The Meaning Of Life Experiment

I’ve spent the last month completing Ashok Gupta’s Meaning Of Life Experiment, after being reminded of it on the Community Of Hope For Recovery group on Facebook. It sounds like Ashok is doing a Deepak and expanding his teaching beyond just CFS sufferers to the masses. Here’s what I discovered about the meaning of life…

I really liked the effect of making the commitment to doing a 20 minute meditation every day using the meditations in the iPhone app. It gives you the choice of a 10 or 20 minute guided meditation led by Ashok’s familiar soothing voice. The Soften and Flow meditation sounded particularly familiar… It’s exactly the same as the one in his Amygdala Retraining Program; which must make the references to symptoms sound a bit out of place to people without any physical health condition.

I enjoyed the daily teaching videos too. While the metaphors he uses are new, the videos encapsulate a lot of what I learned during my counselling and life coach training and my own life journey from head to heart. Not bad given that you get this all for free given what I’ve forked out for a zillion courses over the years.

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Why I Highly Recommend Yin Yoga

Just over a month ago I joined my local yoga studio in the hope that it would help reduced the severity of my headaches. So far it seems to be working. At first I tried mostly regular yoga classes, doing about 5 a week. It was too much for me; after a few days I was starting to feel faint during the class, so I backed off and switched to the yin yoga classes instead.

Yin yoga feels much better to me as it is primarily restorative so I don’t end up overdoing it. Rather than moving through a fairly rapid sequence of postures as you do in regular yoga, the yin variant involves holding a supposedly restful pose for about 5 or so minutes and basically meditating there. Then we rest completely for a couple of minutes before the next one.

I say “supposedly restful” because the postures still involve quite a bit of stretching for my inflexible body. After a couple of minutes I start to feel increasingly uncomfortable and the idea is to relax into the discomfort and breathe through it.

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Using Assertiveness To Release Anger & Stress

I’ve noticed a consistent pattern among myself and my clients recovering from CFS: We all have a history of taking on too much stress and not really standing up for ourselves when other people do things we don’t like. Most of us had parents who weren’t willing or able to teach us how to deal with our emotions, to self-soothe our nervous system when we were in distress, or to stand up for ourselves when our emotional or physical boundaries were being violated. Often the person we most needed to stand up to was one or both of our parents themselves, and that rarely goes well when you’re a distressed child trying to stand up to an adult who is being unreasonable because their wounded inner child is running the show.

All of this is a recipe for ever increasing anger, resentment and frustration. We end up overcompensating in a desperate attempt to get our needs met because nobody taught us how to do this effectively. Internalise that toxic cocktail and it’s no wonder we end up sick.

Behaviour patterns learned as a child tend to stick even if they never really worked well, and coping strategies learned as a child rarely works well in the adult world. If nobody shows us a better way, it’s easy to continue behaving in ways that increase our internal store of resentment and frustration long into adulthood with no way of releasing the stress pressure cooker.

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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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