Student Battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: ‘Don’t Give Up Hope’

From all-night study sessions to 8 a.m. classes, many college students complain about being tired. But for UT senior Steve Keritsis being tired—to the point that it’s sometimes impossible for him to get out of bed—is a symptom of a chronic condition he struggles to manage each day.

Keritsis, now a senior studying psychology, suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans suffer from this autoimmune condition.

Steve Keritsis

Steve Keritsis rehearses a scene in theatre class with Professor Terry Weber.

Feeling tired is only one of the problems Keritsis experiences every day. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, causes him to wake up with headaches, not feeling refreshed—to the point that merely carrying on a conversation leaves him exhausted.

Keritsis, of Knoxville, first started feeling symptoms in September 2006. After he tested negative for sleep apnea, he was diagnosed with depression and began to see a clinical psychologist.

Even with therapy, “I was still feeling tired,” he said.

“I believed that I was living with clinical depression because that is what the doctors told me.”

After his doctor prescribed multiple medications and blood tests, Keritsis was diagnosed with CFS in 2015.

When medications failed to help, he began experimenting with diet changes, including going gluten free and sticking to a low-carb diet.

“In terms of managing symptoms, I made a commitment to eat healthy,” Keritsis said.

He thinks it’s made a difference; his symptoms are more manageable and his energy level has risen.

“I think I’m on the right track.”

Joel Diambra, associate professor of counselor education, has watched Keritsis persevere through rough days.

“Instead of allowing his symptoms to pull him down, he reframed his struggle as a personal challenge and somehow used his CFS as fuel to dig in, research it, understand it, and conquer it,” Diambra said.

Keritsis is now looking at ways to use his experience to help others; after graduate school he wants to find work that allows him to blend his passions for theater and helping people.

“I think it would be cool to have a group therapy of patients doing improv, teaching them how to get out of their comfort zones and take risks.”

His advice to other students living with a chronic condition: “Don’t give up hope, and invest in your body.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

Kelsie Swift (965-974-2225, kswift4@vols.utk.edu)