that is impossible to complete and one that is guaranteed to keep us frustrated for as long as we aim to achieve the unachievable.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to control the beautiful, chaotic beast that is life.

By reflecting on what is within our control and outside of it, we can choose to let go of these burdens. It’s a technique used by Stephen Covey, author of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.

Covey distinguishes our Circle of Concern (things we care about but can’t control) and our Circle of Influence (things we care about and can impact).

The more we focus on our Circle of Concern, the more negative we feel (stress, sadness, frustration, etc.). And the more we focus on our Circle of Influence, the better we feel.

It’s about going from a reactive, worrisome state (Circle of Concern) towards an accepting, proactive, action-oriented state (Circle of Influence).

I had to accept that there wasn’t anything that I could do to change my situation at the time. Instead, I focused on shaping my surroundings in such a way that they maximally supported my mental and physical health and my progression in school.

By focusing on the proactive side of things, we leave less room in our minds to be in a reactive state. The result is that the worries about things that we can’t change suddenly don’t seem as important or ‘big’ in our minds, allowing us to accept and let go of them more easily.

4. Accepting Help From Others Is Not Weakness. It’s Necessary.

There’s a popular theory in social psychology called the ‘Self-Determination Theory’. It says that people have an intrinsic need for several things, one of which is autonomy.

We want to do as we please, we want to feel in control of ourselves and we generally prefer to do things on our own.

It gives us a sense of pride and competence.

We don’t like to be told what to do and we don’t like to be dependent on other people. It makes us feel like we’re not good enough. Like we’re not able to handle ourselves.

But the reality is that sometimes we encounter problems that we’re simply not able to take on alone. Perhaps sometimes we lack the skills or experience. Or sometimes the problem itself is simply too big to tackle alone.

We’ve crafted this misconception that asking for help is for the weak. Because our TV shows and movies often show some lone superhero that’s able to do everything on their own.

But asking for help is not for the weak. It’s for the strong. Only a fool would look at themselves and think they are able to do everything. It takes wisdom and courage to acknowledge our limitations and acknowledge the strengths of others.

Then, to overcome our challenges and allow ourselves to grow, we must set aside our egos and allow others to help us.

When I was sleeping all day, I got annoyed when people tried to help me. I thought they were pitying me.

Later I found out it wasn’t pity that was driving their support. It was compassion.

Once I accepted their compassion, I allowed people to bring me homework when they cycled past my house.

I allowed my friends to update me on classes that I missed.

I allowed my teachers to support me with extra information so I could catch up a lot quicker.

And I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without any of them.

people holding hands


Too often I see people around me treating their (mental) health recklessly. Not protecting their needs, not asking for help when they need it, or not knowing themselves well enough to know how to deal with themselves. These are often things we learn when it’s already too late. At least that’s how it went for me.

It’s important to watch our health and to take care of ourselves and others. Which is why I sincerely hope that the insights that helped me will help you, too. In sum:

  1. Create enough time for yourself;
  2. Prioritize your needs without feeling guilty;
  3. Let go of that which you cannot control;
  4. Seek and accept help from the people around you.