What I’m Up To These Days: Music & Comedy

A few years ago when I was still struggling to get out of bed, I decided that once I recovered from CFS I would become a comedian. I was experiencing constant misery and wanted to create as much joy in the future as I could. I had no idea how I was going to do stand-up comedy when I was having trouble just standing up, but it gave me a goal to work towards that would hopefully improve my health but wasn’t illness-related.

I realised that social isolation was compounding my anxiety and possibly perpetuating my illness, so I looked around for some kind of course I could do that would get me out of the house and connect me to other creative people who weren’t physically ill. I did a stand-up comedy course a couple of years ago but it only lasted a few weeks so it didn’t do much for my social isolation. I wasn’t well enough at the time to do regular comedy gigs which are normally in the evening, so I looked for something else to focus on.

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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.

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I Quit!

It’s my birthday today, and I’ve decided it’s time to make a few changes in my life. Principally, I’m quitting my mostly-full-time job of working on recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome so I can focus on other things; like having a great life!

My symptoms are relatively mild now: anxiety, tension in my head, runny nose and tiredness mostly in the afternoons. But they’re not so incapacitating now. Having an afternoon siesta a few days a week seems to work for me now; perhaps I should move to Spain or something? I haven’t had one of those killer headaches in a while, touch wood, and so long as I get a decent sleep at night and don’t go out more than 4 or so nights in the week, I can keep them at bay.

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Starting a Colon Cleanse Lemon Detox Today

It’s been a while between updates, and I’ve been off doing every course I can find to let go of emotional baggage. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever end; I seem to have a deep wound at my emotional core that I can’t quite get to the bottom of, and a lot of things I want to do these days is triggering it. Physically, I still feel like I have a cold and right now I feel a little zoned out and have a very slight headache. I’ve just returned from a road trip to Melbourne for the comedy festival and while I was there I spent most of the daytime sleeping at the Youth Hostel. I feel better physically when I rest and do nothing; although psychologically it’s rather numbing and I feel like I want to be out doing something productive and creative.

One of the courses I did recently was a public speaking training course led by Shaune Clarke, who has recovered from chronic fatigue. He told me that he was at death’s doorstep and spent a fortune on treatments, none of which worked… Until he came across colon cleansing. He recovered and started speaking about alternative health based on his personal experience. I’m skeptical of the whole cleanse thing, but it seems worth a try, so I’m starting today. I found details of a Lemon, Maple Syrup and Cayenne cleanse online that sounds the same as what Shaune described to me.

The cleanse will take 7 days during which all I’ll be ingesting is the lemonade mixture. No other food or drink. I plan to stay home and rest as much as possible during it. I won’t be going out socialising. I have a bunch of MP3s and audio books I want to listen to. Hopefully by the end I’ll be feeling healthier, more motivated, and have a clearer direction of what I want to do. I’m told fasting is an emotionally cleansing experience as well, since it brings your issues to the surface. That’s why many religious traditions include it. We’ll see how that goes. To reward myself, I’ve booked into a Theatrical Improvisation course that starts a week later which should be great fun.

I’ll post an update each day to let you know how I’m doing…

Experimenting with Exercise

The last time a felt really well was back in March 2008, over two years ago. Ever since then, I’ve had these damn cold/flu-like symptoms. But about a year before that, I had similar symptoms for about 4 months. At the time, my psychologist suggested I join a local gym and start doing some muscle-building exercise to strengthen my immune system. It worked a treat: within about two weeks of starting regular exercise, I was back to 100% health. I kept it up for about a year, and only stopped going when I nearly passed out during a personal training session due to this fatigue illness.

For the last couple of years, every time I’ve exercised, I’ve had the dreaded post-exertional malaise; which is a fancy way of saying I’ve felt really dreadful the next day. I tried going dancing one night a week, but found I’d spend the whole next day (and sometimes more) in bed recovering; so although I loved dancing, eventually I gave it up. I decided that any exercise was bad news really; it seemed to do more harm than good.

But I can’t help remembering that last time I was frantically trying to get my health back, exercise did work. So I’ve decided to try an experiment. I’ve bought some dumbells, and started doing some bicep and tricep curls. I’m not going to do anything aerobic; just muscle-building work. I’ve gone back on the protein powder I used to use while I was at the gym too. If nothing else, having stronger arm muscles should give me a psychological boost since I’ll feel less weak. And who knows, maybe it’ll work some immune system magic.

I’m also trying a range of supplements, including ProBoost recommended on the Chronic Sore Throat blog comment thread. Aside from that, I’m focusing my efforts on developing my dream story-telling/speaking/comedy career, which I find sufficiently engaging that I don’t worry about my symptoms… I worry about my being successful at my career instead! I live in interesting times.

Focus focus focus

Well I had a really interesting weekend at a Toastmasters district conference here in Sydney. I was particularly inspired by two world champions of public speaking who attended, and it reignited my enthusiasm for the whole public speaking thing. One of the places I feel in my element is in front of people, making them laugh and inspiring them with some sort of message, and I’d love to turn this into a career.

I feel frustrated that I’ve hit a road-block when it comes to feeling ill all the time. I don’t really feel like I can just sit here and wait for it to pass, because I have no idea how long that’s going to take. On the other hand, I get overwhelmed when I think about what I need to do in order to get where I want to go, especially when I can only head there at 50% speed. Sometimes I think a lack of focus and direction are just adding to my sense of fatigue, since it’s easier to feel depressed and hopeless when I’m not “heading somewhere”. Yeah, I know our sense of self-worth is supposed to be innate rather than based on our achievements and contributions to others; but I do feel a whole lot better when I’m making a difference in the world than when I’m not. Problem is when I push myself too hard into overwhelm, I end up resentful of the whole goddam situation and of other people – even though it’s not their fault.

I went to acting practise last night, which wasn’t a brilliant idea given that I was tired after the conference, which only ended that afternoon. But I do really enjoy it, and it did give me a lift. The weird thing about this fatigue is that it makes life very un-enjoyable on the one hand, yet imposes a limitation that reminds me just how much I do enjoy many aspects of life which are currently closed off to me. I wanna hang around so I can enjoy them again in the future, and I have to focus and prioritise which ones I can do right now since I can’t do them all.

I woke up feeling a bit wrecked this morning; maybe a 4/10. I took some Sudafed and that should get me up to about 6/10, which ought to be enough for me to head to this afternoon’s class. Anything about about a 5 is relatively functional.

I want to pursue a career as a communicator/comedian/writer, but it’s going to take time. Of course I want it now now now. Since starting the Gupta programme I’d been thinking “I’ll put that off until I’m better”; but I’m not so sure that’s a good idea since it leaves me feeling even more stuck and I have no idea when that’s going to be. It’s a matter of balancing the stress I feel from “not going anywhere” against the stress I feel from pushing myself too hard when I’m ill.

I’m going to drop one of the acting classes I’m doing next term, and take up a camera class instead, so I can get comfortable in front of a lens. It should also allow me to restructure my week so that I have time to prepare some speeches for Toastmasters too, which will get me back on track with the public speaking. Meanwhile, I think I’ll be living on Sudafed for the time being…

Emotional Stress and Chronic Fatigue

This is an edited excerpt from an email I sent to a reader asking whether the treatment in the Gupta program worked.

After trying a bunch of other treatments and listening to crackpot theories from many quarters, I’m convinced that Ashok Gupta has hit the nail on the head with his amygdala hypothesis. CFS seems to be a self-perpetuating stress response where the body wears itself out by being stuck in permanent fight-or-flight mode. I can now see many warning signs in the years before I got ill which I either ignored or didn’t deal with successfully. I had no idea that stress could bring on an illness like this, but now I sure believe it can.

There are several components to the program, but it’s principally a thought-stopping technique plus meditation, plus supportive encouragement. I have the attention span of a small gnat (which just contributes to emotional stress… it’s all tied in somewhere), and I’m starting to wonder about the thought-stopping technique myself. But there are times when I can almost feel the squirt of a adrenaline into my system when I have a pessimistic or worrying thought; they’re not good for you! So part of the problem is me just getting lazy and going “Stop-stop-stop probably doesn’t work… why bother doing it anyway”. Well maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t… it seems worth a try. That’s why I set up my blog… so people would remind me to keep at it. Last night I was fantasising about recovering fully and writing a book about my experience to convince other people that this whole thing is stress-related.

At the same time, I’m also looking at other ways to break the adrenaline cycle. The usual cures for stress should work; anything that lessens emotional stress either about being ill or about life in general ought to help. I’m looking at comedy, laughter, and other avenues of self-expression like music. I repress my anger, and I’m doing an acting course to help me get over it. I had an argument at 3am with a sort-of-girlfriend who stayed over, and god it felt good to actually tell her I was pissed off with her even if I was on shaky ground. I judge my emotions waaaaay too harshly, and I’m learning to say “look, this is how I feel… that’s just how it is”. I’m having a look at psychodrama. I start a 10-day meditation retreat on Wednesday. I’m not going in for any further medical treatments though; I think the continual search for a treatment is just another symptom of the condition.

My skeptical side hears Gupta talking about subconscious thoughts jumping up to consciousness where we have the opportunity to challenge them, and goes “sounds like bullshit to me”. But I get a fair bit of email from people who have made massive strides with the Gupta program where nothing else has worked for them. My symptoms were/are relatively mild (no physical pain, utterly devestating as opposed to complete and utter annhialation of anything resembling a normal live) so it’s hard for me to say anything has changed dramatically yet. I spent all Saturday and most of Sunday in bed either asleep or exhausted, but I wouldn’t class myself as ever having been really bed-ridden. I often overlook the positives and it’s early days yet.

I feel much much worse when I don’t rest. My throat feels sorer, and my breathing much more laboured; and that’s when I find it hardest. And by rest, I mean lie down pretty much whenever I’m tired. Which is all the time.

Many people embark on a graded exercise program, and I’d be interested to hear how they go. I haven’t tried a formal program, but every time I’ve exercised in the past, I’ve felt truly terrible afterwards. Perhaps I overdid it every time, but my thinking now is that we feel tired because our bodies actually are worn out and need rest. They don’t recover properly because we’re still in fight-or-flight mode, but the rest is still essential. The general rule is that exercise is good for you… but I doubt it’s so great after you’ve just run a marathon! We’re running marathons in our sleep. My impression is that the graded exercise concept is based on the idea that we somehow adjust psychologically to being tired and unfit, and need to be shaken out of it with more activity. I don’t buy it. I don’t think this is consistent with the amygdala hypothesis, where we actually are physically exhausted and in need of rest. I sometimes wonder whether any proponents of graded exercise have suffered from the condition. But like I say, I have no formal experience of it.