One of the most disturbing aspects of Chronic Fatigue is its emotional impact. I find that everything I feel, especially the typically disturbing emotions, is magnified tremendously. I get really severe mood swings, triggered by seemingly minor events and relatively trivial thoughts. On the drop-down menu I describe some specific emotions common to Chronic Fatigue sufferers, and here I’ll go into what I’ve found helpful generally.
Emotional mastery is a relatively poorly understood topic, and doctors who form our normal first port of call when we’re ill are often poorly equipped to help with this aspect of our illness. We generally want a cure; we aren’t expecting to be told how to deal with how we feel. Which is a problem, because they don’t have a cure, and it’s my emotional response that causes the bulk of my suffering. A modern western upbringing can encourage us to repress how we feel, which only makes our negative feelings hang around even longer.
Visiting a therapist or holistic healer can be tremendously helpful for dealing with emotional upset. I’ve often been surprised what’s come up for me while talking to a good therapist. Whenever I’ve been able to offload some of my upset feelings I always feel better for it afterwards even if the physical symptoms are the same. If you’re in Australia, Medicare will contribute towards the cost of a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist if you have get a referral from your GP.
I have also found that learning to play guitar has enabled me to access emotions and release stress more easily that I could otherwise. When I play a song that really relates to how I feel, it seems to unlock something for me which leaves me feeling less stressed. Journaling is also helpful, and if you do it on a blog you’ll get the added benefit of helping to connect with other sufferers who understand what you’re going through.
Talking to an empathic non-judgemental friend is also tremendously valuable. I get reluctant to reach out when I’m feeling really rotten, because I get tired of hearing myself complain about being unwell all the time and I don’t like the idea of dragging other people down. But as R.E.M. say in their song: everybody hurts. Everybody can relate to the notion of suffering, whether they’ve experienced Chronic Fatigue or not. The trick is to find supportive friends who are prepared to support you without judging you for what you’re going through.
There are also workshops and courses which teach emotional mastery to help diffuse pent-up emotions. I’ve done Nicholas de Castella’s Passionately Alive workshop in Melbourne Australia, and recommend it particularly as Nicholas is has recovered from Chronic Fatigue himself. Tell him Graham sent you. Beyond Success’s Mental Toolbox is also great, and more widely available in most major Australian capital cities; use my promo code GRASTO when you book to get discounted tickets.
Another technique I’ve found helpful for dealing with troubling emotions is called The Sedona Method. It consists essentially of a series of three questions to ask yourself regarding the difficult emotion: “Could I let it go”, “Would I let it go”, and “When?” Variations include “Could I let it be”, “Would I let it be”, and “When?”. Resisting an unpleasant emotion tends to make it worse, and this technique of active acceptance helps to release it. Check out the book, or visit their website for more advanced training materials.
Given that I had a particularly emotionally repressive childhood and career, I even went as far as doing an acting course that focuses on emotional expression, which a fellow Chronic Fatigue sufferer recommended to me.
Unfortunately none of these ideas will give a direct, immediate cure to Chronic Fatigue. But they will help alleviate the emotional suffering that goes with it. While the precise cause of the condition is unknown, reducing your stress levels by dealing with its emotional impact will improve your body’s immune response and is likely to aid in recovery.