Happy 2011, and an update

Hey folks,

Well it’s been a long time between updates, but I thought I’d drop in to wish you all a Happy 2011.

This year has been pretty rough at times, but I seem to be recovering gradually. There is hope on the horizon. On a bad day it may feel like wishful thinking, but I don’t think so.

Most of my energy in 2010 was taken up with a very demanding acting course, which another friend with Chronic Fatigue recommended as a way of unlocking my blocked emotions. Wow, it was a blast. High highs, and low lows. Plus I got to meet a really inspiring group of people who are pursuing their dreams. I’ll always be grateful for the friend who put me onto it. Did it make me better physically? I’m not so sure, but it was a great experience and I do seem a bit more energetic than when I started the year.

In lieu of any better explanation, I’m going along with Gupta’s amygdala hypothesis that the underlying problem is really anxiety. It seems to fit my symptoms, especially the panic attacks and frequent anxiety overwhelm. I suspect I got more out of doing Path of Love than I did out of doing the Gupta program though, and I’m going to continue to pursue avenues for emotional catharsis, reducing anxiety and eliminating shame through exposure in loving environments.

I’ve spent the last 4 months working on The Confident Man Project, which is now mostly in maintenance mode. There will always be more stuff I can do on it, but I have many other projects in mind to complete. I tend to jump from one thing to another rapidly without settling, which makes it difficult to see anything through to successful completion. I think the more emotional healing work I do, the closer I get to being my true self, and the clearer my plan for the future should become.

One minute I want to be a rock star, the next a famous writer, the next a stand-up comic, and then some sort of life coach. Fear of failure and the amount of effort involved in anything creative to become successful has me blocked. I feel stressed due to a lack of clear direction, but in the mean time I keep working on existing projects. Maybe one day I’ll feel satisfied just “being” without having to “do”; but I want to make a contribution and I want to be rewarded financially. That’s not gonna happen just sitting back meditating all day, even if I did have the patience for it.

Anyway, life is pretty good. I’m not so depressed these days, and less anxious lately. Sharing how I really feel with other people has been tremendously valuable in this regard, as has learning to express my anger and stand up for myself more. It’s all hard work when I’m feeling fatigued, but that hasn’t been so bad lately, so I feel optimistic.

Be kind to yourselves, and be real with other people folks. If people accuse you of negative thinking when expressing frustration, grief or upset at being ill, tell ’em to take a hike. We will get better. Hang in there…

Cheers,
Graham

I thought I was Anxious, but actually I’m Angry!!!

I cried myself to sleep last night; the mood swings were really getting to me, and I just felt really depressed about how stuck I feel being ill much of the time. Lee’s advice yesterday to put my dreams on hold and avoid pushing on with the help of medication, while valid and helpful, sounded depressing. Who wants to have dreams on hold? I went to bed feeling like crap. I hadn’t cried in ages, so it felt good to have a bit of emotional release.

I had weird dreams all night, and woke up feeling really anxious. I have a morning class on Wednesdays, and I’ve never been a morning person. Even less so now. I headed off to class, feeling anxious and resentful. When it came time to do my activity in class, the teacher paired me up with another guy. We’re doing scripts in class this week, and the script is written for a guy and a girl; not two guys. I was in a filthy mood, and when the activity started, the guy I was working with was holding back, half-hearted, sly and manipulative. So I called him on all those things… and got angry… really angry. So much so that he was rather blown away by how forceful I was; didn’t know where it was all coming from.

At  the end of the activity, the teacher said my work was brilliant! He asked me where I had got that from, and I said “I woke up this morning feeling really anxious!”.

“Well, do that before every class then! Your work was really good. You had a breakthrough today.” my teacher replied.

I felt so so so relieved afterwards; I was beaming. It wasn’t just the positive feedback, it was also the getting-it-off-my-chest thing. I think there’s something to the idea that when a man represses his anger, it comes out somewhere else, particularly as anxiety or depression. It made me wonder whether I could run a workshop for men on anxiety, teaching the acting technique we use. It’s very simple at heart, but incredibly liberating, especially for guys like me who have a life-time’s practise at withholding anger. After class, one of the other beginners who seems quite like me asked if we could do an activity together, because I was on fire!

I came home feeling really good; and I think that’s how I’ll spend the rest of the day, thanks… taking it easy. Feeling about 7/10. And no, I haven’t had any medication today! (Just the usual vitamin regime).

Meditation Retreat

Well I completed the 10-Day Vipassana meditation retreat at Dhamma Bhumi retreat centre on Sunday morning. It’s a beautiful setting at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours west of Sydney. If you want to do Vipassana, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do it. For me, the experience was largely one of intense discomfort, suffering, and unrelenting pain which just didn’t get any better as I went along; in fact, it got worse! I’m just glad it’s over.

The retreat started on a Wednesday evening with about 60 of us. First thing they did was to separate the men from the women. Well, there’s 90% of the potential for enjoyment gone just there. We enrolled and had a brief orientation session, including the onset of “noble silence”, meaning no talking to anyone for the next 9 days.

And then the meditation began. We arose at 4am each morning, to be ready for meditation in the hall at 4:340. After about 10 minutes, my legs were aching already. I’m not used to sitting cross-legged, and all the tendons in my legs began to hurt. Thank your-chosen-deity we had breaks every hour; I couldn’t wait for them. The initial instruction was to focus on the breath through the nostrils. Not to control it or to influence it, but just to focus. I found the focusing easy, but every time I did my breathing would stop, switching onto manual control. So I had to start breathing manually. I have done quite a bit of conscious-breathing meditation in the past, and learned to breathe diaphrammatically with my vocal coach as my normal modus operandi. I have a feeling some of this may have made it more difficult for me to just observe, rather than also control my breath. I was bored after a few minutes of this, and my mind started to wander; often onto the increasing pain in my legs. Welcome to the next 10 days, as it turned out!

Day 2 I was already struggling. I was experiencing an “aversion” to my suffering, and the solution was to simply observe it objectively and not react to it. Apparently my mind has been conditioned to respond to pleasant and unpleasant experiences with craving and aversion respectively, and the path to enlightenment and freedom from suffering is to become detached from both. Well yeah, I agree that our suffering is compounded when we focus on what we have but don’t want, or on what we don’t have but do want; but I was beginning to wonder whether sitting for long hours in an uncomfortable position was really part of the answer. Plus the food was vegetarian, and although it was down the tasty end of the vego spectrum, I was hanging for a cheeseburger.

For about half the meditation sessions, we had to be together in the hall. For others, we could meditate in our rooms if we wished. I had a room to myself, and took to meditating lying down whenever I was allowed. I felt quite exhausted from the sheer mental and static physical demands of the long meditation sessions. I figured if I fell asleep while meditating lying down in my room, I needed the sleep more than I needed the meditation. I was relieved to have 10 straight days without any aerobic physical activity, and I think this reduced my flu-like symptoms quite a bit.

Day 3’s teaching sounded remarkably similar to Day 2: focus on the breath in and around the nostrils. But they told us it all again anyway. I was in pain, and generally hating it. I kept thinking “I just want to be home playing my guitar”. I moved my posture quite a bit to try to find a new comfortable position. Invariably I would find myself comfortable for only a short while. I spoke to the teacher about this. He was the only person we were allowed to talk to, and then only at set times. He said my discomfort was the result of unconscious impurities of the mind arising, and that I would be purged of these so long as I didn’t create a new aversion to it. I was more of the opinion that my discomfort was the result of sitting in uncomfortable positions for such a long time. He suggested I try a backrest, and I felt relieved: “You mean you have backrests I can use? Oh cool!”. I thought I was finally saved.

Day 4 things got a bit more interesting, as we started scanning our bodies from head to toe observing sensations. Still, that got boring pretty quickly. My usual anxiety-producing thought of “Which path am I going to take in life from here?” ran through my mind a lot, giving me occasional waves of anxiety, and adrenaline. I have a very busy mind that likes to be engaged in doing stuff. Apparently that’s just evidence that I need to meditate more. Forms of entertainment like books and movies are just distractions from dealing with the unconscious impurities in our minds, said the teacher. I could go fill my life with such distractions if I wanted, but they would never really satisfy me. The true path to enlightenment is to face my discomfort, not to distract myself from it.

Day 5’s teaching sounded remarkably similar to Day 4, but they told us again anyway. By this stage I was really bored. And in pain. And finding it harder to focus. The pain in my legs wasn’t getting any better, as I had hoped it would as they got more used to sitting in the poses my normal life never involves. I felt like getting up and yelling “This is bullshit!!” and storming out of the meditation hall, making the biggest scene possible. Probably not that respectful to the other meditators though. I started feeling really angry, and the people I feel most anger towards naturally popped into my head: my parents.

Day 6 introduced a new form of self-imposed torture: The Sitting of Strong Determination. The aim of this was to complete each 1-hour sitting without changing posture. Oh my god. When the recorded teacher’s voice introduced this, I reacted mentally with “There’s always some bloody catch, isn’t there? Now my path to enlightenment is blocked by the fact that I cannot goddam sit still when I’m bored.” Never have been able to. Just ask my mother. I really wanted to be home playing guitar. Or writing. Or doing stand-up comedy. I got through a whole hour-long sitting without changing posture, by reciting a comedy routine I’ve been thinking of doing, in my head. It was contrary to the spirit of the whole meditation thing; in fact, parts of the routine consisted of totally bagging out the whole experience. But it was the only time I sat completely still for the whole hour. Afterwards, my legs ached in “appreciation”.

I wondered whether to practice my assertiveness skills by telling everyone what I really thought of the whole thing and storming out, or my commitment skills by sticking at it. Both could use a boost, but in this case I chose to exercise the commitment skills. I can hear the voices of a couple of ex-girlfriends in my head replying “Bit bloody late for that, don’t you think Graham?”. I complained again to the teacher how uncomfortable I was despite the backrest, and he said they’d get me a chair. “Oh cool!”, I thought, “I’m saved!”

By Day 7 everything was a blur. Not a blur in the fast-moving sense, just a blur in the sense that I’d really rather not remember what was happening. It was quite traumatic. The chair they got me turned out to be one of those white plastic garden setting chairs with the legs cut off, so when I sat on it with my feet on the floor, my knees stuck up in the air. It was only marginally less comfortable than sitting cross-legged. In some respects, it was worse.

The teacher summoned me during the lunch break, and we had a long and partly philosophical discussion where I protested my boredom, the ongoing pain, and the fact that frankly, the idea that impurities of the mind were being purged by all this self-imposed discomfort sounded like crap to me. No wonder Buddhists are so big on suffering, when they impose so much on themselves. And I didn’t even get into what I thought about the idea of past and future lives, or the notion that the suffering therefore just goes on and on until you eventually wise up and begin meditating full-time so that one of your future lives eventually reaches enlightenment. What a load of cobblers.

Day 8 was like Day 7, only with more aches in the legs, less concentration, and greater relief at bed time. I was hoping I’d be getting into it more, rather than less, by this stage, but I was working against a short attention span that needs to see some positive results if it’s to stick at anything. If I didn’t have the motivation of breaking the adrenaline cycle to recover from my chronic fatigue symptoms, I wouldn’t have come. The teacher was of the opinion that my illness is psychosomatic, and I agree. “But this technique will not cure your illness. That’s not why you’re here.”, he said, “The technique is to purify your mind. That is what is most important.”

“Yeah, sure” I replied, “But the reality is that if it weren’t for my illness, I wouldn’t be here.”

“So are you going to stay and finish the course? We can’t lock you in you know, it’s really up to you” he said.

“Yes, I’ve stayed this long. I want to get whatever I can out of it. I’m staying”.

Day 9 we were allowed to scan our bodies for sensations in any manner or direction that we liked. Only made it marginally more interesting for about 30 seconds though. By this stage, I was really over the whole thing. Still hopeful for some sort of breakthrough or magic to happen though, and committed to seeing it through. But I was definitely counting down the meditation sessions by now.

In the final meditation for the day, I decided to give one last red-hot-go at sitting completely still and focusing on the body sensations I was experiencing. Perhaps I could still have a breakthrough at this late stage? I lasted a whole hour with only two changes in posture. My legs were in so much pain afterward that I couldn’t sleep, and felt extremely restless. Even more than normal!

On Day 10, everything changed. We still had to meditate, but we could talk to each other. Even the women, provided it was in the designated area. I’m getting over my historical tendency to try and get people to like me by avoiding offending them. When other people asked how I’d been going, I’d generally reply with “That was bullshit!. I’ve been in agony the whole time!”, which was only a very slight exaggeration. After all, there were times when I was asleep that I wasn’t uncomfortable, and meal breaks were OK. Most people found my experience amusing. Let’s face it, there’s something about another person’s pain that triggers our humor mechanism. It’s a stress relief, and I needed some stress relief. A few confided that they’d had a similar experience as me, after initially saying it was “OK” to avoid offending anyone.

The next day, by 6am it was all over. We’d been given a taste of the technique, and taken the first step on what was supposed to be a life-long path. Two hours of Vipassana a day, and at least one follow-up retreat a year, and we could become enlightened after a lifetime of working on it. My god, I don’t think so!

All the was left to do was to clean the place up, and get the train home. I debriefed with some other fellow sufferers meditators, most of whom could relate to some degree. One girl I met while sweeping out the meditation hall asked “Why didn’t you leave, if it was so bad?” Well, I wanted to see if it would get better! Turned out her experience was very similar to mine. “My legs were aching!”, she said, “But of course they were aching… I was sitting cross-legged for hours on end! And the tingling sensations people were talking about? Well of course you get tingling sensations when you cut off the blood supply by sitting still in the same position for so long!”. She was a thinker. A kindred spirit. I was glad I’d seen it through right to the end, so that I could meet people like her and debrief properly. If I’d left part-way through, I would have returned home feeling a failure thinking the problem was just me. The problem wasn’t just me… others were struggling to.

I probably wouldn’t have gone to the meditation retreat if other friends hadn’t suggested it, and Ashok hadn’t recommended it in the recovery programme. At least I can say I tried it. But I also have an interest in meditation since I know it’s useful for reducing anxiety, which I’ve had bucket loads of during my life. So I was quite happy to give a retreat a try. For me it was mostly just torture though. My biggest breakthrough was simply to get to the end and have the pain finally go away. I caught the train and a bus back home, feeling relaxed and relieved that it was all over. I came home and played my guitars until my fingers hurt so much I couldn’t play any more. I didn’t bother going to acting practise that night; I took the rest of the day off to treat myself well and do things I enjoyed. I went up to the local pub to grab a steak for dinner, and hired a DVD to watch back home. I didn’t particularly want to speak to anyone, or talk about my experience. Frankly, it was quite traumatic. It did make me appreciate my life more, and how little physical suffering I routinely endure. Most of the joy that I’ve experienced since has been based on “I’m glad that’s over!”. No matter what happens to me this week, I know it won’t feel anywhere near as bad as 10 days of torture.

Now I don’t want to put you off or anything but… Oh what the heck, look, for me, it was just plain horrible. The best part is that it was over. I did meet some cool people who I’d like to keep in touch with, and I do feel more relaxed now that it’s done. I only had minimal chronic fatigue symptoms while I was on the retreat too; very little coughing, and only a few nights of bad insomnia. I seem more relaxed since returning home too.

Philisophically, I have less respect for Buddhism now after completing this retreat, even though it’s still my preferred religion after atheism. I just don’t buy the idea that the best way to deal with suffering is to become completely detached from both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. I think a rewarding life incorporates activities that are inherently pleasurable, like socializing with people we like, having meaningful relationships, and doing things we find rewarding like playing music, reading books, learning new skills, entertainment, and dare I say it even sex! All these things have an evolutionary basis; I don’t think they are mere distractions: they’re part of the path of a meaningful life. The “art of living” espoused by the Buddhists discounts all these as craving-creating activities that just lead to suffering when they aren’t available. Yes, relationships end, people die, I won’t be able to read one day when I lose my eyesight, and arthritis will eventually render my guitar silent. Not to mention the times of sexual frustration! But in the meantime, I’m living a rich life; not just temporarily fulfilling endless suffering-creating cravings. I’ll keep doing regular guided visualization meditations, because I seem to get a benefit from them. I’ll try more Vipassana occasionally too, like when I feel really anxious; but I know the adherents will say I need daily practice to develop the skill, or it won’t work. Frankly, I’d rather get in-the-zone by playing my guitar or keyboard. That’s more meditative for me because it’s inherently engaging for me. And it’s something I can share with other people.

My advice for anyone contemplating a meditation retreat is to spend a month sitting cross-legged for as long as you possibly can at home before going. Do it while watching TV, reading, or whatever. I really think this would have helped me. The sheer discomfort I experienced prevented me from gaining any real benefit other than the relief when it was all over. I would have been more comfortable if I was more prepared physically beforehand.

On the Monday after the retreat, I got my head shaved, as part of my commitment to The World’s Greatest Shave. I had a really interesting conversation with my hairdresser, who I met right around the time I quite full-time work about 6 years ago. He has utmost respect for my desire to experience new things, and not just stick at a job I didn’t enjoy any more. He thinks I’m living the dream; and to some extent I am. I said I’d like more direction in my life, but he reminded me how lucky I was to have the opportunity to do all the things I’m doing. Which is true. On the way to acting class I bumped into one of the guys from my old workplace: the one who appeared most cynical and depressed about being there when I left. When he told me about their upcoming meetings, I felt glad I’d made the break. I had a great career there which garnered me lots of respect and satisfaction for many years… but I have no desire to go back, even when I feel 100% healthy again. Nowadays I’m more interested in relating to people than machines. I want to write a best-seller or be a rock star, or teach something worthwhile. That afternoon I felt pretty good about things. My CFS symptoms aren’t too bad, and the pain I experienced at the retreat is over. I have an overdue book report to write and a stack of email to get through, but this week is looking pretty good. I hope yours is too!

I’m off on a Meditation Retreat tomorrow

I had a really good argument with a guy at acting practise tonight. He really pissed me off, and I didn’t hold back. He was challenging me to open up, but wouldn’t open up himself. He was playing games rather than being genuine. Plus he was unnecessarily abusive. So even though he was faking, it totally worked for me because I was furious at his hypocrisy and his bullying. Expressing anger feels much better than bottling it up, I must say!

I’m away for the next 10 days on a Vipassana Meditation Retreat. It sounds very similar to the Art Of Living course that Ashok recommends. So you won’t be hearing from me for a while. I’ll let you all know how I feel after I get back.

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.

Is The Gupta Programme a 100% Cure?

I got an email today from a reader of this blog who could relate to my story. They asked how I was, whether parental conflict issues from childhood were common in CFS, and said they were having trouble thinking of the Gupta Programme as a 100% cure. Here’s my response:

Thanks for your message. I’m glad you found my blog helpful. I woke up feeling pretty tired this morning, as usual, and played my guitar for a while before going back to bed for some meditation. I ended up falling asleep, and woke up feeling worse. I lay there thinking “Well, if I feel tired, perhaps I really do just need to rest”. Gets pretty boring kinda quick though.

In the absence of any better theory, I’m pretty convinced that the underlying cause of CFS is emotional stress, and there’s nothing like parental conflict in childhood to set you up for that. It left me with some pretty deeply rooted fear, and a sense that the world was a dangerous place to be in. Throw in a God who lets you go to hell to suffer for all eternity if you do, say, or believe the wrong thing, and it’s little wonder I’m anxious. I don’t think the link is just co-incidental. Ashok’s theory about the amygdala getting stuck in fight-or-flight mode makes sense to me.

I’ve only been on the Gupta programme for about 2 months. It feels like longer! I keep reminding myself to do Stop-Stop-Stop when I have negative thoughts, but I get lazy. Yes, and I too wonder sometimes whether it is all really working or not, and that causes me more stress. I start thinking “what’s the point? It probably won’t work anyway”, and worrying about whether I’ll actually be well at the end of the 6 months. I’ve always been skeptical of the whole emotional-issues-causing-physical-illness thing, but here I am with nowhere else to go so I’m giving it my best shot. I came across some recent medical papers on the Internet talking about a “psychogenic cough”, so it seems chronic stress can cause coughing symptoms. It doesn’t seem like a huge gap from that to full-on flu-like symptoms of CFS.

Nevertheless, I keep getting distracted with thoughts of “What do I really want to do with my life?”, and wanting to be out earning money and feeling like I’m “getting somewhere”. Starting the acting course has made that a little easier, as I feel like I’m a student again back at uni or something, which gives me a reprieve from pressuring myself to be working. Plus I just got an unexpectedly large inheritance from a pseudo-aunty which will keep me going for at least a year without digging into my savings. I really feel for people with CFS who are struggling to make ends meet; that’s just got to put even more stress on them.

I’ve had years of therapy even before getting CFS, and I’m looking at other avenues for unlocking emotional repression that I think probably helps fuel the amygdala stress cycle. So I’m also doing an acting course based on the Meisner technique of getting in touch with your emotions and learning to express them authentically, which another friend of mine with similar symptoms to CFS put me onto. It’s very obvious during the practise sessions that I’m pent up and there are emotional areas I just don’t seem to go into. I see other students struggling with the same thing, and the teacher’s comment is: “We’ll fix that”. I find it really encouraging when other students tell me they can relate to where I’m at, and have since moved on to feeling more free. It gives me hope. They may not have the physical symptoms, but they know what it’s like to be stuck in self-consciousness and emotional repression. Looking back, I was feeling stressed out and desperate for several years before my physical symptoms hit.

I’m glad you’re finding the programme helpful; it reminds me to stick at it. I’ve come across a few people on the forum who seemed to tail off it because they got bored or distracted, even though they acknowledge that it was helping them. Don’t give up! Keep in touch and let me know how you go down the track.

Cheers,
Graham
http://cfs-survivors.org/

Highs and Lows

I feel ok today. Woke up and did soften-and-flow and the positive visualisation. I feel stuffed in the head and tired as usual, but pretty up-beat. Hey, it’s a weekend and the sun is shining. You gotta love that.

I’ve had a heap of highs and lows this week. Been feeling quite tense, though nowhere near as bad as mid last year. My acting course is going brilliantly; I’m really enjoying it. It’s awesome to have finally found something I really love doing again. I don’t know if the novelty will wear off, but at the moment I’m really having great fun doing repetition practice with the other students. It’s a fantastic opportunity to play around with a cool bunch of dudes. I especially love rep’ing with the girls; I just feed off their energy and invariably have them in stitches laughing and flirting with me by the end. I kept teasing this girl like crazy last night and she kept swinging between offended-but-amused and laughing uncontrollably. Told me I should be a stand-up comic. I’ll consider that.

I never seem to get angry during the repetition practice even when people are having a go at me. Whenever I start heading towards being angry or sad, I laugh. I know it’s a defence mechanism and I’ve been looking at that as something to try and “fix”, but now I’m thinking maybe I’ll just accept it. I dunno how much I go along with the idea that repressed anger causes illnesses like chronic fatigue anyway. Maybe I’m just not an angry guy. If people insult me and I just laugh it off, that sounds like a pretty good coping mechanism. Much better than getting hurt and upset about it like I used to. So what if I never really get angry? And a stand-up comic who laughs off hecklers and puts them in their place would go down rather well. Perhaps it is my second calling.

The downside is that when I feel low, I really feel low. And it comes on quickly. Lately it’s always triggered by my book not selling. It’s like the world is rejecting me because it doesn’t like what I have to offer, which pushes my buttons big time. I gave up engineering because I got burned out and bored, and doing something more creative in the arts still appeals to me; but the reality is that it’s a shitload easier to get a high-paying engineering job than it is to make a fortune selling e-books on the internet! My conservatism and unwillingness to fork out money on a project that’s not earning anything doesn’t help; I’m massively risk-averse. My savings are my security, especially when I don’t feel up to working. I don’t want to go blowing it on some crazy money-making scheme that may not pan out. And the more time I put into promoting the e-book when it’s not selling, the more I go through these goddam mood swings. Besides, it’s meant to be fun. It’s not fun when I’m worrying about whether people like it or not. That’s just old needy Graham popping up again in a new context.

I’m considering taking next week off altogether; but I know I’m addicted to validation and people purchasing my wares is just another form of that, so I can pretty much guarantee I’ll keep at it. I’m not really following Ashok’s advice to stop working though. My meditation retreat is coming up in a few weeks time, so that will definitely give me some time out.

I’ve also joined a men’s group, and we have our first meeting this afternoon. I’m looking forward to that; I’ve never had really close friendships with many men before, and I think it’s something I’m lacking a bit. It should be a good support mechanism too.

Doing Pretty Well

Yesterday I woke up a bit headachey. I was due to do lunch with my parents and a second cousin. Perhaps the thought of lunch with my parents brought the headache on; they’ve been the main root cause of stress in my life. It may be all psychosomatic, but that doesn’t make it just go away.

I’m doing pretty well today. I woke up quite early, did the Soften and Flow meditation, but didn’t feel like falling asleep again so I made some SEO improvements to the blog on my ebook website. My motivation waxes and wanes enormously with the CFS mood swings, but I figure I may as well work when I feel motivated, and do something else like play guitar when I’m not! Every second day I seem to decide to quit promoting my ebook since it frustrates me when it’s not selling. But every other day, I’m back to working on it again. And I have a bunch of promotional ideas that I haven’t tried yet: I have a TODO list a page long, and there’s not enough time to do it all. I want it finished and successful now now now! Just like Ashok says in one of the sessions about feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time.

I’m still fascinated by the Meisner acting course I’m doing. During the “repetition” practise exercises, I just can’t help smiling and laughing. Interestingly I do this even when my partner is angry with me about something. It’s like when I was in primary school and I was in trouble with the teacher. I’d laugh… and get in even more trouble! When my partner starts ripping into me because I’ve offended them or been to reserved during “rep”, I laugh when a more appropriate response would be to get angry. I’m hoping the course will help me reconnect my anger neurons and lessen my internal emotional conflict, which I think is feeding the CFS. “Rep” is also an awesome way to practise flirting. It’s all about opening up and getting out of your head.

I quite like teasing and being mischievous, but I’ve only just found this out! Two guys at practise were talking after a rep session the other night, and one complimented the other on his voice. I said to him “Is that just a polite way of saying you think he’s got a good face for radio?” with a sly smile. The guy with the good voice then turns to the other guy and says “What’s wrong with my face?” looking all self-conscious. Given that he’s an actor, his looks are important to him. But he wasn’t offended at me, he got offended with the guy who was being complimentary to him! I snuck off chuckling to myself…

I used to feel really bad about all the stuff I was missing out on by being ill. I don’t seem to feel that any more. I’m ditching more and more stuff I don’t want to do, so I can focus on being well. Most of my time is going into the acting course now, so other things have to slide a bit.

First Acting Class Yesterday

Of all the weird-ass treatment approaches to Chronic Fatigue, joining an acting class sounds the weirdest. But if it worked for my mate, I thought “What have I got to lose?”. I’ve done some basic acting in community musical theatre in the past and quite enjoyed it; I only gave it up after I became ill. 4 months rehearsing and performing in Les Miserables when I first came down with CFS was no cup of tea. When I died on stage in the barricade scene, I didn’t have to push my acting skills to appear dead at all. At least there’s no dancing in Les Mis; otherwise I’d have been totally fucked.

I had my first Meisner class yesterday, and it was really fun. Scary and challenging, but just fascinating. The whole technique is based on repetition and distraction to get you out of your head, and operating on an emotional level. The antithesis of how I’ve lived my life. To me, this seems totally compatible with meditation: stop thinking, and start being. I struggle with meditation because I’ve had so many years of analytical thinking; but it’s the thinking that causes my suffering with CFS: the relentless “I wish this would go away. I hate my life at the moment. I just want to be well. I’m so frustrated” blah blah blah. The flu-like symptoms are quite tolerable when I’m not complaining about them internally so much; it’s the self-talk that stresses me out.

I don’t do that when I’m being in-the-moment, and that’s what the Meisner technique is all about. It’s early days, and it’s a big commitment taking on a full-time acting class. 30 hours per week, including practise. But it just sounds like so much fun, and totally complementary to the Gupta programme in breaking thought patterns.

I only did one short exercise in front of the class yesterday. Immediately my need to get things right had me feeling anxious. The teacher had coached some of the other students who weren’t acting naturally in previous exercises by saying “You’re trying to get it right. Stop doing that!” I totally get where he’s coming from. His answer to most questions about mastering the technique was “Practise!”. I get it.

I’ll let you know more about how it goes.