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.

Continue reading “My Anxious Brain”

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”

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!