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Connie Pich and and her cat, FuFeeMeet Connie Pich

Educating South Dakota about CFIDS and Fibromyalgia
On a morning in January 1995, the local newspaper had a full-page article on two women stricken with an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome.  The article descried how these two dynamic women were struggling with every aspect of their lives because of their health problems.  It then announced the beginning of a support group for people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).  Connie Pich took a deep breath and said, "I'm not alone."

At the age of 37, Connie had moved back to her parent's home in South Dakota from Milwaukee, Wis., because she could no longer care for herself.  She was single, with neither friends nor career there, and she was far too sick to start a new life.  Dressing, exercising and being with family was her whole life.

The support group looked like a possible outlet to find understanding people and to socialize in an atmosphere where there were few expectations to be mentally alert.  She was dumbfounded to find 60 people at the first meeting of the Black Hills CFS/FMS Support Group in Rapid City, S.D.

Since that day, "the support group has become so much more to me than I could have ever guessed," Connie said.  "Besides wonderful friendships, it has given me an outlet for my talents and a chance to make a difference in other people's lives.  Before I got sick, I was a psychotherapist who loved motivational speaking.  I found great joy in assisting others to make changes and lead happier lives.  Feeling unproductive was a devastating ramification of this illness, so I volunteered to be the group's public relations chairwoman."

The task of that committee is to provide the public, the health-care community and the support group with accurate information on these illnesses.  Connie has spoken about CFS/FMS and related issues to community groups, been featured in newspaper articles and been the guest on radio talk shows more than a dozen times.  She's talked about diagnosis and treatment of CFS/FMS, believability from others who don't have CFS/FMS, relaxation techniques, applying for Social Security benefits, having fun and challenging oneself despite being ill the importance of hope, learning to conserve energy and dealing with disrespectful treatment from the medical community.

Support group leader Alice M. James says, " Connie is one of the most knowledgeable people she knows on the subject of CFIDS."

"When Connie speaks before a group, she holds her audience spellbound.  She has a way of mixing humor into her presentations.  She has a positive attitude and is willing to take the time and energy to encourage or help someone with CFS/FMS.  She is one of my favorite people."

Group member Gloria J. Zeitler said Connie is a real "people person."

"The minute you meet Connie, she makes you know that she cares about you.  She is able to say what all of us feel and think, and she does it eloquently.  Her talks are not only informative, but also moving.  She touches you with her words and her manner."

Member Elaine Dodson said simply, "Connie gives people hope."

Connie said she learned from group members that persons with CFIDS (PWCs) needed support to take themselves seriously first, before the public and family members would treat them with respect.

"When stricken with an illness where we don't look sick, symptoms change hourly and the medical community sees it as controversial, it is easy to minimize how very ill we are.  When I lapse into denial of the severity of CFS/FMS, I find that I don't take care of myself well, which sets up relapses.  The support group is the place I can go when the reality of CFS/FMS blind-sides me.  I can openly grieve the reality of this illness and learn new strategies of self-care.  Both are so important to me. 

"Because of the support group, I am no longer alone, no longer feeling useless, no longer feeling helpless.  I encourage PWCs to find the support that they need to make their lives meaningful, whatever that might be."

Connie fills her life outside the group with dancing, movies, personal growth activities, motorcycle riding, dining and unusual foods, mediation, travel and adventure, and time spent with family and friends.  She is active in a singles organization that promotes spirituality, personal growth, relationship skills and fun.

This article appeared in the March/April 1998 CFIDS Chronicle, a publication of The CFIDS Association of America, PO Box 220398, Charlotte, NC 28222-0398.