Friendship, Hope, Grief and The Shawshank Redemption

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately on the theme of “The Hero’s Journey” that every person must take in order to grow from being a child into being an adult. I’ve been particularly drawn to movies that talk about masculine empowerment, such as The Shawshank Redemption which is currently rated number one on the IMDB list of the top 250 movies.Obviously the reason why this particular movie is so highly rated is that it strikes a chord deep in the soul of everyone who watches it. I’ve seen it several times before, but this time it’s struck some nerves with me that hadn’t quite been hit before.

Wisdom from The Shawshank Redemption

Wisdom from The Shawshank Redemption

There is a great conversation in the movie on the topic of hope between Red (Morgan Freeman’s character) and Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins), and how Hope can be a double sided coin: on the one hand, hope can help us get through difficult times like having CFS. In fact, it’s one of the factors that Daniel Neuffer suggests is most important in our recovery. On the other hand, hope can also give us a painful reminder of everything that we are missing out on so much.

Whether hope is a painful or positive thing ultimately depends on our attitude to it. I have certainly felt many times in the past, especially when I was more ill than I am now, that hope was completely elusive. The suggestion that I needed it in order to recover left me feeling even more frightened. But as Dufresne remarks in another conversation: “You’re either busy living, or you’re busy dying”.

Another quote from the movie that really resonates with me is when Dufresne remarks, in a moment of despair: “Bad luck I guess. It floats around. Gotta land on somebody. It was my turn, that’s all. I was in the path of the tornado; just didn’t expect that the storm would last as long as it has.”

Well that’s just CFS in a nutshell, isn’t it?

But the thing that really hit me most deeply after watching the movie this time around wasn’t so much an event or character as a theme: friendship, and particularly the importance of friendship in enduring hard times.

On one level, it raises the question for me: “Where were my friends during my long dark night of the soul?”

You can expand the sphere of “friends” in this context to include family too.

Did I somehow fail to communicate to them just how much I was suffering? Did they just not care enough to call or visit? Did I simply forget the times that they did call and only remember the lonely days in bed when they did not? Did I miss out on more support because my rugged sense of self-reliance meant that I failed to ask for it? Where was my Red when I needed to get stuff, or my Dufresne when I needed some hope?

It’s still a painful question that brings tears to my eyes even as I write this.

One of my clients asked me recently much the same question: “How can they be so indifferent to my suffering?” And my answer was something like: “It’s not that they were in different, it’s just that they were probably overwhelmed with it themselves. Unfortunately that’s not particularly helpful for us though.”

The sense of lost friendship struck an even deeper chord with me too. At one point I found myself sobbing deeply as I felt the grief over my own struggles and losses around friendship. Although I’ve always been able to make friends in every environment and situation that I found myself, I’ve often felt a sense that real friendship was difficult or allusive to attain. The pain and sadness that I feel around this isn’t attached to any particular person, place, event or time; it feels much broader and deeper than that. Perhaps it goes back to an event that first happened when I was so young that I can’t remember any of the specific details of it.

The emotional centre of our brain develops much earlier than our rational memory does, so very early life events can leave a painful emotional charge with negative beliefs about ourselves very strongly attached, but not connected to any event we can remember. Maybe I had some traumatic experience in my very early interactions with other people that left me feeling that friendship is fraught with danger. That would make sense given that I am a highly sensitive person and I grew up in an emotionally avoidant family, and my resulting choice to withhold my feelings and keep them to myself would have made establishing friendships all the more difficult.

While I can only really speculate about where the pain surrounding friendship for me comes from, fortunately I do know what to do about it: let the sadness and grief flow when it gets triggered. That’s how you heal past trauma in the present moment. So there were several points while watching the movie where I hit the pause button and just sobbed and let my whole body convulse as the grief flowed out of me.

Maybe that’s why The Shawshank Redemption became such a big hit on video after failing at the cinemas: because in the privacy of your own home you can hit the pause button whenever you need to.

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A friend of mine with CFS put me onto FasterEFT a few years ago, and I’ve recently recommended it to several clients who have a history of bottling up their emotions and eventually became ill with CFS/ME.

I had already done a lot of emotional healing work before coming across FasterEFT, but I still found some of the HealingMagic videos on YouTube helpful. I think they would be really powerful for anyone new to healing emotional trauma. I never felt a great benefit from the tapping, but then I didn’t persist with it; it seems to work magic for some people.

Here’s an interesting video with a woman who had typical CFS symptoms and found that FasterEFT helped her recovery. It turns into a bit of an infomercial half-way through, but Maja’s story is still interesting:

I recommend checking out all the FasterEFT videos on YouTube and noticing the ones that put you in touch with your feelings. Try tapping along too; you have nothing to lose!

If you love it, check out the FasterEFT products too.

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I’m Starting A Real World Offline Recovery Group

I’ve decided it’s time for me to take my coaching to a wider audience, by running a recovery group here in Bondi. Obviously that’s not much help to people living outside Sydney, but I’ve got to start somewhere!

I Swear It's Not The Blind Leading The Blind

I Swear It’s Not The Blind Leading The Blind

If you happen to live in Sydney, I’d love you to come along to the inaugural meeitng and support the group next Wednesday 4th November at 2pm in The Ocean Room at Bondi Pavilion. Here’s the Facebook event for it to help you RSVP. Wherever you live, please help spread the word!


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My 30 Year High School Reunion

2015 is turning out to be the year of completions for me. I went to my 30 year high school reunion on Saturday night. My experience of other boys at high school was challenging for me and on the way to the reunion I felt a bit triggered and reached out for support to a friend who had been tormented at her school by bullies.

“Strive To Survive” Was More Like My Experience

The very first guy who spoke to me was one of the guys I remember bullying me in high school: He bought me a drink and we had a fun conversation.

Later on I was flirting with a girl from our sister school, and she goes “You’re really cool. Where were you in high school?” I thought: “I just wasn’t myself back then; I never felt safe to just be me”.

Then later another guy said “I told one of the other guys a few days ago that I’m going to apologise to Graham Stoney at the reunion for laying shit on him at school.” He was clearly embarrassed about it. We’d both been carrying that for 30 years. I said I was open to hearing his apology, and he said he was really sorry. I felt that he meant it too, and was getting complete himself. We shook hands and I thanked him. Then he told me that he had hated school and wasn’t dealing with things, and we talked about how isolated we all had felt and how nobody was really coping. But as boys we all just had to suck it up, pretend we weren’t hurting and fend for ourselves by beating up on the smaller kids, just like the bigger kids beat up on us.

One of my last conversations was a bit unnerving, with a guy who said I had ignored him at school, and that he didn’t mind putting shit on people weaker than him. He still had that bully energy and I didn’t hang around him long.

A lot of the guys remarked that I’m now taller than them, and I had grown. They hadn’t mentioned that at the 20 year reunion and I doubt I’ve grown much physically since then; but I have grown a lot spiritually/psychologically.

I came home thinking that completes the chapter of my life about being bullied at high school and the story that other men aren’t safe for me to be around and aren’t interested in connecting with me.

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What I Have Been Dealing With This Week

Stress can make you sick, and being sick all the time is stressful. I can see how that can become self-perpetuating. One of the antidotes to stress is to share what’s going on for us with other people. A burden shared is a burden lightened. This goes against my suck-it-up-boy programming, which is another reason to do it, to break the emotional isolation cycle.

Time For A BreakSo here’s what I’ve been dealing with in the past week:

  • Serious doubt about whether I can pursue comedy right now, given my current physical health situation. I’ve done a couple of open mike gigs lately, and they went well; but I just didn’t enjoy them. I might have to stick to watching comedy for the time being.
  • Having a constant tension headache which sometimes makes my belief that everything is perfect as it is, challenging.
  • Putting my original SELP project on hold because I feel inauthentic, I hate sharing about it, and I feel like I’ve done my old pattern of taking on something that then overwhelms me.
  • Tweeting an offer to register my first paying coaching client saying that I coach people to help them recover from chronic fatigue syndrome, and getting hate tweets in response.
  • Writing a blog article about the impact of hate & criticism from strangers on me, and enjoying some new connections with other people struggling with the same issue.
  • Really enjoying seeing the progress that my existing coaching clients are making.
  • Having one of my coaching clients drop out, and needing to replace them in order to get my coaching qualification by the end of the year.
  • Getting an angry email from a client about something I said during our session.
  • Talking to a new male friend (who I am hoping to recruit as a paying coaching client) about the impact of our families of origin, upbringing and bullying at school; and waking up with a headache the next day. Every time I see or talk in depth about my mother, I end up with a migraine.
  • Putting my feelings on the line by telling a very close friend that I love her, and then feeling super awkward. Telling her I need some time out to let my feelings for her fade. (She has a boyfriend, and lives overseas; so not exactly surprisingly, but I told her because I needed closure one way or another)
  • Attempting to move on emotionally. Meeting other girls, and finding my old panic arising again to stop me in my tracks. Feeling super frustrated with myself over the times my fear blocks me from connecting with other people.
  • Feeling inspired to record some of the music that I play, and even make my own music video.
  • Feeling anxious that Christmas is coming up, and a long-standing conflict with my mother is unresolved.
  • Questioning whether The Landmark Forum is really an emotionally safe environment that I would want to recommend to other sensitive people. The teaching is great, but the way Landmark deals with emotions doesn’t feel safe to me.
  • Having my 30 year high school reunion. I kinda thought I’d have my shit together by Back To The Future day.
  • Feeling emotionally exhausted from all the above.
  • Misplacing my hover board.

What have you been dealing with?

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Dealing With Negativity, Hostility and Limiting Beliefs

A couple of days a go I posted a couple of new pages on my blog about the coaching that I offer, and published it to a wider audience on Twitter in the search for my first paying coaching client. I had been holding back on doing this until my existing clients were up and running, and now that they’re making great progress, I feel even more positive about having something really valuable to offer other people struggling with CFS.

Almost immediately, a couple of vocal critics on Twitter jumped into the fray with some hostile, negative tweets about me. I won’t publish them all here, since one thing I recommend is avoiding negativity and it would be counter-productive to infect you with negativity aimed at me, but here’s one example:

Not the ideal response that I was looking for. I get triggered when I receive criticism from other people since it taps straight into my critical mother core wound, so I found responses like this deflating. Nevertheless, I believe I have something to offer that could help alleviate their suffering, and I can tell from the anger implied in their communication that they are suffering; so I didn’t want to just ignore them. I attempted to engage the hostile tweeters in a conversation about what they’re struggling with, in the hope that I might be able to at least help them deal with the stress of their illness with some compassionate human connection.

None of the hostile tweeters wanted to talk to me; which isn’t surprising given their initial responses. Accepting my invitation would mean dropping the defences that they’re using to protect themselves, and for all they know I could be some nut-case out to force them into something they don’t want or waste their time and money with yet another treatment that doesn’t work. How are they to know that the strategies I teach will improve many aspects their life; not just their physical health?

The other side of looking at this is that talking to me might mean letting go of the belief that the situation is hopeless. I can certainly relate to the challenge of letting go of negative and limiting beliefs. Beliefs can be particularly hard to change when they’re linked to the need to be right, which was a survival strategy to avoid conflict in my family of origin. Our need to be right is also linked to our underlying need for approval and acceptance; but it’s a distortion. When we didn’t feel loved and accepted as kids, we can end up with a very strong sense of righteousness as adults. Ironically, the need to be right often gets in the way of us getting other important needs met, like the intimate human connection that helps us so much in times of stress.

One of the most powerful ways to shift negative or self-limiting beliefs is new experiences. Now that I’m actually working with other clients, I get to have the experience of seeing the way that my coaching impacts the lives of people who have been ill for a very long time. I’m talking up to 15 years here. I have a lot of respect for my clients because they have all tried pretty much everything, and yet they were open to the possibility that talking to me might still make a difference. Taking that risk takes a lot more courage than tweeting that I’m a snake oil saleman does.

I find it exciting to see my clients stepping up to the challenge of being assertive, learning to say “no” to situations that don’t work for them, replacing complaining with action-taking, expressing their emotions clearly, dealing with overwhelm, and making their well-being their top priority. It re-inspires me to keep do the same. I suggested to one client this week that she adopt the mantra: “Everything is perfect” when she found herself complaining, and I ended up taking it on the same afternoon. It led me to a deeper sense of peace about my situation than I’d had in years. Everything really is perfect; and when I’m feeling unwell and starting to doubt this myself, I remind myself that my body is reacting exactly the way it’s supposed to. It’s all perfect.

Other people’s negativity can trigger my own limiting beliefs and insecurities, but I don’t have to listen to it. This is why I haven’t hang out on CFS forums for years, and only ever subscribe to really positive sites like I teach my clients to avoid situations where they routinely get triggered when they can, and to deal constructively when it happens unavoidably.

Another thing I teach is to focus on what’s working, rather than what isn’t. One of my clients pointed me to this great site during the week called The One You Feed, based on the old American Indian parable that there are two wolves inside us, a good wolf and an evil wolf, and the one that grows is the one we feed. It’s a great reminder to me that we get more of what we focus on: When we focus on what’s not working, and complain, protest and criticise others; we generate more stress and negativity inside our personal boundary. When we focus on what is working, we open ourselves up to new possibilities; like the possibility that CFS might be easily treatable once you understand what’s going on.

I don’t listen to other people’s negativity because it doesn’t help my recovery. I may be ill, but I still have choices. I can scream abuse at the powers that be, like the medical system that let me down, or the family that wasn’t there to support me when I fell ill, or the parents that let me down by being emotionally unavailable when I was a kid; and I’ve certainly done all these things in spades. Now I choose to express and harness that anger constructively as creativity and assertiveness to assist me in strengthening my boundaries against other people’s hostility next time it comes my way.

I believe that once we learn to stop stress, hostility and overwhelm from the outside world from entering our emotional boundary and quit generating it within ourselves, our nervous system can begin to calm down, the hypervigillance switches off, and our body begins to heal. I may end up being wrong, but I’d rather take a constructive approach to my recovery than sit around waiting for a miracle cure while raging at the medical/research/government institutions and attacking other people who are offering help, support and hope to people who are suffering.

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Today’s Meditation

I was out on past the breakers at the beach today on my body board, learning how to use my new flippers. I was in the ocean for a long time, and the following song I grew up with from the 1980’s popped into my head. I thought it seemed pertinent:

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A Breakthrough in the Healthy Expression of Anger

Up until recently, are used to suppress/repress/internalise my anger. In fact, I now believe this is one of the main reasons why I came down with CFS. But now, after a lot of anger expression workshops, therapy, and non-violent communication practice, things are starting to change for me.

Do You Express Your Anger Constructively?

Do You Express Your Anger Constructively?

On the weekend, I attended yet another anger expression workshop called “Feel and Heal Anger”. The idea behind the workshop was that when were out of touch with our anger, we often internalise it self-destructively or project it outwards onto other people as violence or other forms of abuse, both of which are unhealthy.

The aim of the workshop was to get in touch with our anger and express it in ways that didn’t hurt anybody else, or ourselves. There were boundary setting exercises, group sharing, and dynamic burn meditations to help us process the anger and the grief that lies underneath it.

At this particular workshop, I felt more sadness and grief that anger and rage. But I figure if I’m feeling emotions, then the process must be working. I had a fairly sleepless night after the workshop as my body was still processing feelings that came up for me.

Continue reading

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Have you seen Inside Out?

I just watched Inside Out, and found it quite cathartic. Everyone I know who is suffering from CFS has some kind of childhood trauma, emotional neglect, abandonment or abuse in their past. There are some really great lessons on how emotions, memories and the brain work in this movie, like:

  • Why trying to be joyful all the time doesn’t work.
  • The importance of sadness in healing painful memories.
  • The importance of showing feelings to connect other people to their compassion.
  • The value of anger in cutting through problems.
  • The remarkable similarity (to ourselves, anyway!) between beliefs and facts.

If everyone knew how to deal with their emotions better, I believe there would be less trauma and suffering for everyone. Well done Disney for making a movie with some really valuable life lessons.

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Free Emotional Intelligence Webinar

One of my mentors, Nicholas de Castella, attributes part of his recovery from Chronic Fatigue to emotional intelligence. He’s running a free webinar on 14th October 2015 at 7pm Australian Eastern Daylight time on using emotional intelligence to create breakthroughs in life. I learned a lot of what I use in my coaching from teachers like Nicholas.

If you’re interested in learning more, click here for the details.

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