I just want to say a big “Thank you!” to everyone who participated in helping me get my Life Coaching qualification with Beyond Success, the company that I did my Emotional Intelligence-based coach training with.
Getting qualified was the final step in my Life Coach training; something that I had been putting off for about 3 years because I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting a sick, depressed life coach. However, one of the things that I learned from Mickel Therapy was to complete the things that we’ve been putting off since they all contribute to our sense of powerlessness and unconscious stress.
One of the principles that I learnt during my brief experience of Mickel Therapy a few years back was that it is important to stay on top of things in order to avoid feeling any more overwhelmed than we already do by being ill. Having an accumulation of small unresolved life stressors can add up to create stress and tension in our nervous systems. That’s why it’s helpful to make a judicious list of “outstanding issues” that we want to address and whittle it down over time.
I say “judicious” because most people with CFS tend to take on too much, and and up feeling overwhelmed with the familiar feeling that there is “not enough time”. We don’t really trust in the process of life and have bought into the idea that the more we do, the more stuff we can have and the happier we will be.
The truth is that time is indeed limited and we need to choose what to focus on in our lives generally. But when I got sick a whole bunch of things that were actually important to me started to fall by the way side.
Now that I’ve whittled my “outstanding issues list” down to virtually nothing, it’s important to stay on top of things to prevent that feeling of overwhelm from coming back.
Listening to the interview, it sounds like a pretty compelling theory. On the same day, another friend of mine who has suffered depression and fatigue for a long time messaged me to say that supplements he was taking to boost his acetylcholine, which happens to be the principal vagal neurotransmitter, are working wonders for him.
This article suggests that acetylcholine can also be boosted by being kind and compassionate to others, which could explain why I feel better physically when I’m putting my attention on helping other people. It also mentions chanting; I joined a chanting/kirtan group a few months ago, and find that singing just plain feels good. Perhaps the reason it feels good is because it stimulates the vagus nerve.
If doing this reduces the stimulation/inflamation/whatever-mechanism-makes-us-feel-bad then the symptoms lessen because the brain no longer believes that the body is under attack. I’ve noticed for a while that we get symptoms when we’re under stress, like people with HSV-1 get cold sores when under stress. Most of our stress is interpersonal (I heard someone once say “all stress is social”), which could explain why the assertiveness keys of Mickel Therapy seem to work.
I also really liked Dr Van Elzakker’s compassionate attitude to people with CFS. Researchers seem to come in for a lot of criticism online, and it’s awesome to hear him saying things like: “If your doctor believes that your condition is psychological, fire them.” He also had some good practical advice for dealing with symptoms while waiting for the magic cure. I found just listening to the interview gave me a greater sense of inner peace about the whole thing.
I just had a question via email about where I’m at with the Amygdala Retraining Program, which is what motivated me to kick off this blog in the first place. The truth is, I no longer look at it, although I do still apply some of it’s principles. But I think the hypothalamus hypothesis behind Mickel Therapy is more likely than the amygdala hypothesis behind Amygdala Retraining.
That said, there is a lot of good wisdom about stress management in Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining Program. If you’re confined to bed unable to move, the meditation is likely to be helpful and what the program teaches about the nervous system is probably quite accurate.
I now believe that the key to recovery is listening to your body and doing things that make you feel good physically and emotionally. Lying in bed worrying about how to recover obviously doesn’t qualify as “doing something that makes you feel good”, understandable thought it is. The stop-stop-stop technique didn’t make me feel particularly good either, because it’s monotonous and boring. I suspect that physical boredom is one of the primary emotions that cause us to get stuck in the rut of CFS. We feel bored, our body responds with tiredness, we go have a lie down feeling anxious; which is not very interesting to our body. Then the social isolation this involves just magnifies everything.
If you must lie down, I recommend doing it in a bath so that your sympathetic nervous system gets the stimulation of the water. Just make sure the bath isn’t full enough for you to drown if you’re likely to pass out.
Come to think of it now, the reason Stop-Stop-Stop probably works at all is because you have to get up to do it, so it gets your body moving. I now believe that getting your body moving in more interesting ways is likely to be even more enjoyable, which is why I’m taking off now to play drums and go body-boarding. I’ve been sitting behind this computer long enough today!
I recently took up Tai Chi as part of the never-ending quest for better health. Tai Chi seems like the perfect exercise for someone with CFS, because it doesn’t feel like exercise. It’s just a series of slow graceful movements that don’t exactly get your heart racing.
I’ve been attending the course for six weeks now. The routine that I’m learning is different from the one in the video, but the underlying concepts are all the same: release stress and tension in the body, and your life force will begin to flow again.
I’ve been practising almost every weekday morning for the past six weeks, down at the southern end of Bondi Beach where there are always people practising yoga, meditation, and tai chi every morning. I almost always feel better after my morning practice.
However, this week I started to notice a growing sense of irritation at the fact the Tai Chi is, well, kind of boring. In a sense, it’s just another thing that I’m trying to do in order to “fix myself”, rather than getting out there and living the life that I would really love to be living right now. And frankly, always trying to “fix myself” bugs the shit out of me.
So while practising Tai Chi this Thursday morning, I started thinking about the Mikel therapy concept of doing what your body seems to be asking for. I was there standing by the ocean doing my slow and graceful movements as the waves rolled in, and I thought to myself “you know, I think what I would really like to be doing right now is going body boarding”. But the water is way too cold for me right now since it’s still winter.
I’ve been meaning to go and buy a wetsuit ever since moving near the beach in Bondi, so that I can still enjoy body boarding in the ocean even on cold days. Another concept I learned from nickel therapy was the idea of doing the things that you’ve been putting off, so I decided that instead of continuing to practice my Tai Chi that morning, I would go to the surf store and buy myself the wetsuit that I wanted.
I came home with a brand-new, top-of-the-line wetsuit which is both flexible and warm, picked up my body board, and headed back to the beach. I had a great time body boarding in the waves, and with a snug fitting new wetsuit, barely noticed the cold water.
Conscious of not wanting to over do it, I also stopped and came home before the shark alarm went off that day. I went back for more body boarding on the Friday, And again came home shortly before the shark alarm went off at Bondi for the second day in a row.
I’ve still got a couple weeks to go before my 8-week Tai Chi course ends, although it doesn’t really end at that point: the instructor says that it takes about 18 months to learn the routine that he is teaching us, and I’ve only done six weeks so far. Frankly, I’d like to do something more exciting with my time.
I get that Tai Chi is great for dealing with anxiety and stress, which I think are key components of CFS. But it’s also a bit of a distraction from living the life that I really want, which I think is the ultimate cure for CFS.
I’ll probably continue to practice Tai Chi from time to time even after the course ends, but rather than doing it religiously every day, I’ve decided to practice it when my body seems to be asking for it.
Otherwise, I’ve adopted body boarding as my daily spiritual practice. Sharks not withstanding.
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.
One of the most challenging symptoms that I experience with CFS is anxiety: it’s like having a moderate panic attack that just doesn’t ever really go away. The intensity varies a bit, but it always seems to be there in the background, ready to rear its ugly head.
I recently had a comment from a reader of this blog recommending something called “zpoint”. So I contacted the guy behind it, Grant Connoly, to request a review copy of one of his products. He offered to give me a free session in return for an article about my experience with it, and this is that article.
I can’t claim to be an expert in zpoint after only one session, but a lot of what Grant said during the session really resonated with me. Having grown up in an environment where nobody expressed their emotions cleanly, I learned to suppress, repress and internalise mine. It makes sense to me that CFS hit me after several years of therapy when I started to unlock the roots of my repressed emotions, especially anger; the emotion I’ve forced down the hardest.
Zpoint is a subconscious program for releasing our attachment to repressed emotions; even the ones that we don’t remember or realise are still trapped inside us. This makes sense to me, since emotions operate in our unconscious mind and we don’t generally have direct conscious access to what’s going on down there. Furthermore, emotions have physical sensations attached to them, and it makes sense that if the emotion is trapped in our subconscious, then the sensation will remain trapped in our body too. The relief that we feel from releasing our repressed emotions happens in the body because it releases the associated inner-conflict that causes tightness in the body.
I recall Ashok Gupta’s comment during the Soften and Flow meditation that unpleasant symptoms represent trapped emotions. But the Gupta Program doesn’t go as deeply into this idea as zpoint does.
My best guess is that I’m still carrying some anger in my body, and Grant suggests that if we have a hunch that it’s there, then it probably is there. I notice anger popping into my head a lot when I think about my family, and anger is the flip side of anxiety since they’re both generated in the amygdala which triggers our fight (anger) or flight (anxiety) response. This would explain the tense feeling that I still have in my head most of the time.
Another principle that resonated with me is that when we repress unpleasant emotions like anger, sadness and fear because we don’t want to feel them, we end up suppressing the pleasant emotions like excitement, peace, love and joy too. Learning to release the unpleasant emotions frees us to have more pleasant emotions as an extra bonus. Having felt totally self-conscious about expressing any emotion in the past, this made complete sense to me.
During my zpoint session with Grant, he installed the zpoint program for releasing emotions in my unconscious mind. It consisted of visualising a releasing circle in front of me, and then commanding my unconscious to release any and all emotions into that circle. He then took me through the releasing process, which was very gentle and easy.
The process begins with the facilitator counting down from 10 to 1, and then giving instructions to and asking questions of my subconscious, to release my attachment to any and all emotions it was still carrying. All I had to do was mentally repeat the cue word “Yes”, while Grant directed my subconscious mind to release all the emotions that I have trapped in my mind and body.
Each process took about 6 minutes, and we repeated it several times over a session that lasted almost an hour. Each time we focused on a different issue based on questions Grant asked me. For example, one process focused on releasing the emotions that I have about releasing other emotions.
By the end of the session, Grant said he felt buzzed, and that he knew that meant I was releasing emotions. From his perspective, zpoint was working its magic. I felt calmer, but couldn’t help but notice my rational-minded scepticism encroaching. We put that in the releasing circle too.
I only had one session with Grant, and don’t know how many it typically takes to release a lifetime of emotional repression. The zpoint FAQ says “You should see significant positive results within the first 60 – 90 days”. I’m not new to the whole emotional release thing; I’ve had a great deal of therapy and tried virtually every emotional release process known to man, so I was curious to see how zpoint worked and what it could do for me.
It’s 8 weeks later now, and I do feel calmer, less anxious and less angry. I still use the zpoint program frequently by repeating the cue word “Yes” to myself when I’m feeling really anxious. It also reinforces my belief that the best way to deal with CFS is to accept it, not to fight against it: Say “Yes” to the symptoms, because they have something valuable to teach us. This also seems consistent with the idea behind Mickel Therapy, although Mickel is a bit more proactive about working out what exactly the symptom is trying to say.
Since my zpoint session I’ve also been meditating; using guided relaxations and visualisations; playing music; practising Tai Chi; watching comedy; and finally decided to stop pushing myself and just rest, sleep and relax until my cold-like symptoms go away. So I can’t promise that the improvement is solely due to zpoint, but I do think Grant is onto something and am grateful that he gave up his time so I could learn another way of letting go of anxiety and other distressing emotions.
If you’re finding anxiety difficult to deal with, I recommend checking out zpoint at zpointforpeace.com. Leave a comment letting me know how you go if you try it.
One of my most influential mentors, Nicholas de Castella suffered from CFS way back before it was a household name. He attributes his recovery to developing emotional intelligence and learning to express in a healthy manner the feelings that he had previously repressed. I know this is a little controversial since the symptoms of CFS clearly appear in the body and most of us think of emotions as centred in the brain; but the more holistic approaches to emotional mastery recognise that emotions in the brain are connected to physical sensations in the body via our nervous system.
So the idea that suppressing powerful emotions for a long period could make you physically sick starts to make sense. I note that Mickel Therapy treats symptoms and bodily sensations as manifestations of unconscious needs that our body is attempting to alert us to. Meet the need, and the symptom disappears. The Gupta Program similarly treats physical sensations as stuck emotion in its meditations.
Whether you buy into all this or not, developing your emotional intelligence can only be a good thing. If it cures your CFS, that’s a bonus. With this in mind, I thought I’d let you know that Nicholas is running a free online breakthrough training session on Saturday 11 October at 11.00 am Australian EDT time, for anyone interested in dealing with emotions that are holding you back in life. I’ve heard his presentation before and he makes a brief mention of his experience of Chronic Fatigue. He’s fully recovered and now works as an emotional intelligence teacher, so you might like to check out what he has to say. Click here to join the free Breakthrough to Freedom training session.
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.
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.