I Got My Life Coaching Qualification!

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.

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Why I Fixed My Broken Vacuum Cleaner

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.

Continue reading “Why I Fixed My Broken Vacuum Cleaner”

Vagus Nerve Infection?

A relatively new friend who I told that I’m now coaching people with CFS just pointed me to this interview with Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Michael Van Elzakker, who hypothesises that CFS might be caused by an infection of the vagus nerve.

Wikipedia reckons it looks something like this. "Gray793" by Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Gray's Anatomy, Plate 793. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gray793.png#/media/File:Gray793.png
Wikipedia reckons it looks something like this. “Gray793” by Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 793. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gray793.png#/media/File:Gray793.png

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.

Where I’m At With Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining Program

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!

The Pros and Cons of Tai Chi

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.

Initially, I started by learning Tai Chi from a video on YouTube. But then I decided to take a course with the Sydney Tai Chi society, so that I could get feedback from an instructor and also hopefully meet some other people who are interested in learning Tai Chi.

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.

I Continue To Recover… Gradually

It’s been quite a while since I last posted here, as my continued recovery means I have more time and energy to engage in the life that I want, and less desire to talk about how hard recovering from CFS can be. But I get occasional emails from people who have been following this blog asking how I’m doing, so I thought it was time for an update.

My physical symptoms now resemble a fairly mild cold, and the occasional cough. I no longer push myself into stressful situations that make the cough worse, so it doesn’t bug me so much. I still feel a weird sort of tiredness with a background sense of anxiety that varies from mild to moderate. It’s kind of like the tiredness and the anxiety are playing some kind of dance. It might feel like I need a lie down, but going for a leisurely walk along the beach can work just as well. Other times, I really need the lie down and so I take it.

The other weird symptom I have is a tense feeling in my head, which moves around. Right now it’s in my upper jaw and temples. It’s not exactly painful; sometimes it’s just unpleasant, and other times I can be so engrossed in something I’m doing that I don’t notice it. Perhaps it’s boredom and truly disappears when I’m thoughtfully and physically engaged in some task. It seems to get stronger when I’m feeling angry, and turns into a debilitating headache when I’ve been overdoing things… which I take pains now not to do.

Continue reading “I Continue To Recover… Gradually”

Emotional Intelligence and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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.

Breakthrough To FreedomWhether 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.

I Quit!

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

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

Continue reading “I Quit!”

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.

My Personal “Graded Exercise” Program

My graded exercise program didn’t start out as an exercise program at all; in fact, I was very reluctant to do any exercise at all when I first started it. I’d read horror stories on the Internet about people having terrible setbacks doing graded exercise guided by well-meaning doctors, and my own experience was that any time I exerted myself physically, I paid for it big time with post-exertional malaise or a killer headache the next day.

When my Mickel Therapist suggested that I try experimenting with different activities in the afternoons when my most severe symptoms of overwhelming tiredness would hit me, I was a little skeptical. All I wanted to do around 3 or 4 PM each day was go to bed and lie down. If my body kept telling me I was exhausted, then obviously I needed to rest. But all that rest every day wasn’t making me feel better; in fact on the days when I fell asleep mid-afternoon, I tended to wake up feeling worse… much worse. Even just writing about it now is bringing back anxiety for me.

One of the ideas behind Mickel Therapy is that the body sends us symptoms as a message to get us to change our behaviour. I’m still a little skeptical; after all, if the symptom is overwhelming tiredness and the behavioural change required is more or different activity instead of just lying down, then what we have… is a failure… to communicate. But nevertheless, I was prepared to play with the idea that my body might be “bored” and needing stimulation rather than rest. When I thought about what activities I used to enjoy as a kid that I hadn’t done since falling ill, I thought of riding my mountain bike. So I started doing that mid-afternoon when the most severe fatigue hit me, instead of lying down.

Mind you, I wasn’t riding it for exercise: I was riding it just to give my body something interesting to do. So each afternoon I’d get on my bike and ride figure-8’s around the culdesac-like corner of my street out the front of the complex where I live. I was very conscious not to exert myself or to raise my heart rate. Cardio exercise always brought on the dreaded post-exertional malaise; and I wasn’t exercising… I was just moving my body.

I can’t say I noticed any immediate change in my symptoms as a result of this, which really frustrated the Mickel Therapy process since the idea is to try different things until you find something that resolves the symptom. I came in from each bike ride feeling just as tired as I had gone out. I talked this over with my Mickel Therapist, who seemed convinced that he saw progress in the symptom/activity/result tables that I filled in and sent him. He also said I should avoid boring activities; but my most boring activity was filling in the Mickel Therapy tables. I wasn’t seeing the progress he seemed to think he was, and I started getting very angry with him. The process also seemed to be making me much more anxious, which felt unbearable. I heard a talk by Dr Mickel where he talked about some people encountering severe anxiety when doing the therapy, and I felt disappointed that Mickel Therapy didn’t seem to have any useful tools for dealing with anxiety and anger.

I ended up discontinuing the work with my Mickel Therapist, but I remembered what Fleur, a passionate Mickel Therapy advocate who attributes her miraculous recovery to MT, had told me about her experience of realising that her body was really bored. So I continued my afternoon cycling routine most days; it felt better than lying in bed: the movement gave my mind a distraction from constant anxiety-inducing thoughts about being ill, and since I didn’t push the envelope at all or get my heart rate up, I came back in feeling pretty much the same as when I went out. No post-exertional malaise.

After a couple of weeks I found myself getting bored with the street I live in, and venturing down to a local park to ride my figure-8s. Then further afield to a local sporting ground, which happened to have a skate ramp that was idle most weekdays. So I’d jump on and ride around and around the skate ramp from one end to the other and back home again. It got me out of my head, and felt like fun. I still wasn’t exercising, I was just moving my body. But each day I went out slightly longer than the day before.

One of the things that has kept me partly-sane during the five years I’ve been ill has been learning to play music. In fact, I bought my first guitar right around the time my CFS symptoms hit me. Playing guitar is sufficiently engrossing that I get into a state of flow where I forget about being ill, and it’s fun to do with other people. It also doesn’t take much physical energy. However, I get bored easily and although I’m nowhere near mastering guitar I decided I wanted a new challenge.

I had wanted to learn to play drums for several years; I played in a Samba band at the time I fell ill, and one thing I really missed was jamming and gigging with my other band members. But I played tamborim which isn’t the sexiest instrument for a guy to play. Part of me wants to be a rock star and would love to play drums in a rock band. Also, I figured this would give me an outlet for some of the anger that I was constantly encountering. I have a punching bag that I often hit when I’m feeling really angry, but finding the motivation to work through all the anger is a challenge when I feel so exhausted that I just want to rest as soon as I start hitting the thing. Having a drumset to hit would be more motivating, I thought. So about 8 months ago I went out and bought myself a Roland electronic drumkit which is relatively quiet if you don’t have the headphones on, so it doesn’t annoy the neighbours. I figured I’d be able to bash my drums when I was angry, play for fun when I needed something to do, and one day maybe get on stage and be a rock star.

Playing drums is great for me for several reasons. Although I have a decent sense of rhythm from my time in the Samba band and the years I spent dancing before falling ill, I had never played a full rock drumset before. I didn’t have the co-ordination initially, so I had to learn almost from scratch. This meant that I couldn’t overdo it and push myself too hard physically. It took time to learn to coordinate my two legs and two arms to play even basic rock rhythms, and over this time my stamina gradually increased without being pushed into the dreaded cardio zone that seemed to trigger the old post-exertional malaise.

Also I’ve come to conclude that CFS is a nervous system disorder, and I figured the rhythmic stimulation of playing drums was most likely a good thing for my nervous system. Almost all the shamanic healing rituals I’ve done have involved drumming, and there’s just something calming about the rhythm of a drum. I suspect it’s because it reminds us of our mother’s heartbeat while we were in the womb; surely it’s not just coincidence that the tempo of most music is around the same tempo as a heartbeat. Also, playing drums requires enough concentration that I get distracted from the constant thoughts of being ill. As I improve on playing any given rhythm, I find it requires less and less concentration and the distressing thoughts start to creep back in… at which point I just move on to a new or more complicated rhythm.

I’ve found playing drums quite addictive, and wanted to play as much as possible. My upstairs neighbour put the kybosh on that when she complained that the kick-pedal really disturbed her. She works during regular office hours which means I can only play 9 to 5 when she’s at work. This turns out not to be a bad thing…

When my naturopath and I got the test results showing that my cortisol levels were extremely high, my mission in life became lowering my nighttime cortisol levels to the point where my body can get a decent rest so that I’ll eventually recover. My naturopath pointed out that in order to do this, I needed to exercise first thing in the morning and limit my evening activity. So no late-night drums for me. Everything started to make sense at this point: I understood why I woke up with a headache after going out dancing at night. Physical activity increases cortisol levels, after which they drop further than if you hadn’t exercised at all. But the drop takes time: if the activity occurs late at night, there isn’t time for the cortisol levels to drop before hitting the bed. Especially if the level is very high to begin with.

Although my afternoon bike rides were a good way to distract myself from distressing thoughts and give my body something interesting to do (who knows, perhaps Mickel Therapy isn’t complete bullshit after all), afternoon wasn’t the ideal time to be exerting myself. It would have been better to go for a ride first thing in the morning at dawn, when my naturopath was advising me to get up. At first, I got up at dawn and did some Yoga out in the sun or meditated with my eyes open to let the sunlight onto my retina; this resets our circadian rhythm and is the ultimate cure for the insomnia that prevented me getting to sleep. At first, getting up at dawn was hard. Really hard. I just can’t stress how hard I found it to get up at the crack of dawn every day when I felt totally exhausted all the time. But I realised that getting my sleep pattern sorted out was key to recovering from CFS. This was the second most important thing, after the whole cortisol-reduction mission.

So I shifted my afternoon bike rides to the morning. I still wasn’t really doing them for exercise, but don’t tell my naturopath that. The idea was simply to get my body moving. I also found that it was much easier to remember to do the deep breathing necessary to calm my nervous system, when I was requiring more oxygen due to the cycling. Initially I just rode around my street again, or down to the park with the sports field. I’d stop along the way and do some meditation too. Then I discovered a really nice ride that winds its way through a number of parks by the river in a neighbouring suburb, and I started doing that regularly. Somewhere along the way I started actually exercising. Still not intense cardio, but just moving my body a little more each day. I never pushed it, and I never even came home feeling tired after these rides; or at least, no more tired than when I left home. In fact, I felt more energised afterwards; and that’s what I reminded myself on the mornings when I’d lie in bed thinking “I don’t want to get up and go for a ride; I’m too tired”.

Another physical activity I took on was a conscious dance practise called 5 Rhythms, after another woman I met who said she’d suffered from chronic fatigue told me she found it really helpful. So I started going to Radiance Dance in Sydney on Sunday mornings and the occasional Wednesday evenings. It’s a form of moving meditation: a spiritual practice where you dance in various different free-form styles while working through emotions. It’s also got a really nice community connected to it which I like; I realised that my community had shrunk to the point where all my friends had CFS. While other sufferers are great when it comes to understanding how I feel, they aren’t overly inspiring and there were times when I just wanted to talk about something else. With the insight about cortisol profiles during the day and evening, I stopped going during the evening and just stuck to Sunday mornings. At first, I felt terribly self-conscious doing the ecstatic dance thing and just went and sat in the corner feeling like a fool. When I did dance, I had to stop and rest ever 15 minutes or so. But I saw other people dancing unselfconsciously and decided to stick at it and make it my new community. After a while I really got into it, and now it’s like going to church every Sunday morning for me.

There have been times when I’ve overdone it on this whole exercise thing, and when that happens the penalty I pay is waking up with a killer headache that wipes me out and lasts all day. The antidote for this is getting to bed by 10PM every night, and not going too hard at the exercise. I did a boxing class at the local gym a couple of weeks ago in the hope that it would help me get out some of the anger I’d been feeling lately; but it turned out to be an intense cardio workout that I just wasn’t up for. Plus it hurt my hands, which isn’t a good thing if I want to be a musician. I woke up the next day with a killer headache, vowing never to do that to myself again. I also recognise that in between periods of exercise, I need periods of physical and mental rest. But yes, I do actually call it exercise now.

I’ve also added some muscular exercises to my routine on the advice of my physiotherapist, in response to the debilitating headaches I was getting. To be honest, I don’t think they’re helping the headaches much since I suspect the headaches are just a symptom of the high cortisol (i.e. stress), but the exercises are designed to improve my posture by strengthening my upper back muscles which is a good thing anyway. I’ve also started doing sit-ups each day to improve my core strength. This is important when I’m sitting on a drum throne since they have no back support and core strength and posture become really important.

Which leads me to where I am now with all this. My full-time job at the moment is still recovering from chronic fatigue. The pay is terrible, but the super scheme is awesome. Monday, Wednesday and Fridays are my exercise days where I get up at dawn and do my bike ride, which goes for about an hour and a half. Along the way I stop to meditate by the river, so it’s usually about two hours all up. It’s winter here now, and it’s f__king freezing, but I do it anyway. Tuesday and Thursday I take it easier, getting up at dawn and going for a walk down to the river to meditate. When I get home I have breakfast then I play my drums for a few hours, taking breaks whenever I feel tired to do something else like read email, write something or play my keyboard. When I worry about what I’m doing with my life, I remind myself that my full-time job is doing this right now, and learning to play music on the side.

I also go out whenever I can to jam with other musicians, which totally distracts me from feeling ill. I’ll regularly play drums almost non-stop for 4 or 5 hours when doing this, and not feel particularly tired at the end. I also go to a theatre class once a week with Milk Crate Theatre which has been a godsend for me because all their classes, rehearsals and even their shows are on during the day; so I can get onstage and still be in bed by the magic 10PM.

I’m much, much fitter now as a result of all this regular physical activity over the last year. I find I very rarely feel true physical tiredness; it’s more a mental and/or emotional exhaustion that I feel now. I’ve learned that often when I think I feel tired, what I’m really feeling is anxious. I go to an anxiety support group once a week where I deal with this. I rarely feel anxious when I’m playing music. I get anxious when I don’t know what to do, and the solution for me is to pick something and go do it. Like write this article, say.

I know it’s been a long time between updates and I regret that a little since I’ve really been making a lot more progress over the last few months than I did in the years before that. But I also realised that sitting in front of a screen being stimulated with constant Facebook and email updates isn’t good for my cortisol levels. Plus, I have music to play!