My Anxious Brain

I’ve just finished reading Joseph LeDoux’s most recent (2015) book Anxious: The Modern Mind in the Age of Anxiety, in an attempt to get a better handle on why I feel so anxious as I recover from CFS, and what I might be able to do about it.

LeDoux is the neuroscientist whose earlier work inspired Ashok Gupta’s amygdala hypothesis for CFS. Another fun fact about him is that he plays music in a band called The Amygdaloids. I’ve noticed that a lot of highly intelligent and creative people love playing music, even if it’s not their main gig in life. My guess is that it exercises the emotional side of the brain that often gets neglected in our overly analytical western society. Writing books about how emotions work in the brain isn’t the same as actually feeling something.

Continue reading “My Anxious Brain”

My Thoughts on The Lightning Process

A thunderstorm has just passed over my place, so maybe the universe is telling me to answer this question I got via email recently:

Hi, I’ve had this hideous illness since 1998. However, I enjoyed approx 6 years of feeling quite well but with symptoms at times. I could walk up to 3 hours a day and was extremely fit. Four years ago I went through some massive stress that’s still not quite worked out but getting there and relapsed. I’m devastated. The recovery is taking forever and I never saw this coming. One lady I did know very well with CFS claims she is healed by the lightning process. So much so that she’s become a practitioner herself. She says I’m choosing to be sick because I won’t do it too. I’ve read heaps on it and found lot’s of disturbing anecdotes along with positive. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this?

I haven’t done The Lightning Process myself, but a very good friend of mine who has almost completely recovered from CFS has, so I asked him for his thoughts. Here’s his reply:

It has been one of my main influences in a positive way.

Worth the money

And it nicely pulls together a lot of the other stuff I did that I value.

I would recommend it to anyone who feels called…

Between my friend and I, we’ve done just about every physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual therapy out there in order to get well. I’m convinced that the ultimate underlying cause of CFS is overwhelming stress compounded by emotional trauma, being expressed by our body and nervous system.

My understanding is that The Lightning Process is a collection of tools for breaking stressful thought and behavior patterns that led to chronic hyper-activation of our sympathetic nervous system; and all the weird-ass symptoms that result from that.

In previous conversations with my friend, the three things I’ve heard him talk about that appeared most valuable from his experience of The Lightning Process are:

  1. The concept of “positive editing”: reframing every experience that we have to see the beneficial side, and changing the language we use both externally and internally to reflect this. Our nervous system is listening to our thoughts, and some thoughts are more frightening than others. So rather than thinking of it as a “hideous illness”, try thinking of it as an opportunity to learn more about what is really important to you.
  2. Taking responsibility in our thoughts and language for the fact that we created the illness and the symptoms that go with it.
  3. Having a coach. My friend has consistently talked about the benefit of the ongoing coaching that he got after doing the initial Lightning Process training. In fact, my friend is now a transformation coach himself.

I don’t really want to say much more given that I haven’t actually done it myself. I know some people struggle with taking responsibility for their illness, and see this as blaming the victim. I think shifting out of victim mentality is one of the key ingredients to recovering, and for me that means taking action on the things that are important to me. If the Lightning Process helps you do that, then it’s probably a good thing.

Noting that one of the really valuable things to my friend was having a coach, I want to remind you that I’m currently offering 3 months free recovery coaching for people with CFS in return for you filling in 3 monthly surveys. While I’m not trained in The Lightning Process, I believe the tools that I can teach you for dealing with the emotions and stress of being ill are at least comparable, if not better.

I had a first conversation this morning with a new client who has been ill with CFS for 17 years, and immediately identified that she has been internalizing her anger most of her life. I taught her how to express anger constructively, and she’s already starting to see things differently. I also got to see that even though I’m not 100% recovered yet, I have something valuable to offer and can start helping people now.

Three people have already taken up the offer, so I only have 2 coaching slots left. Please let me know if you’re interested.

Cheers,
Graham

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.