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.
Continue reading “Loneliness and My New Men’s Group”
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.
Continue reading “Guilt; Cultural, Family and Religious Conditioning”
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.
Continue reading “The Meaning Of Life Experiment”
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.
Continue reading “Why I Highly Recommend Yin Yoga”
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.
Continue reading “Using Assertiveness To Release Anger & Stress”
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.
Continue reading “Guided Self-Compassion and Asking For Support Meditation”
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:
Continue reading “My Top Ten Songs For CFS”
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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.
Continue reading “Taking Up Yoga”
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.
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.