Ice Skating and Skateboarding

Summer here in Sydney seems to be dragging on and on; which is fine with me, being a warm weather kind of guy. But now that the water at the beach is just a bit too cold for bodyboarding, I’ve taken up ice skating and skateboarding to get me through till next summer.

I go ice skating once a week for about an hour and a half. I used to ice skate when I was a teenager, so it’s fun getting back into the swing again. It took a couple of weeks to really feel comfortable on the ice again, during which time I managed to take out a cute figure skater by running straight into the back of her, and crashed into the barriers quite inelegantly several  times. I notice the fine balance muscles in my feet are getting quite a workout as they regain strength. After a session I feel a little tired, but then feel really energized after a quick rest.

When I’m not doing that, I ride my skate board about 3 or 4 times a week. I’m still learning so this is a bit scary, but I really enjoy it. I notice that my balance is much better when I crouch down, and this also makes pushing a lot easier for riding up hills and along flats. When I start going too fast, I jump off and run out to a stop. This is definitely working my gluts out; I can feel the burn the next day. But it’s a good burn. 🙂

My band has a gig this Saturday night, so I’m also hitting the drums quite a bit. The music we play isn’t really my cup of tea, so I tend to practise other songs than the ones we’re going to perform. I think I need to get me a new band.

When I’m not ice skating, skate boarding or drumming, I’m playing tennis about 4 times per week. So life is pretty good; I’m probably about 80-90% recovered physically. In many respects I’m probably way fitter and exercise significantly more than most 45 year old guys.

Late afternoons are still challenging and I don’t go out at night much, preferring to stay home and get to bed nice and early, around 10PM. My main symptoms now are a constant mild anxiety and tension in the head and teeth.

I’ve been exploring the Alexander Technique and noticing how much tension I habitually hold in my body, especially my neck and throat. I notice when I consciously relax my throat muscles while speaking, my voice is much deeper and more resonant. I suspect that’s my natural voice, and my normal slightly whiny voice is the result of years of holding tension. I don’t really expect the Alexander Technique to help with CFS, but I do think it’ll be handy in my future career as an actor/comedian.

I’m planning a long road trip later in the year; it’ll be the first holiday I’ve had in 6 years where I’ll actually feel well enough to really enjoy it. I feel pretty burned out with my current health-focused lifestyle to be honest so I’m looking forward to the break, but I’m also very grateful that I’m not lying in bed feeling comatose much of the time now.

I hope you’re on the road to recovery too. 🙂

I Will Not Be Running A Marathon When I Have Recovered

It seems that running a marathon is the gold standard when it comes to proof of recovery after Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Well not for me. I will not be running a marathon any time soon, preferably ever. And certainly not by choice.

I’m currently staying at my sister’s place in Canberra after completing another week-long emotional healing bootcamp and entrepreneur training course with Beyond Success. Yesterday I went out for some exercise and with my drumkit and bicycle back in Sydney and no willing tennis partners available, I decided to go out for a run. Thought it would be a great opportunity to explore some of the walkways that criss-cross through my nation’s fine capital.

I don’t normally go running as I find it mind-bogglingly boring; and I am attempting to avoid boredom as much as possible. After the novelty wore off, I thought “it is pretty boring, but it’s definitely working out muscles in my legs that tennis and drumming does not”.  I ran and walked for a couple of hours down paths that wandered about five kilometers through neighboring suburbs, around a water quality control lake and back home again.

When I got back home, I found that the keys to my sister’s house weren’t in my pocket. I was sure they were there when I left… but not any more. They must have fallen out along the way. I checked the car, I checked my room, I triple checked the empty pockets. Damn.

Continue reading “I Will Not Be Running A Marathon When I Have Recovered”

Playing Tennis and Even Squash

Time for a fitness update: for the last couple of months I’ve been having tennis lessons and playing regularly during the week. This means I can play for a couple of hours at a time without feeling exhausted. In fact, I feel pretty good after a game. One of the guys from tennis even invited me to join him in a game of squash, so last weekend I played squash for about an hour and a half too. Against two guys about 15 years younger than me. Their game was more strategic than mine, meaning that I spent a lot of time running all over the court. One of the guys remarked that I “had more stamina than both of them combined”. So all that morning exercise must really be helping.

I’ve also been going to the beach to go bodyboarding every day that I can, which tends to work out at about once a week. The weather is getting too cold now though, so I doubt I’ll be doing much more bodyboarding for the forseeable future.

When I’m not out playing tennis or bodyboarding, I’m often playing my drums or going cycling. So yeah, I’m pretty goddam fit now. Probably more fit than the average 45 year old.

That’s the good news. Of course there’s bad news too though; well, no bad than before but just not a whole heap better. I still have a tense feeling in my head most of the time, and feel anxious a lot… to the point where it becomes debilitating.

I’ve noticed during exercise that I’ll often suddenly feel kind of nauseous and start throwing up; but I’m not vomiting anything from my stomach. It’s all coming from my head. And it’s not like I’ve over-exerted myself when this happens; it seems to be just the movement of tension in my head and body that does it. The other day I felt really tense in my teeth, and found myself heaving while cleaning my teeth. Oddly enough I’d just had lunch yet nothing from my stomach came up. It’s like the nausea I used to feel when I’d get really bad migraines way before I had CFS; after throwing up the tension releases and the pain would subside. Never heard anyone else talk about this before. I wonder if it’s related to some kind of trauma release.

I wake up feeling pretty good these days; not as good as I feel in my dreams, but reasonably OK. Then at about 4pm it’s crash time; for some reason I just feel wretched around then: very anxious and tense more than physically tired, but I almost always feel like I need to just go and lie down.

I recall Leigh Hatcher talking about this in his book I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell… which, in a freaky coincidence, I read purely out of interest about a year before falling ill myself. But while he put it down to his body running out of fuel, I reckon it’s some sort of emotional/nervous/body rhythm thing. It seems to happen every day regardless of what I eat; but it doesn’t tend to happen if I’m around people I like doing something I find very engaging. Or perhaps I just don’t notice it then.

Yesterday it hit me particularly badly. I went to bed about 4pm and got up again feeling relatively OK around 7pm. Problem is, this really messes with my lifestyle. Perhaps I should just quit my whining given that I now have a relatively functional 12 hours of waking life each day, but last night I just lay on the couch watching TV thinking: “I’m fucked… I really am fucked”.

Not to get too philosophical about it or anything… no bugger that, I think I will: look, we’re all fucked anyway. Eventually we all die. Doesn’t matter if you have CFS/ME/Rabies/Whatever-your-chosen-form-of-suffering. The Buddhists are right: all living things suffer. It’s not meant to be a depressing realization but a compassion-inducing one. Everyone is struggling with something they wish would just hurry up and fuck the hell out of their lives. Mine just happens to be this, and I get all upset and annoyed when I think about the handbrake it puts on my potential future. So I try to live in the moment instead.

I promise to stop whining soon. My tennis coach has some weird physical and mental handicap like cerebral palsy or something, and he seems pretty happy. We’re both big fans of Anchorman, so we walk around joking about our glass cases of emotion. I’ve never seen anyone serve the way he does, with his back arched all over the place. It’s amazing he can get the damn thing over the net. He can sure hit the ball though!

I definitely suffer more when I dwell on how much I’m suffering. I don’t suffer when I’m bodyboarding and some huge wave comes up to scare the bejesus out of me; I’m too busy trying not to drown. Or when I’m engrossed in thrashing some tennis partner. Or playing drums. But then, it’s not even 2pm yet so I’m still in a relatively functional frame of mind. Ask me again in a few hours.

I’m also really bored shitless living where I’m living. I want to move closer to the beach for next summer. In order to do that, I’ll need an income of some sort. Becoming a famous comedian is unlikely to happen given that I’m wiped out in the evening when gigs are on, and I’ve lost my sense of humour lately anyway. I might be able to get some acting work… and like that’s not competitive or anything. There’s always engineering to go back to if I’m starving, but solving technical problems doesn’t grab me any more. Something is bound to come up… and if not, I’ll just do the deep breathing thing. Anxious… argh!

I’ve been trying to do that gratitude thing lately too, where you think of all the good things you’ve got going for you instead of the bad shit that’s going down. So I’m grateful for you reading this post, and even more grateful if you’d leave a comment so I don’t feel so goddam lonely here blogging away by myself.

Just Started Tennis Lessons

Hot on the heals of my recent insight into Mickel Therapy’s hypothalamus theory, I’ve recently signed up for tennis lessons. I exercise every morning now, but up until now I have always done it alone which isn’t likely to alleviate feelings of boredom and loneliness. So I decided to pick a social sport that I could do instead, and tennis seems like a good choice.

I used to play soccer when I was a kid, but I always ran myself into exhaustion. I played volleyball a few years before falling ill, but it’s hard on the knees and I kept spraining thumbs which isn’t what I want now that I’m a musician.

So I picked tennis, and found that a local community college runs lessons at 8am on Saturday morning which is perfect for having me up and exercising early in the morning. I’m still pretty limited in how many evenings I can spend out but for the most part I have a fairly normal life now and rarely feel like I need to spend a whole day in bed. Sundays are my rest day when I take it easy and don’t consciously do any exercise. I figure even a healthy body needs time to regenerate.

Maybe Mickel Therapy Isn’t Complete Bullshit After All

I had a go at Mickel Therapy a couple of years ago, but gave up because:

  • I had difficulty identifying the onset of any particular symptom, which is key to the process. My symptoms remained pretty much constant, aside from an intense tiredness hitting in the afternoon. None of the actions I took every had an immediate impact on the symptom I was experiencing at the time, which left me feeling pretty hopeless about the process.
  • The primary emotion I was experiencing was anger, and Mickel Therapy didn’t appear to have a tool for dealing with anger unless it arose in response to something. I felt angry pretty much all the time.
  • The one thing I could identify that triggered anger was my therapist using a facile analogy of sitting on a pin to describe why it was important to identify the trigger and deal with it. Of course if you’re sitting on a pin, you don’t just sit and meditate on the pain you’re in… you pull out the fucking pin. But when you’re sitting on a pin you know exactly where the problem lies so it’s easy to identify the solution. CFS wasn’t like that for me. My therapist trotted out this ridiculous analogy every time we talked, so my strategy for dealing with that emotion was to quit talking to him.

So I gave up. However, I did continue to implement the 3 assertiveness keys, and to look for ways to process emotions that came my way. In particular I remembered Fleur telling me that she realized by doing MT that she was basically bored. So I started riding my bicycle in the afternoons instead of going to bed, then going to an acting class right around the time I usually felt most tired. Or hanging out with a friend in the afternoon. Or going to the beach to go body boarding. Interestingly, when I did these things I didn’t feel so tired; or at least I didn’t notice it, and didn’t spend time obsessing over it. I’ve also continued to do things I love, like playing music, and to plan more of them every day.

I’ve also been applying some of the principles I learned in the Gupta Program, like meditating every day and going for a walk in nature. I live near bushland, and spend at least an hour each day bushwalking, or just sitting and meditating. Over time, I’ve found my mind is much calmer now and I’m not so anxious. I also exercise first thing in the morning, something my naturopath put me onto in an effort to reduce my night-time cortisol levels so I could get some restorative sleep. My Mickel Therapist had suggested that I not do any other therapy at the same time, and I sort of ignored his advice as I was taking what seemed like the best advice from all over the place. Perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea.

The other day I went cycling in the morning with another friend of mine who has recently done The Lightning Process, and found it significantly increased his energy levels. Along the way we stopped at a beach where I had a swim. I’m not a great swimmer as I’ve never been comfortable putting my face under water; even snorkeling causes me to panic over whether I’ll be able to breathe. So I tried swimming “properly” with my face under the water for a few strokes; something that used to cause me great anxiety as a kid. After a minute or so of doing this in shallow water, I stood up and felt so disoriented, I couldn’t walk straight. I felt nauseous for about the next hours, as if I’d been spun around until I felt sick. I thought I was going to throw up.

Now I can’t explain this purely in terms of fight/flight/freeze response. Nor have I ever been fully comfortable with Gupta’s explanation of the amygdala triggering flu-like symptoms. I just don’t get how that could happen; it doesn’t have that level of control. But the hypothalamus does; it’s in control of just about everything. When I stuck my head under the water, my best guess is that an oversensitive amygdala triggered an oversensitive hypothalamus leading my body to go all out of wack.

So perhaps Gupta and Mickel are both right, and the amygdala and the hypothalamus are both overstimulated; but while lots of the therapy I’ve been doing has been amygdala focused (like dealing with past trauma), it probably came at the expense of retriggering the hypothalamus. It seems to me that since the physical symptoms are the most distressing, the most important thing is to calm down the hypothalamus; and let the amygdala calm down by itself. Or perhaps Mickel Therapy calms them both down by removing the emotional stimulus.

I’m off into speculation land now, but the main learning for me is to stop doing things that scare me, in my attempts to deal with anxiety by expanding my comfort zone. The one exception to this is stuff that contributes directly to my future career, since financial stress is one thing that contributes to anxiety. I also feel even more committed to finding things that I love to do, and doing more of them, so that my amygdala is only ever sending feel-good signals to the hypothalamus.

If everyone else in the world could just join me in this plan, perhaps we can have world peace without me having to win a beauty contest.

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.

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.