What Has Helped Me Most In My Recovery

I woke up this morning feeling anxious… again! Fuck I hate that. Fortunately I’m physically well enough now that long, anxious days in bed aren’t the only option any more. I still feel like I have a mild cold, and more anxiety than I can poke a stick at.

Sometimes I can pinpoint a reason for the angst, and sometimes it’s just a tense feeling floating in my head and jaw. Doing something physical either relieves it, or distracts me enough that it’s not so bothersome. I got up, called a friend and played some drums.

So that’s where I’m at right now.

I just got a question via email about what has helped me most in my recovery, so I thought I’d answer that here for all to enjoy. In rough order starting with the most significant:

  • Choosing to stop pressuring myself all the time
  • Putting my feelings and my well-being first
  • Giving up trying to please other people all the time
  • Taking up physical hobbies that feel good: playing drums and bodyboarding
  • Learning to identify when I’m bored or angry
  • Learning to express, rather than repress, my anger when I am triggered
  • Moving to live walking distance from the beach
  • Increasing my social contact with other people, especially when I’m upset
  • Turning my attention from getting well myself to helping other people get well
  • Giving up catastrophising
  • Learning to play music
  • Learning to be grateful for what is working, rather than angry about what isn’t
  • Learning to avoid emotionally triggering situations
  • Assertively setting boundaries and unfriending people who violate them
  • Expressing my feelings honestly to people I trust and feel emotionally safe with
  • Shitloads of emotionally-centred psychotherapy
  • Studying Nonviolent Communication
  • Talking with other people who see CFS as a journey of self-discovery
  • Re-engaging with life generally
  • Learning to laugh at myself and see all of life as a fun game

All of these are an ongoing work-in-progress. No sooner do I write “Giving up catastrophising”, than I’m thinking “It’s never going to end!!!”

“It gets better”, the guy at chai night said. “This too shall pass”.

Of course I’ve also done Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Meditation, Yoga, chanting, dynamic meditation, biodynamic shaking meditation, dancing, etc etc. I’m sure it’s all helped, but to be honest many spiritual practices are pretty boring, and I suspect boredom is a big part of CFS for me. My body experiences it as anger, which just adds to all that repressed rage that made me sick in the first place.

I played drums last week to two groups of physically and intellectually disabled people, and was really struck by the fact that their bodies and minds are never likely to recover anywhere near where I am right now. Yet they still live, they smile sometimes, and our music made them happy. Some of them danced. Others were in wheelchairs and will probably never have the opportunity. I feel sad for them, and grateful for what I can do.

Also I was down at the beach yesterday learning to use my new body-boarding flippers. I always feel awkward and self-conscious waddling down into the water with Donald Duck sized feet. Then I notice another guy come down to the beach with a body board bag. A few minutes later, he is waddling past me awkwardly in his flippers looking rather uncoordinated, and I wonder if he feels self-conscious too. Then I look over at his stuff and notice two prosthetic lower legs. The guy has no feet. Yet here he is jumping into the ocean on his body board; and when he hits it, his flippers start working like a propellor. I wonder how he manages to do that.

And that reminds me of the woman I met at a stand-up comedy workshop last year who said “I had to put my comedy career on hold for a while when I got cancer. All that chemo really knocks you around.”

Fuck me. Kind of puts everything in perspective.

So I wake up every day feeling anxious, sniffly and run down. Aside from that, I’m living the dream. I’m not the only person out there facing some big challenges.

We are not alone.

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How I REALLY Feel about My Mother

I woke up this morning feeling quite content. I had a fun day yesterday: I spent the afternoon in an Improv games workshop, playing improvised theatre games with a bunch of my old Improv friends. When I first got into Improv a few years ago, I was still quite ill. I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety, and I found the two hour classes each week a welcome relief because the games we played was so hilarious.

I was hoping that the fun would just naturally translate on to stage when I was performing Improv in front of other people; but in hindsight this was the best thing for me at the time. Although it was often hilarious for the audience, it was just far too far outside of my comfort zone. After doing Improv, I would often feel like I’d been smashed over the head with a frying pan. One of the golden rules of Improv is that “you can’t get it wrong”; but just try telling that to my limbic system with my deeply ingrained fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, and fear of what other people think of me. Lurking there in my subconscious, like little landmines ready to go off at any moment.

After a while, I began to resent Improv and the nervous breakdown that it gave me. My inner child had it the whole freak-out thing. I had to really push myself just to step into a scene, and it simply wasn’t fun any more. I was tired of pushing myself.

Now, a couple of years down the track now, I heard about yesterday’s drop-in improv games workshop and decided to give it a go. I was happy to find some of my old friends there, and it was great getting up and doing it just for fun. In some of the games there were opportunities to get angry; I found that it comes really naturally to me now.

I came home having had a fun afternoon, and caught a ride with one of the girls from the workshop; we had a great conversation on the way home about the teachings of Eckardt Tolle, consciousness, presence and all the cool things that I’m into nowadays. It was a Saturday night, but I still came home early; I’m kind of used to that now.

So back to this morning: I woke up feeling content, and had a bit of a lie in. I’ve been practising sending loving thoughts and breathing into emotions and physical sensations that I have, whether pleasant or unpleasant. I was really struck by one of the remarks in the TMS Recovery Program which said that the basis of self-love was loving and accepting your emotions. ALL of your emotions; even the ones that don’t feel so good.

That was going fine, until thoughts of my mother entered my mind. In case you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve had very little contact with my mother since a big argument we had 12 months ago, after which I realised that I just don’t feel emotionally safe around her (duh!). Feeling safe is really important to me, so I attempted to negotiate some new boundaries in our relationship that would leave me feeling safe. Since this process has stalled, we have more or less cut contact.

Cutting contact with my mother is painful, but I noticed my body reacting with migraines whenever I spent time with her. I’m still really triggered by the way that she treats my father, and I just don’t like being around it. I’m also treated by the way she responds when ever I feel upset, especially about something that she’s said or done. This makes family get-togethers difficult if I attend, or painful if I don’t; my old abandonment stuff just gets triggered again.

So during last week I rang the minister of the church where I grew up, which my parents still attend, in the hope that I could get some advice from him. Maybe he might even be able to broker some kind of peace deal between us, which could lead to us both sitting down and talking about the kind of relationship we would like to have. I want a relationship that meets both our needs, where we both get to feel safe.

And maybe pigs might fly backwards in space one day.

The minister was very understanding about where I was coming from, and I really felt heard. He was completely accepting of the idea that my migraines are linked to my feelings about my parents, and that I need to listen to what my body is telling me. He also had a perspective that I didn’t think my parents would ever really take seriously: that support from their adult children becomes more and more important as they age. Unless my mother is willing to do something about our broken relationship, it’s unlikely that I will want to do anything to support her during her twilight years.

I don’t think she can even see, or just plain isn’t willing to acknowledge, that the relationship is even broken. I can barely stand being around her when I know that she reserves the right to say things that trigger me so easily, and is unwilling to even talk about how we could make a relationship work for me.

So the minister could clearly see that it’s really in both my parents’ best interests for my mother to do something constructive about the situation between us. And for my father to step up and encourage her, rather just don’t just sit back and act passive like he has in the past.

Every now and then, I feel the urge to do something constructive myself to create a relationship that feels healthy my mother and I. The truth is I still feel really angry with her, and part of me probably doesn’t want it resolved. Why should she get the benefit of me looking after her physically in her twilight years, when she’s never looked after me emotionally during my entire life?

At the same time, I feel guilty about the resentment that I feel towards her; after all, she was there physically for me when I was growing up and she did cook, clean, clothe and send me off to school for years. But I never really felt safe around her emotionally, and feel tremendously resentful for the way she reacts to me when I’m upset. This has caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety, and had a devastating effect on my sense of self and my self-confidence. It’s the textbook childhood recipe for an adult attachment disorder.

So really, deep down I’m still just really fucking angry with her, and my father. These people whose apparent indifference to my emotions has caused me so much pain and trauma over so many years. No wonder I’m not interested in looking after them.

As the thoughts about my mother and father flowed through my mind in bed this morning, I felt this heavy sense of exhaustion sweep over me. It’s not just a psychological thing, it’s a physical thing. This rage that is buried deep inside me.

At the same time, I’m fucking sick of the whole deal, and just want to get on with my life.

During my phone conversation with the minister, he made a passing remark: “You know, you could just walk away”. I’m pretty sure that his point was that my parents should be grateful that I’m still making an effort to connect with them. But this morning, it sounds like really good advice: just walk away.

I guess a part of me is still hooked on wanting my parents emotional support. Or even just a connection with them that doesn’t cause me further pain, or simply drive me crazy with frustration.

Even though it’s never like me to come.

My experiences with people generally have taught me that the more needily invested I am in getting something from somebody else, the less likely they are to want to give it. If I really was to just walk away, not only might I save myself a whole heap of ongoing pain: It also opens up the possibility that down the track my parents might work out that not having me in their life is actually more painful than sorting out what causes me to stay away.

After visiting my mother in hospital last week, where we pretty much pretended that there was no problem between us, I’m afraid of just reverting back to our old adult/child relationship; which simply doesn’t work for me. So it’s either create a new adult/adult relationship, or walk away.

I took some solace this morning from Craig David’s song Walking Away:

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Tension Myositis Syndrome?

One of my readers recently pointed me to Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), which appears to explain the ongoing tension headache that I’ve had for the past few years. The idea behind TMS is not new to me: suppressed emotions causing physical tension and pain in our bodies. What is new to me, is that there is a whole community of practitioners and patients out their treating medically unexplainable chronic pain (and presumably other physical symptoms) by dealing with their internalised and repressed emotions.

I can really relate to many of the typical TMS personality traits: perfectionism, people pleasing, legalism (even if I don’t really want to admit to that), stoicism, anxiety and fear, low self-esteem and internalised hostility. They describe my old pre-CFS life to a T.

In particular, I noticed that one of the steps in treating TMS is to resume physical activity. Obviously this needs to be done carefully when you’re dealing with a fatigue condition, especially if over doing physical activity has led to unpleasant emotions in the past as a result of post exertional malaise. I feel very fortunate that I don’t suffer from PEM any more, aside perhaps from the headaches.

I found Dr Sarno’s interview about his book The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, well worth a listen. It’s very interesting hearing an ex-physician talk about mind/body medicine and the ability of our body to create real physical symptoms in order to distract us from very powerful emotions.

There is also a TMS recovery program on the TMS wiki that I found tremendously helpful. I really relate to a lot of what the various different people say in the sessions with the TMS therapist, especially the one with the guy who is constantly pushing himself. There’s a general theme that people with TMS just aren’t very kind to themselves, and don’t treat their emotions at all well.

If you’re still sceptical in any way about the idea that repressed emotions could be the cause of your suffering, I recommend checking out some of the online TMS resources.

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Other People Don’t like Me, and Other Victim Stories

I’ve been feeling an increasing frustration at the difficulty that I’m having making new friends in the suburb where I live. I moved to Bondi about a year ago, and expected that I would be meeting people all over the place, especially considering that there are attractive, interesting people all over the place to meet.

Backpackers from all around the world come to Bondi, and there are plenty of interesting locals here as well. When I first moved in, it seemed really easy to meet people; but since then I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut and have found it more challenging. The local beach is full of pretty, interesting girls from all around the world, and yet something is stopping me from going up and talking to them.

It’s not hard to imagine what that something might be: my old fear of rejection rearing its ugly head again.

I can remember several years ago walking up to a pretty girl on a beach, despite my nerves, and saying “Hello, do you mind if I join you?” to her. She was quite polite and replied “I’m sorry, I’m not really up for a conversation right now.”

I wandered off feeling like I’d been hit in the head with a frying pan as a full blown panic attack set in. The fact that it was a nude beach, and neither of us had any clothes on probably didn’t help with my anxiety. I ended up calling a friend to help talk me down again. With memories like that, it’s no wonder that I’m still a little reticent.

I’ve had several really good experiences of meeting girls on the beach since moving here, and I don’t feel anywhere near as bothered nowadays when they don’t seem to want to engage with me. But a big part of me remembers those old panic attacks, and just doesn’t want to take the risk.

Even now just writing about it, I’m feeling that tense feeling in the head again.

So yesterday, I headed off to my psychologist to talk about what’s going on for me. If rejection doesn’t bother me so much any more, why is it I still feel like I’m struggling to meet new people?

Almost immediately in the session, I felt some powerful feelings of fear, sadness, grief and anger. Anger at not feeling well enough to do all the things I want to do, and at the people who have rejected me in the past; grief and sadness at the times in the past that I haven’t felt accepted or appreciated by other people; and fear about the whole rejection/loneliness/abandonment thing.

It’s amazing how deep some of these feelings can go. Even after years of working on this stuff, I still get strong feelings of not being safe around other people sometimes. Each time I told my therapist that I didn’t really feel safe, I felt the fear, sadness and grief come up again.

Things that didn’t feel safe for me included:

  • Meeting new people, especially cute girls.
  • Expressing my anger.
  • Telling the truth about what I wanted.
  • Making mistakes
  • Getting things wrong
  • Failure

I still did these things sometimes even though they didn’t feel safe; but I really wanted them to feel safe so that I could be more consistent and not feel like I’m pushing through anxiety all the time.

Another friend who used to suffer from social anxiety recently told me that once he had overcome the social anxiety, he still found that he had another fear to deal with: fear of the fear itself, and that really resonates with me. I can see that over the past few years with all the anxiety related to CFS, I’ve been telling myself a story that anxiety is too much for me; that I just can’t cope with it. I’m still afraid of my own feelings, basically.

I came home feeling exhausted, anxious and restless. It made for a fairly sleepless night.

Dealing with anger and anxiety in particular are still quite challenging for me, but I can see that the extent of the challenge is heavily influenced by what I tell myself about these troubling emotions. When I get all caught up in the story that it’s all too much, and I can’t do it, I just end up creating more stress and suffering for myself. It’s like my inner child still wants mummy to come and fix it all for me.

Clearly, that was never, and is never, going to happen.

Whereas when I tell myself that they’re just feelings, that there is nothing wrong, and that I don’t need anyone to come and save me from them, I feel more empowered.

It’s time to let go of that old story that meeting other people doesn’t feel safe, and start seeing it as a fun, exciting adventure.

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Giving The Paleo Diet A Go

I’ve decided to give the Paleo diet ago, just for the fun of it.
“Who wants to eat a diet our ancestors ate when the average life expectancy was 25?” – A Comedian I Heard Recently Whose Name I Can’t Remember. (Anyone know, to save me doing the actual research?)
I’m pretty convinced that my CFS is due to emotional trauma, but I can also see that feeding my body food that our ancestors didn’t really evolve with probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world to do. It seems that CFS makes us more sensitive to everything, so it makes sense to avoid foods that we haven’t had enough time on an evolutionary scale to really adapt to.

My resolve started to waver though when I came across this TED talk titled “Debunking the Palio diet”:

While the first half of the talk does a good job of pointing out that our paleolithic ancestors probably didn’t have access to any of the foods that are included in the modern Paleo diet, I’m not convinced that the diet has actually been debunked here.

As far as grains go, the examples that she gave as evidence that our ancestors did eat grains was from tens of thousands of years ago; very late in the Palaeolithic era, which lasted 2.6 million years. It still makes sense to me that for most of that time, our ancestors didn’t know how to mill grain and it wouldn’t have been a part of their diet.

At the end she makes these points about what we can learn from the actual diet of our paleolithic ancestors to consider for a healthy modern diet:

  • Some of them ate lean meat occasionally.
  • They ate far less sugar.
  • Their diet was diverse.
  • They ate mainly fresh foods.
  • They ate mainly whole foods.

These are the very principles that the Paleo diet seems to be based on. So much for debunking!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Mum’s Birthday

I woke up with a headache this morning, and ended up spending most of the day in bed. I’m not entirely sure what that’s about, but I don’t think it’s purely coincidental that it’s my mother’s birthday today.I haven’t spoken to my mother for most of the past year, after a big argument last August where I realised just how I unsafe I felt around her. As I mentioned in my last post, that change the little this week when I discovered that she had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance with a suspected heart attack, and I decided to visit her.

In the past I have always found my mother’s birthday, and Mother’s Day the most stressful days of the year. I remember feeling anxious as a child on these days, because Mum often seemed to be in a really bad mood. I recall the fear that I felt waiting for the right point in the day to try and present the gift that I had bought her. More often than I would’ve liked, she seemed hostile and unreceptive. I think this is where my anxiety about gift buying came from.

Perhaps my body is remembering the internalised fear I felt on these days. Fortunately, today was a little easier because my father had organised to take my mother out to a birthday concert. I decided to call my mother this morning to wish a happy birthday, not so much because I felt feelings of love towards her, but because I’d like to be the kind of son that would do that anyway.

The other possible reason for waking up in the headache this morning, was that a friend of mine came around last night to interview me for an assignment that he is doing for a subject on attachment theory as part of the counselling course he is doing. The interview was all about my experience of early childhood, primary school, high school, adolescence and the major factors that impacted my development, such as my family origin, religion, and relationships with other people while growing up.

I wouldn’t say I felt particularly strongly about anything that I talked about, given that this is well trodden ground but I’ve been over and over again and again in the countless hours of therapy and other emotional healing workshops that I’ve done. However, I did notice myself feeling angry whenever I talked about times that I had been shut down, conditioned, bullied, abandoned, rejected, criticised, suppressed, or told to do what other people wanted rather than what I wanted. There were also times when I simply didn’t feel safe around people like my father when he was angry, on my mother when she was launching into vitriolic attacks on other people.

Perhaps there is still some buried anger connected to the tension that I feel in my head most of the time. I’m not exactly sure what to do about that, exploring it seems to just make it worse, and what I really want to do is just move on with my life and leave the whole thing behind.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to really leave my family behind, because birthdays and other family events occur with monotonous regularity, and I don’t feel like celebrations when they are triggering headaches for me.

I don’t feel at all comfortable about resuming my old relationship with my mother, where she felt entitled to say whatever she wanted to me and I had no recourse when I was feeling hurt or upset about what she said. If my body is going to respond with tension headaches every time I see my parents, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

At the same time, I have a very strong sense that I’m really not myself. It’s like the headaches I’m just another way of defining the old comfort zone that I used to live in, that doesn’t represent who I really am. I think a big part of this journey is learning to accept everything about myself, including the parts that I’ve been taught in the past to suppress.

I feel pretty despondent about it all today. But I’m also tired of whining about it, so I’m heading off back to bed. I love that blissful floaty feeling that I get while I’m asleep. I can feel it coming now.

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Yesterday’s Parental Tension Headache

I spent most of yesterday with my parents, and interestingly and painfully, ended up with another cracker tension headache.

It all started out well enough: I had invited my father out for a slightly belated Father’s Day lunch at the local club. Initially I had planned to pick him up from his house, but early in the morning my father rang to tell me that he will meet me at the club instead, and tell me why when we get there.

I turn up to the club and meet my father in the foyer, where he tells me that my mother was rushed to the local hospital by ambulance the night before with chest pains; the main symptom of the suspected heart attack. His description of the proceedings of calling the ambulance, the journey to hospital, and the lack of obvious diagnosis is quite emotionless, and focuses more on the details of the story than on how he or mum feels about being rushed to hospital like that. I’m a little stunned and numb; I think over the years I’ve got used to this emotionless technically detailed level of storytelling from my father.

After telling me that his wife for 50 years in hospital, he notices a freight train go by outside, and starts talking about the type of train it is, and the management of the railways on which runs. I’m pretty sure that he spent more time talking about the train outside the window, than he did about my mother in hospital.

Over lunch, I notice myself becoming increasingly bored and depressed at my father’s detailed yet a emotionless and irrelevant (to me at least) storytelling. The more he drones on and on, the more I feel myself switching off. I sense a depression growing, and feel that I need to do something, fast.

I feel nervous about saying it, but sensing that my mental health is at stake. I say to him: “Dad, I’ve got to be honest with you. I find myself switching off when you tell me stories like that”.

His facial expression changes, and he goes silent. It could just be my paranoia, but I sense that he’s angry. I feel even more nervous; I don’t know what’s going on.

I ask him “Dad, are you okay?”

He says nothing, continuing to eat his veal snitzel lunch. It’s possible that he hasn’t heard me; after all, at 83 years old, his hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. But I’m pretty sure that he’s at least heard me say something, and he’s not asking me what it was. It’s like he’s pretending that our last exchange just didn’t happen; kind of like he does when someone asks him what’s going on when he’s muttering angrily to himself. He just pretends it’s not happening; which I find really unnerving.

He launches off into another story that I can’t remember, which is testament to just how interesting I found it at the time. I say to him “Dad, I’m wondering what’s going on for you?” He looks at me quizzically. “I just made a comment about that last story you were telling, and then asked you if you are okay, but you didn’t say anything.”

Again, no reply.

When my father is angry, he seems to going to this weird mode when he just will not communicate. Even at 47 years old, I still find it really frightening. It’s like he’s pretending that everything that’s going on, isn’t really going on. I never know where I stand when people are pretending like that.

I want to know what’s really going on for him, but I got a very strong sense that he doesn’t wanna talk about it; he just keeps changing the topic as though nothing is happened. No wonder I felt so uncomfortable growing up around this man, given the way that he deals with his emotions. He pretends that they just don’t exist, even when they’re written all over his face.

My father launches off into yet another boring story, and I start sensing an increasing frustration that he’s not asking anything about me: the stories are all about him, and other people of no interest or relevance to me, in excruciating minutia. But then a voice in my head says “Why hassle the guy? I know he enjoys spending time with me, and he is clearly enjoying telling the stories. He’s getting old, and I have limited time with my father now, so I might as well just make the best of it.”

After a little while, I’m surprised to find that he does actually ask something about me: he asks “How is your business is going?” I tell him “I appreciate you asking that. I did a life coach training course a few years ago, but I never really finished it because I never became qualified. So I’ve started working to get my life coaching qualification, and I’m working with a few clients.”

Then he launches back into get another story of his own that appears to have no relevance to the thing we were just talking about. I can see why my mother finds him so frustrating sometimes.

I don’t really know what to do at this point, I sense that if I’m honest with him it’s probably not going to go down all that well.

With lunch done, we both head off to the hospital to visit my mother. I get there first, and after winding down the hospital passages to find ward 8, I find my mother lying almost asleep on the bed. I haven’t seen my mother in almost a year, since we had a big argument that led to me requesting that we introduce some new ground rules in our relationship so I can feel safe around her; ground rules that she refused to accept. Given that she was in hospital with a suspected heart attack, I figured I could put the ground rules request aside for today at least.

My first impression was how much my mother looked exactly like her sister of 10 years older; her hair is greyer, and she looks more frail than when I last saw her.

“Hi Mum”, I say. “Oh, hi Graham”, she replies. Clearly she is glad to see me, and she seems to be in a pretty good mood. I think I like my mother better when she’s sick than when she’s healthy: She is less feisty, and seems safer and less aggressive to me. I’m the other way round: when I’m sick I get really miserable and cranky.

Mum tells me about how she came to be in hospital, and all the doctors, and nurses, and tests that they’ve run. I can hear a sense of disapproval in her voice, and imagine her thinking that the whole hospital system is inefficient and could be improved. Like Dad, there’s more focus on the mechanics of what’s been going on than on how she feels about it all.

I would imagine that if I were in hospital after a suspected heart attack, and the doctors couldn’t find out exactly what was wrong, I’ll be feeling pretty nervous. Maybe she’s on frightened to, but she is certainly not about to tell me.

Dad soon arrives and the three of us get into some light banter. We even start joking around at one point, as Mum and Dad tell me a story about a recent visitor who arrived unannounced and who they really didn’t want. She spent three hours ear-bashing my father outside in the garden, while my mother hid inside the house thinking “She’s really annoying, don’t let her inside the house!”

We all have a good laugh at the idea of annoying people, and how we would just like them to stay away from us. Everyone is in a pretty good mood, and we’re all getting on quite well, especially given that my mother and I haven’t been speaking for the previous year.

My mother isn’t particularly mean or critical to me or my father today. I mention that “I have been really enjoying going body boarding at the local beach” near where I now live, and she responds “What about the sharks?” But that was about the level of the negativity today. For the most part, I think she is just genuinely glad to see me.

Mum says “My hair really needs a wash; I look like such a mess”, and Dad says to me “I find her really attractive.” This is my signal that it’s time to head home. “Well, I’ll just leave you two to it then”, I say awkwardly.

On the way home I feel a mounting tension headache coming on. I had planned to head out that night and do some open mic comedy, but the tension headache put the kibosh on that.

It seems like every time I spend time around my parents, I end up at the cracker tension headache. Even when their behaviour is pretty reasonable, like it was yesterday.

So I’m a little perplexed as to why my body react this way. It reminds me of a childhood friend of mine who developed the CFS in her 30s, and found after she moved overseas that her symptoms got better when she had no contact with her family of origin. She had grown up being the “good girl”, but had some really big issues with her father that hadn’t been dealt with well by her family of origin. “They’re cowards!”, she said referring to her brothers. Name-calling is always a sign of unprocessed anger and I remember in my conversation with her that she still seemed really angry with her father and her brothers. The best explanation I could come up with for why her symptoms would reappear whenever she had contact with the family, was that it was some kind of physical response to her internalised anger.

I have felt a lot of anger towards my parents in the past which I’ve talked over endlessly in therapy, but it’s all old stuff from the past. I felt a little angry with my father over lunch, but my mother’s behaviour this day was pretty reasonable.

It seems as though my body feels differently though. I still don’t feel comfortable telling my parents how I really feel when I’m around them. It just doesn’t feel safe, never really has.

I have read a lot of books on psychology, done a lot of personal development courses, and had a lot of therapy; and I can’t ever really recall anyone talking about physical tension in the body arising in response to anger. But my coaching clients seem to get this to. It seems that if you suppress your anger enough, you can end up feeling the physical sensations (notice how the veins in a person’s neck stand out when they’re really angry) without recognizing the emotion. Makes it kind of hard to process though when you don’t know for sure what it is, or what it’s about.

I find this really frustrating, because I really want to be getting on with my life; and these headaches are a real showstopper when they hit me. I can’t commit to anything, because I never really know if I’ll be OK on the day.

One of my mentors suggested to me recently that the best way to deal with parents like mine is to simply visit them less often for shorter periods of time. I also realize that there are many other people out in the world who are happy to hear how I feel, and don’t respond in ways that I find really triggering. I plan to spend more time with those kind of people.

I got up this morning and belted out a little “Angry Young Man” by Billy Joel on my keyboard, and smashed my drums for a while. I still feel a little tense in the head, but it does feel good to get to anger out, and to be doing something physical. Sure beats the hell out of lying in bed feeling anxious, or angry, or ruminating on how unfair this all is.

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Restless Leg Syndrome?

I decided to start taking drumming lessons last week, and noticed something interesting. My teacher suggested that I try keeping the beat with the heel of my left foot on the floor while playing. I noticed immediately that this was difficult, not just because of the coordination involved, but because my left leg tended to tremble each time I hit it on the ground.

I remember as a kid that my legs felt restless a lot, and I can often remember my mother telling me to “stop jiggling!” while I was sitting near. I just always wanted to get up and move somehow. But, like my emotions, I learned to suppress this physical movement to keep her happy too.

I was just having a look at the Wikipedia entry for Restless Leg Syndrome, and there are several things that I can relate to. One of them is that my feelings of anxiety and restlessness get stronger when I stop moving physically. It’s like my body simply wants to be moving more; which is consistent with the idea that boredom is a big part of what is going on for me. But not just mental boredom, I’m talking physical boredom.

The Wikipedia entry treats Restless Leg Syndrome has an illness to be treated or cured, rather than as an indication that our body actually wants to be doing more activity. It seems as though our bodies have a mind of their own. Now that’s not all that’s surprising, if you’ve ever seen a very young child jump up spontaneously and want to dance, even though they’ve never been taught to dance. It’s just something innate that we seem to want to do; at least until a bunch of adults come along and tell us that it’s not okay.

This morning I started doing the stick exercises on my snare that my drum teacher taught me last week, and began trying to keep the beat with my left heel on the ground. Immediately I found my leg trembling again, and not necessarily at the same pace as the beat that I was trying to keep. So I decided to just let it go; let my leg relax and tremble at whatever speed it wanted. After a while, I found out my other leg wanted to tremble as well; so I just let them both go for it while as I played on the snare.

I have tried the trauma release exercises that David Bercelli recommends in the past, but never found that I was really able to get my legs to tremble in the manner that he describes. However, when I’m sitting at my drum kit pounding my heel into the floor, I can’t help but notice my legs tremble. I’ve always felt that CFS was related to repressed trauma, but now I can see that it’s not just emotional or mental or psychological trauma, it’s a physical thing too.

Now, when my body trembles, I no longer take my mother’s advice of suppressing it; I just let it go. Whether I’m trembling in response to anxiety or excitement about my immediate circumstances, or something else doesn’t really matter. I think the important thing is to stop suppressing on all levels, and learn to just let go.

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My Thoughts on The Lightning Process

A thunderstorm has just passed over my place, so maybe the universe is telling me to answer this question I got via email recently:

Hi, I’ve had this hideous illness since 1998. However, I enjoyed approx 6 years of feeling quite well but with symptoms at times. I could walk up to 3 hours a day and was extremely fit. Four years ago I went through some massive stress that’s still not quite worked out but getting there and relapsed. I’m devastated. The recovery is taking forever and I never saw this coming. One lady I did know very well with CFS claims she is healed by the lightning process. So much so that she’s become a practitioner herself. She says I’m choosing to be sick because I won’t do it too. I’ve read heaps on it and found lot’s of disturbing anecdotes along with positive. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this?

I haven’t done The Lightning Process myself, but a very good friend of mine who has almost completely recovered from CFS has, so I asked him for his thoughts. Here’s his reply:

It has been one of my main influences in a positive way.

Worth the money

And it nicely pulls together a lot of the other stuff I did that I value.

I would recommend it to anyone who feels called…

Between my friend and I, we’ve done just about every physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual therapy out there in order to get well. I’m convinced that the ultimate underlying cause of CFS is overwhelming stress compounded by emotional trauma, being expressed by our body and nervous system.

My understanding is that The Lightning Process is a collection of tools for breaking stressful thought and behavior patterns that led to chronic hyper-activation of our sympathetic nervous system; and all the weird-ass symptoms that result from that.

In previous conversations with my friend, the three things I’ve heard him talk about that appeared most valuable from his experience of The Lightning Process are:

  1. The concept of “positive editing”: reframing every experience that we have to see the beneficial side, and changing the language we use both externally and internally to reflect this. Our nervous system is listening to our thoughts, and some thoughts are more frightening than others. So rather than thinking of it as a “hideous illness”, try thinking of it as an opportunity to learn more about what is really important to you.
  2. Taking responsibility in our thoughts and language for the fact that we created the illness and the symptoms that go with it.
  3. Having a coach. My friend has consistently talked about the benefit of the ongoing coaching that he got after doing the initial Lightning Process training. In fact, my friend is now a transformation coach himself.

I don’t really want to say much more given that I haven’t actually done it myself. I know some people struggle with taking responsibility for their illness, and see this as blaming the victim. I think shifting out of victim mentality is one of the key ingredients to recovering, and for me that means taking action on the things that are important to me. If the Lightning Process helps you do that, then it’s probably a good thing.

Noting that one of the really valuable things to my friend was having a coach, I want to remind you that I’m currently offering 3 months free recovery coaching for people with CFS in return for you filling in 3 monthly surveys. While I’m not trained in The Lightning Process, I believe the tools that I can teach you for dealing with the emotions and stress of being ill are at least comparable, if not better.

I had a first conversation this morning with a new client who has been ill with CFS for 17 years, and immediately identified that she has been internalizing her anger most of her life. I taught her how to express anger constructively, and she’s already starting to see things differently. I also got to see that even though I’m not 100% recovered yet, I have something valuable to offer and can start helping people now.

Three people have already taken up the offer, so I only have 2 coaching slots left. Please let me know if you’re interested.


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Where I’m At With Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining Program

I just had a question via email about where I’m at with the Amygdala Retraining Program, which is what motivated me to kick off this blog in the first place. The truth is, I no longer look at it, although I do still apply some of it’s principles. But I think the hypothalamus hypothesis behind Mickel Therapy is more likely than the amygdala hypothesis behind Amygdala Retraining.

That said, there is a lot of good wisdom about stress management in Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining Program. If you’re confined to bed unable to move, the meditation is likely to be helpful and what the program teaches about the nervous system is probably quite accurate.

I now believe that the key to recovery is listening to your body and doing things that make you feel good physically and emotionally. Lying in bed worrying about how to recover obviously doesn’t qualify as “doing something that makes you feel good”, understandable thought it is. The stop-stop-stop technique didn’t make me feel particularly good either, because it’s monotonous and boring. I suspect that physical boredom is one of the primary emotions that cause us to get stuck in the rut of CFS. We feel bored, our body responds with tiredness, we go have a lie down feeling anxious; which is not very interesting to our body. Then the social isolation this involves just magnifies everything.

If you must lie down, I recommend doing it in a bath so that your sympathetic nervous system gets the stimulation of the water. Just make sure the bath isn’t full enough for you to drown if you’re likely to pass out.

Come to think of it now, the reason Stop-Stop-Stop probably works at all is because you have to get up to do it, so it gets your body moving. I now believe that getting your body moving in more interesting ways is likely to be even more enjoyable, which is why I’m taking off now to play drums and go body-boarding. I’ve been sitting behind this computer long enough today!

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