ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Relationship to Overachievers – Is This Why We Are Sick?

I have mentioned several times over the years about how I have a Type A personality and how I believe being a perfectionist and overachiever has contributed to my illness.  I would love to see a study done on this theory because I’m sure there are many just like me who developed ME/CFS, FM, or both who pushed their bodies past the breaking point. 

It has been proven that stress is a contributing factor to both ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia in making the illnesses worse, so why wouldn’t stress from being an overachiever be a possible cause?  Being an overachiever is nothing but a bunch of stress and Lord knows I am a stressed person most of the time.  Have you ever asked yourself why you are an overachiever and/or perfectionist? I remember being like that ever since I was a little girl. My first memory of being an overachiever was in 2nd grade. My teacher had a reading contest where the person who read the most books throughout the year would receive a prize at the end of the year. I picked up reading really quickly and I read a tremendous amount of books that year and no one even came close to the amount of books I read. To me that was the beginning of my overachieving ways.

When I found something that I could do well, I would strive to be the best at it. In middle and high school it was music: violin, piano, and singing. I would have to try out for every solo, every talent contest, and musical ensemble that existed. When I became an adult, I tried to be the best I could be at work. I would work more hours than anyone else. I would come in earlier than anyone else and I would be the last one to leave. I would get promoted easily because I wanted to do everything perfect and because of this, I was depended upon heavily.

I also could never say no. Anytime someone wanted or needed something, I was there whether I had the time to do it or not. I would only have a day or two off every other week and those days were usually spent doing stuff other people said they needed me to help with. I was completely miserable and extremely unhappy. I only lasted at that pace for a couple of years. 

I really worry about our kids and how they will end up being as adults.  They are expected to know more and more at earlier ages and this can be very hard on them.  My son is a perfectionist and I hope that he does not end up like me.  One of my biggest fears for him is that he will end up with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia.

I have to say that I have learned how to say no and that is not a problem for me any longer.  I no longer have to clean my house every single day but you will never see my house dirty.  I am just not as obsessive about it now but I will always be a neat and clean freak. 

Are you or have you been an overachiever during your life?  Do you think you became sick with ME/CFS or FM because of it?  Were you a people pleaser and not able to say no?  Let me know!

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  1. I’m not sure I would classify myself as an overachiever — luckily school was always pretty easy for me, and my parents did not push me at ALL — but I do beat myself up for all the time I feel I waste “giving in” on days when I don’t feel well.

    My energy, attitude, and motivation are so remarkably different on my (few) good days that it makes me angry about all my bad ones…as well as makes me wonder where I’d be in my career if I felt normal most of the time.

    As always, it helps to know that others share the same challenges.

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  3. Jane Farmer says:

    I found a study in that states there is a relationship between type A personality and FM/CFS. They will have a hard time convincing me that perfectionism and type A personality has nothing to do with it. I was working full time and taking Masters level classes when it slapped me on my tail. I’ve had to quit work and drop out of school. I am so angry. I hope someday to understand why some people get struck down with this and others don’t and why there is no more effort to find a cause and a cure.

  4. delilah strong says:

    Your hypothesis makes sense.

    Being a person who is always pushing themselves your obviously going to be putting your body and mind under more stress.

    I understand exactly what you are saying about overachieving and it is hard on the body and mind when you are devoting so much time and energy to meet your (often very high) goals. It’s often hard to hit the off switch and just relax when your mind is running 24/7 to get things done. It can be a great asset in the work environment but can also lead to burn-out and illness.

    We just need to remember to pace ourselves and take a break from time to time.

  5. I’m absolutely an overachiever as well, and 4.5 years ago my body decided enough was enough and the oh-so-gradually declining health landed with a loud thump. I’d be very interested to see how many people with FMS and CFS would also consider themselves to be highly sensitive people?

    If you aren’t familiar with the concept, google HSP, highly sensitive people or elaine aron. In short, it refers to people who have highly sensitive nervous systems – so they are more prone to being overloaded/overwhelmed by sensory information. Pre-illness, ever gone to a kids play centre and come away feeling as though your nerves were wired… or thumping headache? Got dressed and noticed how scratchy the fabric was? Couldn’t tune out excess noise or sights? Thats an HSP.

    My suspicion is that HSPs could be more prone to CFS/FMS, which we understand to be somehow related to the nervous system becoming over-sensitised to pain.

    Either way, I think you could be onto something. Myself, and the other two fibromyalgics I personally know, are all overachievers.

    • Hi Kylie, Thank you for stopping by and commenting. You know – you may have something on the HSP – I am definitely like that. I also know that I have never been able to tolerate a lot going on around me at one time – even as a child. I always became overwhelmed so easily. I will have to look into the HSP. Thank you for your thoughts on that – very interesting.

  6. I agree.
    I was a caregiver for my grandmother, & it got much more intense when I was 13. I was still expected to make honor roll, & complied. I often slept only a couple hours, yet, with only the caffeine of 1 cup of tea, I stayed awake all day. I acted as a mediator for family disputes from about age 8. I was involved in extracurricular activities that would help me get into college; we were handed a 2″ thick list of books we should read before we got to college & I had all of them done before the end of the first semester of my senior year. I had chores to do, of course, & took martial arts in my senior year of high school. I changed majors a lot before ending up in an elementary education major with a science concentration. In 1974, teachers were exempt from the military drafts for Vietnam, so females had to be straight A students. I wasn’t. I knew I had to return to school & had to decide on masters v. nursing school. Nursing school won. I moved around with my military husband & actually have missed the travel since he’s retired. On military bases, I was likely to hunt for a martial arts class & did find one on our first overseas tour. I square danced only overseas because they did it for fun; here, it’s so competitive it makes me look lazy. I did exercise tapes (fat people are NOT welcome in spas or exercise classes; we’re mistreated until we’re driven out, & I am averse to paying for insults & harassment; I can get that for free with every Body Nazi I see who uses handicapped spots illegally). I usually did substitute teaching on days off, & on one overseas base, was also a sub school nurse – & for 13 weeks, interim full time school nurse. I rode a bike or walked most places I went; we did hill walking in the UK along with folk dancing & ballroom dancing. I exercised at least an hour a day unless I was very ill, & worked retail in the UK at the base exchange. I would often take my godchildren out for their birthday after a 12 hour night shift, or just take them somewhere to give their mom a brek. I was very active, very social.
    Then came the pamelor (nortriptyline) for the migraines, to control them, which it did but I couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours, usually 1 or less. I developed CFS & my doctor told me to leave bedside nursing or I’d be on disability in 6 mo. I took a 33% pay cut just to keep working, & had just gotten up to what I was making as a RN when I got the CFS, & the CFS & Fibro had just worn me out. Plus, my son & I made 500 mile round trips to care for my mother in her own home as long as possible, then she moved in with us when it was obvious she had to have 24/7 help, & a NH or personal care home cost more per month than I made (only child). My husband now still needs my help because he’s so debilitated from 4 surgeries in 13 months. I was talking once to one of the admin assistants for one of my doctors, & she asked me how long I’d had my illnesses. At the time, it was 22 yr with fibro, 11 with CFS added on, & I’d had migraines, TMJ, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, & traumatic arthritis (the few joints I haven’t traumatized don’t have any pain or arthritis). She said she didn’t know of many people who had survived what I had & kept going. She said most CFS & fibro patients she’d seen were whiny & dependent, & I told her, if you think about it, how many times have they been told they are not really sick & have gone without help for their pain? She said that had to be why they were like that sometimes, they had no confidence a doctor would believe them anymore.
    I guess the ADHD ran out. I kept thinking, after I had to leave the last job as just too much for me, that after resting for the 2 months I had from the termination agreement, I’d be able to work. I kept trying – I sent out resumes before I even left the other job, putting down an availability date of 2 months because Jack needed surgery & I’d need to be there for him. Even after Mom went to heaven, I kept trying until my guys asked me how I was going to work full time if I needed a couple days to recover from interviewing? That’s when I applied for disability – used a law firm because I wasn’t up to hassling with the government’s forms. I was finally awarded disability.
    I’ve been going downhill for a while; it’s really accelerated to where I’m thinking if my body hits bottom, it’s going to dig a hole & go further down! lol And I always think, I burned the candle at both ends from the time I was very young due to all the responsibility I had. I wonder if I would still be healthy if I’d slowed down. But I also wonder; What if I’d have gotten this anyway? Wouldn’t I regret NOT doing as much as I could when I could?
    I guess we’ll know in heaven. Here, we do our best to listen to God & obey Him, but we can easily get our signals crossed or start listening to other voices besides God’s, & obeying them instead of God but thinking we’re doing both. It’s only there that we will know how & why we got sick.

  7. This is absolutely my story. I truly believe stress created an atmosphere in my body that other illnesses thrive in.

    I was working two part-time jobs and attending a Seven Sisters college full-time when I got shingles, something that’s well known to be more common for people with high stress. Not longer after that I got post-herpetic neuralgia (nerve damage from shingles) and after a year and a half of testing I just got my CFIDS diagnosis.

  8. I feel so comforted to read this article and comments. Thank you! I’m definitely an overachiever (not a type-A personality, though), and I was diagnosed with fibro less than a year ago. I was a nationally competitive athlete when I was younger. I got a masters degree while working a full-time+ job, owning a small business, and having many hobbies. Now I’m beginning to realize that fibro doesn’t care what we value as a good work ethic, nor does it discern between positive and negative stress. Like you, I’m frustrated. But it feels good to not be alone in this. Best of luck in your journeys.

  9. Joi S Douglas says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I relate to the comments you all have left about overachiever and fibromyalgia. .it just came to me today to do a search for those terms. It has been a sad journey for me in my family is so used to me going going going…they know I hurt and they don’t like to hear me complain only work till I drop caring for them. ..

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