Headaches: Overdoing It, Anger/Anxiety and Adrenaline Withdrawl

One of my most distressing symptoms of CFS for me is the tension headache that never really goes away. Another friend recovering from CFS recently mentioned her similar headache, and since I’ve got one right now and I’m in a bad mood, I feel like complaining a bit about it.

Back when I was a computer engineer, I used to get regular migraine-intensity headaches about once a month or so. I would spend hours every day engrossed in a computer screen and often felt a headache coming on in the afternoon. I was so obsessed with my work that I would just push through until the pain was so debilitating that I would need strong painkillers with codeine just to get through the day. Once I got to sleep I would be OK the next day, but if the pain was too intense to get to sleep, it would often escalate until the pain was so excruciating that I would be nauseous and vomit. Vomiting with a migraine was a horrible experience but would usually give me some relief, and then eventually I’d fall asleep.

The next day, I’d feel really groggy but the pain would mostly be gone and I’d be back to work. The day after that it felt like nothing had happened and I’d be back to go go go mode. Then a few weeks later I’d do it all again.

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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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Wisdom from The Inner Game Of Music

I’ve been reading Barry Green & W. Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game Of Music to learn how to calm my nerves onstage for my future career as a comedian/musician. There’s a lot of wisdom in the book about dealing with anxiety and staying present under pressure, and I thought this paragraph was particularly pertinent to recovery from CFS:

When we realise that what at first looks like a stressful or negative experience can be understood as a ‘dissonance’ that can lead to resolution, we can begin to accept the stressful moments and flow with them instead of resisting them. The times that we look back on with the greatest pleasure are often those when we experienced a full measure of obstacles and stresses and were able to bring them to a harmonious resolution. Our goal is to be able to ‘experience our experience’ fully, without classifying it as either bad or good.

Well I don’t know about looking back “with the greatest of pleasure”, but apart from that I think he’s onto something.

Taking up Swimming Lessons

About seven weeks ago I finally got around to taking swimming lessons. It’s something that I had been planning to do ever since moving to live near the beach 18 months ago.

How Hard Can It Be?

There are a number of reasons for this: Firstly, I don’t feel safe in the ocean when I’m out of my depth. Deep down I know that I’m not a good swimmer and whenever I’m in deep water my body responds with a lot of anxiety. I figured that if I knew I could swim confidently I wouldn’t get so anxious about not being able to touch the bottom. I go body boarding a lot and I feel relatively safe with the body board strapped to my arm, but I get caught in rips all the time and I know that if the strap was to break or I lost the board somehow, I’d be in real trouble.

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My Visit to the Dentist

Warning: this post may contain graphic depictions of bodily fluids.

I’ve been slowly working through all the things that I put off because I’ve been sick, to reduce my sense of overwhelm. One of the things that I’ve been putting off for a long time, is going to the dentist to have a regular checkup and clean.

Three things prompted this: the first was simply that I haven’t been to the dentist in many years even before I became ill almost seven years ago, and I certainly haven’t been since.

Secondly, my gums of started to bleed during brushing lately and that bothers me.

Thirdly, the tension headache that I have most of the time tends to move around and often settles in my teeth, either on my upper jaw, my lower jaw or both at the same time. It occurred to me that the symptoms that I have in my head could be related to toothache or gum disease, and I have also heard theories relating migraines and even CFS to dental or orthodontic work; so I thought I should probably check that out.

Going to the dentist has never felt like much fun for me, so I was feeling pretty anxious. My previous experience of dentists had always been pretty painful, and they keep reminding me that the evil guy in The Little Shop of Horrors who chose to be a dentist so he could inflict pain on other people.

I felt like this guy
I felt like this guy

Continue reading “My Visit to the Dentist”

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.

The Pros and Cons of Tai Chi

I recently took up Tai Chi as part of the never-ending quest for better health. Tai Chi seems like the perfect exercise for someone with CFS, because it doesn’t feel like exercise. It’s just a series of slow graceful movements that don’t exactly get your heart racing.

Initially, I started by learning from a video on YouTube. But then I decided to take a course with the Sydney Tai Chi society, so that I could get feedback from an instructor and also hopefully meet some other people who are interested in learning Tai Chi.

I’ve been attending the course for six weeks now. The routine that I’m learning is different from the one in the video, but the underlying concepts are all the same: release stress and tension in the body, and your life force will begin to flow again.

I’ve been practising almost every weekday morning for the past six weeks, down at the southern end of Bondi Beach where there are always people practising yoga, meditation, and tai chi every morning. I almost always feel better after my morning practice.

However, this week I started to notice a growing sense of irritation at the fact the Tai Chi is, well, kind of boring. In a sense, it’s just another thing that I’m trying to do in order to “fix myself”, rather than getting out there and living the life that I would really love to be living right now. And frankly, always trying to “fix myself” bugs the shit out of me.

So while practising Tai Chi this Thursday morning, I started thinking about the Mikel therapy concept of doing what your body seems to be asking for. I was there standing by the ocean doing my slow and graceful movements as the waves rolled in, and I thought to myself “you know, I think what I would really like to be doing right now is going body boarding”. But the water is way too cold for me right now since it’s still winter.

I’ve been meaning to go and buy a wetsuit ever since moving near the beach in Bondi, so that I can still enjoy body boarding in the ocean even on cold days. Another concept I learned from nickel therapy was the idea of doing the things that you’ve been putting off, so I decided that instead of continuing to practice my Tai Chi that morning, I would go to the surf store and buy myself the wetsuit that I wanted.

I came home with a brand-new, top-of-the-line wetsuit which is both flexible and warm, picked up my body board, and headed back to the beach. I had a great time body boarding in the waves, and with a snug fitting new wetsuit, barely noticed the cold water.

Conscious of not wanting to over do it, I also stopped and came home before the shark alarm went off that day. I went back for more body boarding on the Friday, And again came home shortly before the shark alarm went off at Bondi for the second day in a row.

I’ve still got a couple weeks to go before my 8-week Tai Chi course ends, although it doesn’t really end at that point: the instructor says that it takes about 18 months to learn the routine that he is teaching us, and I’ve only done six weeks so far. Frankly, I’d like to do something more exciting with my time.

I get that Tai Chi is great for dealing with anxiety and stress, which I think are key components of CFS. But it’s also a bit of a distraction from living the life that I really want, which I think is the ultimate cure for CFS.

I’ll probably continue to practice Tai Chi from time to time even after the course ends, but rather than doing it religiously every day, I’ve decided to practice it when my body seems to be asking for it.

Otherwise, I’ve adopted body boarding as my daily spiritual practice. Sharks not withstanding.

I Continue To Recover… Gradually

It’s been quite a while since I last posted here, as my continued recovery means I have more time and energy to engage in the life that I want, and less desire to talk about how hard recovering from CFS can be. But I get occasional emails from people who have been following this blog asking how I’m doing, so I thought it was time for an update.

My physical symptoms now resemble a fairly mild cold, and the occasional cough. I no longer push myself into stressful situations that make the cough worse, so it doesn’t bug me so much. I still feel a weird sort of tiredness with a background sense of anxiety that varies from mild to moderate. It’s kind of like the tiredness and the anxiety are playing some kind of dance. It might feel like I need a lie down, but going for a leisurely walk along the beach can work just as well. Other times, I really need the lie down and so I take it.

The other weird symptom I have is a tense feeling in my head, which moves around. Right now it’s in my upper jaw and temples. It’s not exactly painful; sometimes it’s just unpleasant, and other times I can be so engrossed in something I’m doing that I don’t notice it. Perhaps it’s boredom and truly disappears when I’m thoughtfully and physically engaged in some task. It seems to get stronger when I’m feeling angry, and turns into a debilitating headache when I’ve been overdoing things… which I take pains now not to do.

Continue reading “I Continue To Recover… Gradually”

Releasing Anxiety With Zpoint

One of the most challenging symptoms that I experience with CFS is anxiety: it’s like having a moderate panic attack that just doesn’t ever really go away. The intensity varies a bit, but it always seems to be there in the background, ready to rear its ugly head.

Does zpoint really give True Peace Of Mind?
Does zpoint really give True Peace Of Mind?

I recently had a comment from a reader of this blog recommending something called “zpoint”. So I contacted the guy behind it, Grant Connoly, to request a review copy of one of his products. He offered to give me a free session in return for an article about my experience with it, and this is that article.

I can’t claim to be an expert in zpoint after only one session, but a lot of what Grant said during the session really resonated with me. Having grown up in an environment where nobody expressed their emotions cleanly, I learned to suppress, repress and internalise mine. It makes sense to me that CFS hit me after several years of therapy when I started to unlock the roots of my repressed emotions, especially anger; the emotion I’ve forced down the hardest.

Zpoint is a subconscious program for releasing our attachment to repressed emotions; even the ones that we don’t remember or realise are still trapped inside us. This makes sense to me, since emotions operate in our unconscious mind and we don’t generally have direct conscious access to what’s going on down there. Furthermore, emotions have physical sensations attached to them, and it makes sense that if the emotion is trapped in our subconscious, then the sensation will remain trapped in our body too. The relief that we feel from releasing our repressed emotions happens in the body because it releases the associated inner-conflict that causes tightness in the body.

I recall Ashok Gupta’s comment during the Soften and Flow meditation that unpleasant symptoms represent trapped emotions. But the Gupta Program doesn’t go as deeply into this idea as zpoint does.

My best guess is that I’m still carrying some anger in my body, and Grant suggests that if we have a hunch that it’s there, then it probably is there. I notice anger popping into my head a lot when I think about my family, and anger is the flip side of anxiety since they’re both generated in the amygdala which triggers our fight (anger) or flight (anxiety) response. This would explain the tense feeling that I still have in my head most of the time.

Another principle that resonated with me is that when we repress unpleasant emotions like anger, sadness and fear because we don’t want to feel them, we end up suppressing the pleasant emotions like excitement, peace, love and joy too. Learning to release the unpleasant emotions frees us to have more pleasant emotions as an extra bonus. Having felt totally self-conscious about expressing any emotion in the past, this made complete sense to me.

During my zpoint session with Grant, he installed the zpoint program for releasing emotions in my unconscious mind. It consisted of visualising a releasing circle in front of me, and then commanding my unconscious to release any and all emotions into that circle. He then took me through the releasing process, which was very gentle and easy.

The process begins with the facilitator counting down from 10 to 1, and then giving instructions to and asking questions of my subconscious, to release my attachment to any and all emotions it was still carrying. All I had to do was mentally repeat the cue word “Yes”, while Grant directed my subconscious mind to release all the emotions that I have trapped in my mind and body.

Each process took about 6 minutes, and we repeated it several times over a session that lasted almost an hour. Each time we focused on a different issue based on questions Grant asked me. For example, one process focused on releasing the emotions that I have about releasing other emotions.

By the end of the session, Grant said he felt buzzed, and that he knew that meant I was releasing emotions. From his perspective, zpoint was working its magic. I felt calmer, but couldn’t help but notice my rational-minded scepticism encroaching. We put that in the releasing circle too.

I only had one session with Grant, and don’t know how many it typically takes to release a lifetime of emotional repression. The zpoint FAQ says “You should see significant positive results within the first 60 – 90 days”. I’m not new to the whole emotional release thing; I’ve had a great deal of therapy and tried virtually every emotional release process known to man, so I was curious to see how zpoint worked and what it could do for me.

It’s 8 weeks later now, and I do feel calmer, less anxious and less angry. I still use the zpoint program frequently by repeating the cue word “Yes” to myself when I’m feeling really anxious. It also reinforces my belief that the best way to deal with CFS is to accept it, not to fight against it: Say “Yes” to the symptoms, because they have something valuable to teach us. This also seems consistent with the idea behind Mickel Therapy, although Mickel is a bit more proactive about working out what exactly the symptom is trying to say.

Since my zpoint session I’ve also been meditating; using guided relaxations and visualisations; playing music; practising Tai Chi; watching comedy; and finally decided to stop pushing myself and just rest, sleep and relax until my cold-like symptoms go away. So I can’t promise that the improvement is solely due to zpoint, but I do think Grant is onto something and am grateful that he gave up his time so I could learn another way of letting go of anxiety and other distressing emotions.

If you’re finding anxiety difficult to deal with, I recommend checking out zpoint at zpointforpeace.com. Leave a comment letting me know how you go if you try it.