We are not our diagnosis

I’ve found The Sedona Method of “letting go” helpful in dealing with my stress and anxiety about feeling ill for so long. I use it on and off on a daily basis, especially when I feel myself getting anxious about things not being the way that I want them to be. What we resist persists, and I definitely maximise my suffering when I focus on how things aren’t the way I’d like them to be. Resisting causes stress, and stress compromises our immune system. So whether CFS turns out to be purely stress-related or due to some infectious agent or immune system problem, dealing with the stress and emotional stuff that illness brings up is bound to help.

Check out this video from the author of The Sedona Method talking about how we aren’t our diagnosis:

Random Tips For Starting The Gupta Programme

It’s been 3 months today since I started the Gupta programme. It seems to be helping. I just sent an email to a reader who’s about to start, and here are some suggestions from it:

I think the trick is that when you have an increase in energy… don’t do more activity than what you’ve been doing! Give your body the chance to recover instead. Easier said than done though. It will take some time to get started on the programme. Don’t watch more than one session a day; it’s important not to stress yourself out with the program. They cover this in Session 1. There’s also a follow-up DVD, but you won’t need it until you’ve been doing the programme for at least a few weeks.

As far as I’m aware, the damage done by being in permanent fight-or-flight mode is recoverable. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that CFS sufferers age more quickly than anyone else. So once the adrenaline is switched off, you recover back to how you normally feel at whatever age; but your fitness will be shot because you stopped exercising. That’s recoverable too though; just don’t dive in too quickly to exercising again. You want to be really sure that you’re health is better first before working on your fitness.

I tried changing my diet, but never saw any difference with anything I did. Except that when I did the Liver Cleansing Diet and totally upped my fruit and vegetable intake, I had particularly flowing bowel movements! I eat a bit healthier now that I did before CFS, but I don’t really watch what I eat that much. I’ve gone non-dairy since starting the Gupta programme because I wanted to do everything he recommended. Going non-dairy before never made any discernible difference to me though. I think it’s stress related rather than diet related, with the proviso that a bad diet exacerbates stress and probably has a negative effect on the condition.

Alcohol makes me feel really whacked. I never did respond really well to it; just made me woozy and hard to focus my eyes, rather than uninhibited. Now I avoid it almost completely. The occasional red when I’m out socialising, or chocolate liqueur when I’m feeling rebellious is it. I avoid all exercise. I’ll go for a walk with a friend, but avoid getting my heart rate up. I’ll put energy into getting my fitness back when my health is back. I lowered my food intake to compensate so I don’t put weight on. I was going to the gym 3x per week, and dancing every other night when I got ill.

I’ve been on the Gupta programme for 3 months today. I have 3 months to go until the minimum recommended 6 months. I seem to be getting a bit better; mainly less tense. I’m hoping that means my body is starting to recover, and I’ll be less tired. I’m also axing some commitments that have been causing me extra stress, even though I quite enjoyed them when I felt OK. Doing too much pushes me into overwhelm, where things I normally enjoy suddenly become stressful and unpleasant.

I did a scene in acting class tonight, where we’re encouraged to base our scenario on something true that affects us in our lives. In mine, I was going on a road trip because I was going stir-crazy sitting at home being ill. The teacher asked what was wrong, and I slightly-reluctantly said I’d had Chronic Fatigue for two years. He asked “God, how do you deal with that?” and my answer was something along the lines of: “I’m not!”

I think all this stuff is linked, and my new life of creativity since ditching my Engineering career is an important part of being OK with who I’m meant to be. In addition to Gupta, I’m also doing an acting course which is helping me break out of holding my emotions in, including anger. It’s not meant to be therapy, but it is very therapeutic. I’m also going to explore psychodrama as another way of finding expression for my anger. And I’m working on even better social skills to lessen my social anxiety; I don’t think we’re built to work in isolation, and there’s only so far you can get with inward-looking therapy. At the end of the day, we need to be able to relate to other people in order to stay psychologically, mentally, and, as it turns out, physically healthy. The more I learn about and experience mental health problems, the more I see the link to emotional repression. It just makes me want to scream. 😉

I’ve been getting some great feedback on my writing here on this blog and elsewhere; I have a dream of being a professional writer. Or musician. Or comedian. Or public speaker. Indecision! I suspect the whole amygdala thing is at the root of that. Or at least, that’s my current excuse!

I’m looking forward to the big pagan festival this weekend, and a bit of down time. Plus catching up with a friend or two. Should be good. If anyone else with CFS wants to chat on Skype any time, my address is graham.a.stoney . I often find talking to other sufferers really encouraging. It’s so good not having to explain what you’re going through; you just need to pick the ones who still have a positive outlook about the whole thing. We’re out there!

Painful Vulnerability

Nothing triggers my emotional insecurities like a pretty girl who appears disinterested in me. There’s one such girl in my Toastmasters club. Let’s call her Liz. She’s extraordinarily pretty, intelligent, slim, shy and endearing. Shy and endearing look pretty attractive on a girl. When she turned up to a club meeting a few months ago, I fell for her the moment I met her.

So I went along to Toastmasters last night. I’m president of my club, so I always feel a tiny bit extra special there, and it’s usually an enjoyable evening. The role of the president is to learn the skill of delegation, so I actually do the least work of any committee member. Last night I sat next to Liz. We ended up going head-to-head in the impromptu speaking debate on whether long or short hair is better. Having just had my head shaved, I spoke for short hair. She won. I even voted for her.

Liz is sweet and friendly… but I think disinterested. I occasionally thought I was getting some positive vibes from her and have made a couple of attempts to connect with her outside of Toastmasters meetings. When she split from her boyfriend late last year, I thought I might get to know her better. But when I recently invited her to come to a musical with me, she said she was “busy that night”; as opposed to “busy that night, but could we go another night?”. I know she’s not the most assertive person (that’s why people go to Toastmasters!), but I figured if she was interested she’d be giving me a few more positive signals.

I tend to get stuck on girls I really like who don’t seem interested in me. Perhaps there is something in me that likes a challenge. Or maybe it’s just my subconscious desire to endlessly reproduce the emotional abandonment of guess-which-parent. Either way, I feel really drawn to Liz, and keep thinking I should invite her to something else or trying to connect… while also thinking to just play it cool. I know I’ll be disappointed if/when she hooks up with someone else. I’m still working on developing my “abundance mentality” when it comes to appealing women, a.k.a. plenty of fish in the sea. There are several attractive girls in my acting class who I get to interact with at rehearsals, who also seem really sweet and appear more interested in being friends with me. I could just hook up with one of them. Somehow the thought of rejection by someone I really like causes this sick-in-the-stomach feeling for me. I know all the theory of handling rejection by not taking it personally, but when it comes to putting it into practise with a girl I’ve fallen for, it’s a different story. And a guy in my class who bought my book on attracting women sent me an email asking how to ask this girl he’s interested in out… I totally feel for him, much more than he realises.

I feel really envious for other guys who don’t seem to have this same painful vulnerability. They seem to just go through life without being affected by this sort of shit like I do. However, I’m getting to see in my acting class that other people have the same insecurities as me: the method we’re learning is totally self-exposing and based on being very real. It’s not actually “acting” at all, so I do get to see what’s going on for other people. And at the meditation retreat last week, it turned out that everyone was struggling but we just didn’t know what other people were going through, because we weren’t allowed to talk to each other. It’s a bit similar in our society where guys aren’t allowed (or rather, don’t allow themselves) to talk to each other about what’s really going on in their lives. So we don’t know “Oh, you go through that too eh?”

Last night I had a dream that Liz and I were at this huge nudist event, giving each other a big, close, naked hug. No doubt the scene was inspired by my memory of the recent Spencer Tunick shoot I participated in, but god that hug in my dream felt good. Not so good after I woke up and realised that it wasn’t real. All of this stuff goes on in the emotional centre of the brain, so I have no idea what impact it has on my CFS symptoms and the whole amygdala retraining recovery process. Should I abstain from any thoughts of emotional involvement with women? Or is it actually better for me to be feeling and expressing emotion? My exercise from acting class is to practise becoming more emotionally effected by things, not less. At the moment I’m a bit of a robot. Always have been, and I figure this internalised stress is what’s caused the illness in the first place. It would be nice to have a supportive partner but I dunno about the whole relationship thing. And I need to find a girl I like who also likes me; that’s always the dilemma.

I felt exhausted after breakfast today, and went back to bed. I remind myself that if my body feels exhausted, then rest is the top priority. It’s not a bad thing to spend a morning in bed; thus I avoid the anxious thoughts about it. I’ve been feeling less exhausted than usual lately and mainly just having the nasal drip and cough symptoms. They get worse when I don’t rest. I have to constantly remind myself not to take on new stuff, and to say “no” to things I want to do that will over-stretch me. I felt good at Toastmasters, and thought “maybe I will do those story-telling speeches I had planned after all”. But then I end up committing to things that don’t go so well when the time roles around and I’m exhausted.

I watched Session 2 again today, and got back into the meditation CD. I think it’s all working. Slowly. If you’re reading and have comments, I’d love to hear ’em.

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.