A year before I got sick, I’d accumulated 37,888 frequent flier miles, made over 6,500 phone calls, booked $8,103,900 of new business for our company, and received an 18 percent raise. I’d skied 78 hours, hiked 41,420 vertical feet, swam 792 laps, spent 28 hours on the StairMaster®, biked 347 miles, ran 208 miles, and lifted over 485,000 pounds. I’d refinished 28 antique picture frames, took 252 pictures, had 192 friends over for dinner, went on 107 dates, and read over 4,000 pages.

Then, my life changed. Staring out the window of a United Airlines plane, I felt something snap, an inner control break, and I was left with what felt like the start of a flu. Little did I know, it was the sudden onset of something much more severe—chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)—and little did I know, this very illness that initially took away my drive would eventually show me how to have more energy than ever before.

Each day was a battle inside my own skin. I was bright, but couldn’t concentrate, exhausted, but couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. I’d have energy one minute and lose it the next. When my symptoms were at their worst, I couldn’t concentrate enough to add up a simple set of numbers—the very numbers that had controlled my life for so long. I couldn’t stand for even five minutes at a time. I remember looking at a simple pile of dishes in the sink and thinking that if someone had offered me a million dollars to wash them, I wouldn’t even know how to begin that simple, mundane task.

Winter turned to spring. I hated every minute of it. I wanted my old life back—my energy and drive to accomplish anything I set out to do.
Months later, after my official diagnosis, a friend tried to console me. A confessed adrenaline junkie, I expected him to pity the absence of my beloved overdrive and encourage me to rev up and fight, but he surprised me.

“Come on, Sally,” he said. “Don’t take this CFS thing so hard. Relax, you deserve it. Take a break for a while.”

I was speechless. I’d never even once considered giving in to this thing, but in a wave of emotion even more surprising than his words, tears streamed down my face. Imagine suggesting that I relax, that I deserved a break. Me, who got up in the morning, turned my engine on high, and played superwoman for the rest of the day. Me, who fell exhausted into bed each night, without a drop of energy left to spare. To relax was both unthinkable and, secretly, what I wanted more than anything else in the world.

“Relax?” I replied. Even the word sounded funny as it rolled off my tongue.

Again, something clicked, and I could feel a wisp of energy rise up inside my fragile body. I was Alice going down the rabbit hole. Instead of fighting my unstable energy level to regain “control” of it, I realized that only by giving up the fight could I begin to notice what naturally caused my energy level to increase on its own and, equally important, what drained it bone dry.

The old Sally gave away energy by the bucketful, gallons and gallons each day. Where did my energy go? That’s easy: to everyone around me. To planning. To worrying. It went everywhere except where I needed it to be: with me.

Over time, this giving-it-all-away habit caused a large hole to form in what I call my “energy cup.” Virtually all of my energy escaped through this hole. I was left with just two drops and an illness called CFS. One drop supported my vital signs; the other was for discretionary use. If I used the latter to do something that was aligned with the real me, a new drop or two would be added to my cup, sometimes more. If, however, I did something that was against my natural grain, I would lose all but a single drop of energy and be bedridden until the start of the next day.

Since my energy supply was so low at the time, I could sense the movement of even one drop in or out of my cup. This was the surprise gift of my illness, a kind of spiritual truth serum, a finely tuned energy meter that steered me toward the direction of my heart. I might not have found it otherwise.
It was no wonder that the huge bags of vegetables and megadoses of vitamins that I’d taken the months before had had no lasting effect. Any energy that they’d created had just fallen out of the big “hole” in my cup. I needed to plug the hole by learning how to manage my energy before any type of strength-building techniques could be long lasting.

Over the next months I changed dozens of things about my life—many seemingly insignificant—and the energy gain I experienced was quite significant indeed. One step at a time, I dislodged the heaviness that had obscured my natural light and caused me to become so chronically fatigued that my body broke down under its weight. It wasn’t easy, though. I had a lot of habits to break.

After nine months of maintaining a “full” energy cup, my CFS symptoms began to turn around. I felt like Dorothy after the fake wizard had been exposed: the answer had, indeed, been inside of me all along. Yes, I had the brains, heart, and courage to live a life that was truly alive. We all have these things. The only thing I’d ever lacked was an experience to draw these parts of me out, to make me realize that my heart’s desire wasn’t some big Hollywood dream that took years (or a lifetime) to attain, that it was as simple as following a momentary curiosity, voicing a sudden yearning, pursuing a natural interest, or plugging up an old energy drain.

As I shared my experience, people caught right on.

“A drip, drip, gush, happens to me every time I go to the basement and see the boxes of my husband’s books and notes from law school. Why does he insist on keeping these things? I know he’ll never look at them again,” one woman said.

A freelance copywriter began firing clients who didn’t pay her promptly (or who were too annoying to be worth the trouble). She concentrated her business on those people and firms who not only brought her business, but positive energy.

The fact is that each of us has all we need to make our way through life, moving with it rather than against it. Within our own bodies we have a friend, an ally, a confidant, a guide. As we learn to trust in this connection, as we open to it and feel its truth, we can draw a pure power from it to steer our future and fuel our days. That’s what being real is all about—breathing, smelling, seeing, tasting, touching, and experiencing yourself. Your reward? More vitality and satisfaction each step of the way—for you and for everyone you touch.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways.html

Author's Bio: 

Sally M. Veillette, nicknamed the “Goddess of Glow,” is an admitted adrenaline junkie, self-made millionaire, mother of a gorgeous baby girl, business consultant, motivational speaker, and author of award-winning Coming to Your Senses: Soaring With Your Soul (2003). An Ivy League electrical engineering degree with top honors launched her career, but her real success came after she got chronic fatigue syndrome, was forced to put her overdrive tendencies on hold, and stumbled on the secrets to unlocking more energy and satisfaction than ever before. Visit her Web site at http://www.gettheglow.com or e-mail her at sally@gettheglow.com.