Reality Check For Compulsive Care-givers & People-pleasers

I recently came across a fascinating talk on YouTube by Dr Gabor Mate, a physician with a background in palliative care who wrote the book When The Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection. His talk covers the link between compulsive care-giving/people-pleasing behavior, and physical illness.

I really relate to what he says. I used to have a successful Engineering career from which I burned out several years before I came down with CFS. I too was a compulsive care-giver and people-pleaser.

While working as an engineer I was heavily involved at my local church and did volunteer work on a 24 hour telephone crisis line. I enjoyed the feeling of helping people in crisis, but I can see now looking back that I was in a constant state of stress. I often did late night shifts at the crisis centre with a migraine, doped up on codeine-based pain-killers and desperate for the shift to end so I could go home to bed before yet another suicidal caller rang. Meanwhile my relationship with my girlfriend of the time was slowly falling apart, I was losing interest in the career I used to love, and my faith in the religion I was brought up with was going down the toilet.

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My Anxious Brain

I’ve just finished reading Joseph LeDoux’s most recent (2015) book Anxious: The Modern Mind in the Age of Anxiety, in an attempt to get a better handle on why I feel so anxious as I recover from CFS, and what I might be able to do about it.

LeDoux is the neuroscientist whose earlier work inspired Ashok Gupta’s amygdala hypothesis for CFS. Another fun fact about him is that he plays music in a band called The Amygdaloids. I’ve noticed that a lot of highly intelligent and creative people love playing music, even if it’s not their main gig in life. My guess is that it exercises the emotional side of the brain that often gets neglected in our overly analytical western society. Writing books about how emotions work in the brain isn’t the same as actually feeling something.

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My Christmas/New Year Message And Recovery Tips

I was recently invited to create a video to share as part of the Community Of Hope for Recovery from CFS/ME/FM Facebook Group’s 12 Days Of Christmas event. It has a few key tips that I’m finding helpful in my recovery, and includes a special surprise gift at the end!

I thought you might enjoy it too, so here it is:
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Breaking The Habit Of Being Myself

I recently read Joe Dispenza’s book Breaking The Habit Of Being Yourself, which is all about how to use meditation to free your mind and body from the effects of your conditioning. I also spent a month using the associated guided meditations every day.

Overall, it’s a great book. It’s the kind of book I was thinking of writing in fact, so perhaps he’s saved me the trouble; but there are a couple of things in it that I found distracting:

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Loneliness and My New Men’s Group

I recently joined a men’s group which now meets at my house once a fortnight. The idea of joining such a group was suggested to me a few years ago by a mentor who developed CFS after a traumatic car accident in which a friend of his was killed, and subsequently recovered by studying and practising emotional intelligence. They’re also highly regarded in the men’s work movement and in books like Steve Biddulph’s excellent book Manhood. A few years back I started hearing about them all over the place and when I start hearing about an idea from multiple sources, I begin paying attention.

It’s taken a few attempts to find a group that really works for me; this is my third men’s group in fact. The first one didn’t meet often enough to really get traction, and some of the participants seemed so stuck in their own ways that I found the meetings very frustrating. We spent tremendous amounts of time on situations that had seemingly trivial solutions, like one guy who was in a lengthy and expensive legal battle with his sister. One the basis of his telling of his side of the story, we all thought he owed her an apology not more litigation. He didn’t see it, and instead wanted our moral support for continuing to attack her in the courts over a dodgy property deal that he had engineered. I didn’t enjoy being around physically healthy guys who were wasting their energy on crap like that when my health was stopping me from moving forward.

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Guilt; Cultural, Family and Religious Conditioning

I met a new friend with CFS recently who fell ill after breaking up with his girlfriend. He had been living with her for some time when he met another woman with whom he fell more deeply in love. As a result he broke up with his now-ex and started a relationship with the other woman. Although he didn’t cheat on his ex, the timing was rapid and it was a complete shock for her. He had a dilemma: It didn’t feel right for him to stay with her when he really loved someone else, but it didn’t feel good to dump her either given that he still cared about her and she’d done nothing wrong.

While he didn’t regret the choice to leave his ex-girlfriend for the woman he felt more strongly towards, he felt extremely guilty about hurting his ex’s feelings. She was understandably upset and her friends turned on him. The whole thing sounded extremely stressful.

It turns out that we have a lot in common. His day job is working as a software engineer, similar to my old career. He’s also very intelligent, articulate and creative; but in my experience engineers aren’t often well trained in the emotional coping skills required for dealing with stressful life events.

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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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