Guided Self-Compassion and Asking For Support Meditation

Here is a free guided self-compassion meditation recorded with the permission of one of my clients during a recent Skype session. It is based on the mindful self-compassion practise I learned from Self-Compassion Teacher Dr. Kristin Neff.

It also covers sensitivity to noise, reaching out to other people for support, asking for help in getting our needs met and being open to receiving help and support; which are things thing I found difficult when I was most ill and notice that many of my clients also find challenging.

The meditation goes for 33minutes 45seconds.

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My Top Ten Songs For CFS

Music is a big part of my life nowadays. Shortly after I fell ill, I decided to start learning to play guitar. I thought it would be a great way to connect with healthy people without taking up too much energy, and it was. Rather than sitting around complaining about how I felt, I spent a lot of time learning the hand shapes, getting the hang of strumming and hanging out with other musically minded people.

It turned out that I had quite a bit of spare time available to practise while recovering. I also learned to play drums, and now I do volunteer work for a charity that provides music and yoga to disadvantaged people. Playing music with people whose lives are more challenging than mine reminds me to be grateful for the health I have.

So here are my Top Ten Songs for CFS:
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Taking Up Yoga

While the EMDR I recently started seems to be working, the sensations in my head and neck feel physical rather than just emotional; so I want to get more physical about it.

When I first came down with CFS in 2008, I had been going to the local gym and doing strenuous workouts (well, strenuous to me, given that I was a relatively new gym-goer) three times per week. I knew something was wrong when the cold-that-just-wouldn’t-go-away hit and I passed out during a personal training session. I went downhill fast, quit my gym membership and tried a casual Yoga class at the studio next door to the gym instead. I couldn’t make it though the yoga class either. That’s when I really knew I was really screwed.

Since that unpleasant experience, I’ve only done Yoga only occasionally. I’ve been resisting committing to it partly because of that bad experience, partly because I don’t really want to do the work, partly because it’ll cost money, and partly because I’m really inflexible and find yoga uncomfortable.

The fact that I’m really inflexible is an excellent reason to do Yoga though, not to avoid it.

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Headaches and EMDR

Headaches

One of the most distressing symptoms of CFS for me has been the headaches. While I’m continuing to recover, I still feel more anxious than I’d like, I feel like I have a mild cold all the time… and I get debilitating headaches.

Oddly enough, playing Pokemon GO every day hasn’t cured the headaches. Who’d have thought. I guess they never promised that in their terms & conditions that I clicked “agree” on without reading.

Back when I worked as a Computer Engineer and spent 8 solid hours every day staring at a screen and push push pushing myself towards the next vitally important deadline, I used to get severe migraine/tension headaches. I would either wake up with them and be wiped out for an entire day, or one would come on during the day and I’d just keep working until the pain got so bad that I had to go to bed, take Panadeine (paracetamol/acetaminophen and codeine) and lie there in agony until I could get to sleep. I knew once I got to sleep, the pain would be gone when I woke up; getting to sleep with my head in agony was the problem.

When the pain was really bad, I’d end up vomiting. I tried taking anti-migraine medication and going to a physiotherapist, but when I didn’t have a bad headache I felt absolutely fine; so I’d go back to push push pushing myself to breaking point again.

Eventually after I burned out at that career, I stopped sitting in front of a computer in a state of tension every day, and the headaches went away. I was incredibly relieved and finally kicked my codeine habit.

Then when I came down with CFS, the headaches came back.

After a recent particularly torturous sleepless night in agony, I decided I’d had enough and headed to my local doctor for some medication. I told him my sob story about CFS, and he organised yet another round of the usual blood tests. I talked about feeling anxious, depressed and the weird tension symptoms I feel in my face, head and neck, which he said sounded like neuralgia. He gave me a sample box of Prestique to try, which is an antidepressant that is supposed to help CFS sufferers recover some of our energy.

Having got this far through CFS without resorting to antidepressants (except for a very brief week or so where I started taking a low dose of something I’ve now forgotten, and then quit out of fear of the side-effects), it didn’t seem to make sense to start pumping chemicals into my brain now that I’m getting better. Continue reading “Headaches and EMDR”

The Pokemon GO Approach To Graded Exercise

I’ve been wary of graded exercise ever since the doctor who diagnosed me with CFS told me that “exercise is very important in CFS”. I was thinking “I’ve struggled to even drag myself to your office, and you’re telling me to exercise?!?”

However, there’s definitely something to be said for movement. The flu-like symptoms of CFS strongly suggest some kind of chronic infection, and the lymphatic system which is a vital part of our immune system relies on the movement of skeletal muscles to pump lymphatic fluid around since it lacks the heart-like pump that our circulatory system has. That means movement is good for our immune systems.

On the other hand, if the theories about CFS involving the amygdalae (the emotional centres of our brain) are correct, then it’s probably not just important to move: it might also be important to feel good while doing it.

Aside from the obvious problem of Post Exertional Malaise, there’s the fact that a lot of rehabilitation type and conventional exercise is really boring. I hated running for instance, even when I was 100% well. There’s generally not a lot to engage your brain in and distract yourself from the anxiety associated with CFS.

Until the recent arrival of Pokemon GO, that is. Obviously this only works if you’re already reasonably functional, and willing to take breaks so you don’t overdo it walking all over the neighbourhood. But this game is seriously addictive, motivates movement, gives you a focus other than being sick & getting better, and is mentally engaging since you have to keep stopping to visit Pokestops, catch Pokemon and engage in gym battles. Plus it’ll run your iPhone battery flat long before you exhaust your supply of ATP.

Free Self-Compassion Guided Meditations

One of the speakers I heard who had the most impact on me during the recent Neuroscience Training Summit on SoundsTrue was Dr Kristin Neff, a neuroscience researcher and self-compassion teacher who talked about activating our mamilian caregiving system by placing your hands over your heart and offering yourself compassion in the midst of suffering.

I find this technique really valuable when I’m feeling distressed and anxious, and just had a session with a client who also found it really helpful for calming her anxiety. The technique is based on the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness which generally implies a sense of self-compassion, but making the self-compassion aspect the explicit focus.

Aside from the mere fact that this kind of meditation has worked for thousands of years, I also like that modern neuroscience can now explain how and why it works, so you can take it on faith, or take it on reason. Either way, it works. Essentially what you’re doing is self-activating the soothing mechanism that emotionally aware mothers instinctually use to soothe their distressed infants by holding them and cooing when they’re upset.

When everything is working well, over time we learn to self-soothe by internalising this experience from our mothers. But if you didn’t have an emotionally aware mother or if you’re hit with an overwhelming experience like CFS, it can take some conscious attention and practice to develop the ability to self-soothe anxiety and distress.

If you fear that self-compassion might seem a little self-indulgent, consider one thing I recall Dr Neff saying in the Neuroscience Training Summit about the opposite of self-compassion: “There’s nothing more self-focused than being lost in the throes of self-criticism.”

Self-compassion is the antidote to self-criticism, and the more self-compassion we practice, the more compassion we have available for other people.

Dr Neff has a set of guided meditations available for free on her website that I highly recommend. She has a soothing voice and you get to benefit from her 20 years of self-compassion practice.

Here’s the link: Free Self-Compassion Guided Meditations.

Self Expression EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Video Recommended By A Grateful Client

I have a couple of clients who find EFT really helpful for dealing with emotions, especially when they feel overwhelming. I got an email this morning from one such client who has been ill with CFS for over ten years and is now recovering, in part through my coaching. She gave permission for me to share it here:

Hi Graham,

I want to share these eft videos on chakra alignment with you. I know eft is not  your thing. I know you come in contact with lots of people and I have found these videos amazing. Maybe they might help others.

I am doing the one for the 5th chakra, communication with great results.

I also am reading Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and that is altering my way of seeing communication and communicating.

Thank you so much for telling me about Marshall Rosenberg and NVC.

It amazes me that I found you or was guided to you via the internet.

The work we are doing is helping me grow and gives me immense happiness and hope.

I am so grateful that you are in my life! It is a long distance miracle.

Hope your holiday was wonderful.

with love,
Grateful Client

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Wisdom from The Inner Game Of Music

I’ve been reading Barry Green & W. Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game Of Music to learn how to calm my nerves onstage for my future career as a comedian/musician. There’s a lot of wisdom in the book about dealing with anxiety and staying present under pressure, and I thought this paragraph was particularly pertinent to recovery from CFS:

When we realise that what at first looks like a stressful or negative experience can be understood as a ‘dissonance’ that can lead to resolution, we can begin to accept the stressful moments and flow with them instead of resisting them. The times that we look back on with the greatest pleasure are often those when we experienced a full measure of obstacles and stresses and were able to bring them to a harmonious resolution. Our goal is to be able to ‘experience our experience’ fully, without classifying it as either bad or good.

Well I don’t know about looking back “with the greatest of pleasure”, but apart from that I think he’s onto something.

I Got My Life Coaching Qualification!

I just want to say a big “Thank you!” to everyone who participated in helping me get my Life Coaching qualification with Beyond Success, the company that I did my Emotional Intelligence-based coach training with.

Getting qualified was the final step in my Life Coach training; something that I had been putting off for about 3 years because I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting a sick, depressed life coach. However, one of the things that I learned from Mickel Therapy was to complete the things that we’ve been putting off since they all contribute to our sense of powerlessness and unconscious stress.

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Heads-up about the Neuroscience Training Summit

I’ve been listening to some of the free recordings from The Neuroscience Training Summit for the last few days, and just thought I would give you all a heads up about it. I’m firmly convinced that CFS is a neurological illness, and I have found some really interesting clues by listening to some of the worlds leading neuroscience researchers and therapists talk about what they’re discovering about the human nervous system.

If you’re like me and believe that knowing more about your internal neurological wiring could help you deal with what you going through better, I recommend checking the last few free recordings of the summit out at The Neuroscience Training Summit on SoundsTrue.