Random Tips For Starting The Gupta Programme

It’s been 3 months today since I started the Gupta programme. It seems to be helping. I just sent an email to a reader who’s about to start, and here are some suggestions from it:

I think the trick is that when you have an increase in energy… don’t do more activity than what you’ve been doing! Give your body the chance to recover instead. Easier said than done though. It will take some time to get started on the programme. Don’t watch more than one session a day; it’s important not to stress yourself out with the program. They cover this in Session 1. There’s also a follow-up DVD, but you won’t need it until you’ve been doing the programme for at least a few weeks.

As far as I’m aware, the damage done by being in permanent fight-or-flight mode is recoverable. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that CFS sufferers age more quickly than anyone else. So once the adrenaline is switched off, you recover back to how you normally feel at whatever age; but your fitness will be shot because you stopped exercising. That’s recoverable too though; just don’t dive in too quickly to exercising again. You want to be really sure that you’re health is better first before working on your fitness.

I tried changing my diet, but never saw any difference with anything I did. Except that when I did the Liver Cleansing Diet and totally upped my fruit and vegetable intake, I had particularly flowing bowel movements! I eat a bit healthier now that I did before CFS, but I don’t really watch what I eat that much. I’ve gone non-dairy since starting the Gupta programme because I wanted to do everything he recommended. Going non-dairy before never made any discernible difference to me though. I think it’s stress related rather than diet related, with the proviso that a bad diet exacerbates stress and probably has a negative effect on the condition.

Alcohol makes me feel really whacked. I never did respond really well to it; just made me woozy and hard to focus my eyes, rather than uninhibited. Now I avoid it almost completely. The occasional red when I’m out socialising, or chocolate liqueur when I’m feeling rebellious is it. I avoid all exercise. I’ll go for a walk with a friend, but avoid getting my heart rate up. I’ll put energy into getting my fitness back when my health is back. I lowered my food intake to compensate so I don’t put weight on. I was going to the gym 3x per week, and dancing every other night when I got ill.

I’ve been on the Gupta programme for 3 months today. I have 3 months to go until the minimum recommended 6 months. I seem to be getting a bit better; mainly less tense. I’m hoping that means my body is starting to recover, and I’ll be less tired. I’m also axing some commitments that have been causing me extra stress, even though I quite enjoyed them when I felt OK. Doing too much pushes me into overwhelm, where things I normally enjoy suddenly become stressful and unpleasant.

I did a scene in acting class tonight, where we’re encouraged to base our scenario on something true that affects us in our lives. In mine, I was going on a road trip because I was going stir-crazy sitting at home being ill. The teacher asked what was wrong, and I slightly-reluctantly said I’d had Chronic Fatigue for two years. He asked “God, how do you deal with that?” and my answer was something along the lines of: “I’m not!”

I think all this stuff is linked, and my new life of creativity since ditching my Engineering career is an important part of being OK with who I’m meant to be. In addition to Gupta, I’m also doing an acting course which is helping me break out of holding my emotions in, including anger. It’s not meant to be therapy, but it is very therapeutic. I’m also going to explore psychodrama as another way of finding expression for my anger. And I’m working on even better social skills to lessen my social anxiety; I don’t think we’re built to work in isolation, and there’s only so far you can get with inward-looking therapy. At the end of the day, we need to be able to relate to other people in order to stay psychologically, mentally, and, as it turns out, physically healthy. The more I learn about and experience mental health problems, the more I see the link to emotional repression. It just makes me want to scream. 😉

I’ve been getting some great feedback on my writing here on this blog and elsewhere; I have a dream of being a professional writer. Or musician. Or comedian. Or public speaker. Indecision! I suspect the whole amygdala thing is at the root of that. Or at least, that’s my current excuse!

I’m looking forward to the big pagan festival this weekend, and a bit of down time. Plus catching up with a friend or two. Should be good. If anyone else with CFS wants to chat on Skype any time, my address is graham.a.stoney . I often find talking to other sufferers really encouraging. It’s so good not having to explain what you’re going through; you just need to pick the ones who still have a positive outlook about the whole thing. We’re out there!

Jealousy, Fear, Anxiety, Setbacks and Starting Again

I went to acting practise last night, and had a good time; it always gives me a lift. There’s a girl there who I really like who has been quite friendly towards me, and I’ve been hoping to get to know her better. Last night I heard her say to one of the other guys “We’ll have to get together for coffee sometime!” Urgh. I felt really jealous. I’ve had a few minor setbacks in the romance area lately; a number of girls I’d been interested in turned out to have boyfriends, or to just seem uninterested in me. Another girl I met on the Internet has turned fickle and negative towards me (yeah, there’s a story there). Definitely triggers my whole abandonment fears. But there are plenty of other fish in the sea, right? So I stayed up late last night sending contact requests to women who sounded interesting on an online dating site. The problem for guys online is that with the usual inhibitions out of the way, women are swamped with requests from introverted guys and you end up lost in the noise. If I get any response at all, most of the time it’s a rejection… which hit’s that abandonment button square on. Gawd, I’d love to be less sensitive. Just brush it all off and move on. I felt really lonely and looked around for someone online to chat to, but there was nobody… and I was too tired to keep my eyes open anyway.

It was almost 1am by the time I got to bed, and I had a pretty good sleep. I woke up about 8:30am this morning feeling an anxious sensation in my chest. It was accompanied by the usual thoughts about the Big Three: health (when is it going to get better?), career (what am I going to do?), and relationships (when am I going to sort that out?). I listened to the meditation CD, and calmed down a bit. I wish it was possible to have an amygdalectomy and just get the bastard removed. My emotions only ever seem to cause me trouble.

I went to see an amateur production of Grease on the weekend which some friends of mine were in. It took me back to my first role, where I played Kenickie… before I got ill. I almost cried when Rizzo sang “There are worse things I could do”; I was actually moved by it. My acting teacher has been telling me to “be more affected by things”, so I guess I’m getting there. I’m still hoping that the acting course unlocks my emotional repression enough to release some of the stress I feel, allowing my body to recover faster than it would just with the Gupta programme alone. I seem to be getting more expressive during practise, and I’m really enjoying the course as it definitely gives me a lift most of the time. Just as long as I don’t wear myself out with the extra workload. I also want to try some psychodrama… I’ll let you know how that goes.

I visited my parents yesterday for the first time in a couple of months, which went OK. I’d grown a beard and shaved my head since last seeing them. My mother didn’t recognise me. Later on she asked “If you could do anything, what would you like to do?”. I think she was reaching out and trying to be helpful; but I wasn’t in the mood. Too tired to really engage, and I had a busy day yesterday which didn’t help. A pre-CFS friend from dancing rang while I was there to invite me around for Good Friday lunch. It’s nice to know I still have a few friends who keep in touch since I dropped off the planet.

I’ve just watched Session 3 of the programme, so I’m back to starting again with Stop-Stop-Stop. I hope the testimonials give me more motivation, as I’ve been kinda slack lately. I haven’t felt too bad physically though lately; mainly just tired and a bit anxious. I’m kinda at the “I can live with this; but it’s still a pain in the ass” level. I’m taking my guitar to acting class this afternoon for my activity, and doing two classes today. That should be fun!

Painful Vulnerability

Nothing triggers my emotional insecurities like a pretty girl who appears disinterested in me. There’s one such girl in my Toastmasters club. Let’s call her Liz. She’s extraordinarily pretty, intelligent, slim, shy and endearing. Shy and endearing look pretty attractive on a girl. When she turned up to a club meeting a few months ago, I fell for her the moment I met her.

So I went along to Toastmasters last night. I’m president of my club, so I always feel a tiny bit extra special there, and it’s usually an enjoyable evening. The role of the president is to learn the skill of delegation, so I actually do the least work of any committee member. Last night I sat next to Liz. We ended up going head-to-head in the impromptu speaking debate on whether long or short hair is better. Having just had my head shaved, I spoke for short hair. She won. I even voted for her.

Liz is sweet and friendly… but I think disinterested. I occasionally thought I was getting some positive vibes from her and have made a couple of attempts to connect with her outside of Toastmasters meetings. When she split from her boyfriend late last year, I thought I might get to know her better. But when I recently invited her to come to a musical with me, she said she was “busy that night”; as opposed to “busy that night, but could we go another night?”. I know she’s not the most assertive person (that’s why people go to Toastmasters!), but I figured if she was interested she’d be giving me a few more positive signals.

I tend to get stuck on girls I really like who don’t seem interested in me. Perhaps there is something in me that likes a challenge. Or maybe it’s just my subconscious desire to endlessly reproduce the emotional abandonment of guess-which-parent. Either way, I feel really drawn to Liz, and keep thinking I should invite her to something else or trying to connect… while also thinking to just play it cool. I know I’ll be disappointed if/when she hooks up with someone else. I’m still working on developing my “abundance mentality” when it comes to appealing women, a.k.a. plenty of fish in the sea. There are several attractive girls in my acting class who I get to interact with at rehearsals, who also seem really sweet and appear more interested in being friends with me. I could just hook up with one of them. Somehow the thought of rejection by someone I really like causes this sick-in-the-stomach feeling for me. I know all the theory of handling rejection by not taking it personally, but when it comes to putting it into practise with a girl I’ve fallen for, it’s a different story. And a guy in my class who bought my book on attracting women sent me an email asking how to ask this girl he’s interested in out… I totally feel for him, much more than he realises.

I feel really envious for other guys who don’t seem to have this same painful vulnerability. They seem to just go through life without being affected by this sort of shit like I do. However, I’m getting to see in my acting class that other people have the same insecurities as me: the method we’re learning is totally self-exposing and based on being very real. It’s not actually “acting” at all, so I do get to see what’s going on for other people. And at the meditation retreat last week, it turned out that everyone was struggling but we just didn’t know what other people were going through, because we weren’t allowed to talk to each other. It’s a bit similar in our society where guys aren’t allowed (or rather, don’t allow themselves) to talk to each other about what’s really going on in their lives. So we don’t know “Oh, you go through that too eh?”

Last night I had a dream that Liz and I were at this huge nudist event, giving each other a big, close, naked hug. No doubt the scene was inspired by my memory of the recent Spencer Tunick shoot I participated in, but god that hug in my dream felt good. Not so good after I woke up and realised that it wasn’t real. All of this stuff goes on in the emotional centre of the brain, so I have no idea what impact it has on my CFS symptoms and the whole amygdala retraining recovery process. Should I abstain from any thoughts of emotional involvement with women? Or is it actually better for me to be feeling and expressing emotion? My exercise from acting class is to practise becoming more emotionally effected by things, not less. At the moment I’m a bit of a robot. Always have been, and I figure this internalised stress is what’s caused the illness in the first place. It would be nice to have a supportive partner but I dunno about the whole relationship thing. And I need to find a girl I like who also likes me; that’s always the dilemma.

I felt exhausted after breakfast today, and went back to bed. I remind myself that if my body feels exhausted, then rest is the top priority. It’s not a bad thing to spend a morning in bed; thus I avoid the anxious thoughts about it. I’ve been feeling less exhausted than usual lately and mainly just having the nasal drip and cough symptoms. They get worse when I don’t rest. I have to constantly remind myself not to take on new stuff, and to say “no” to things I want to do that will over-stretch me. I felt good at Toastmasters, and thought “maybe I will do those story-telling speeches I had planned after all”. But then I end up committing to things that don’t go so well when the time roles around and I’m exhausted.

I watched Session 2 again today, and got back into the meditation CD. I think it’s all working. Slowly. If you’re reading and have comments, I’d love to hear ’em.

My New Hairstyle

My New Hairstyle
My New Hairstyle

Ok, so here it is… my new hairstyle. I’ve been getting some pretty good feedback on it, and usually the person involved manages to keep a straight face.

In acting class today, the teacher asked: “Have you had a haircut Graham?”. He was serious!

It’s not too late to sponsor me to raise money for The Leukaemia Foundation. Help take your mind off Chronic Fatigue by clicking here and giving generously.

If nothing else, I’ve raised some cash for a worthy cause, and learned to spell “Leukaemia” correctly.

Anxiety and Overwhelm

I felt anxious in acting class today, and somewhat overwhelmed. Felt a bit pissed off with life and the whole emotional struggle thing. I still have a backlog of email to read & answer from my meditation retreat, and an overdue book report to write. Plus I haven’t seen my family in eons. My tendency is always to take on too much; it’s like an addiction!

Things got pretty heated during my exercise in class, and I got to have a bit of a yell, which was quite cathartic. Afterwards when the teacher critiqued me, he said I wasn’t taking things personally enough; I wasn’t being effected by what was said to me. Makes sense really, what with all the bottling up of emotion and everything. One of the girls in class came up to me afterwards and asked if I was OK, saying I looked upset after my exercise. Felt upset too. That was kind; one of the things about hanging out with a bunch of creative types who are working on their emotional awareness is that you get to meet some really caring people.

I’m back to watching the Gupta DVD’s again. I watched the first one again yesterday, and I could relate really strongly to it; perhaps even more so than last time. I think he’s hit the nail on the head. I’m pretty sure I don’t feel as exhausted as I used to.

I’m playing guitar this afternoon with a friend from my old guitar class. Then it’s off to Toastmasters tonight. Three things in one day… what, am I crazy? I’m taking tomorrow to catch up on my email. And that book report. And some rest. And remind me to listen to the meditation CD again. And…

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.

Sponsor me in The World’s Greatest Shave

I feel really tired today. Spent all morning in bed. Think I’ll go back there this afternoon. I realise that when I push myself, my symptoms just get worse; particularly the sore throat and cough. And my breathing gets really laboured, which is possibly the most annoying thing. I feel like stopping breathing just to take a rest… but I can’t do that for too long.

But when I rest a lot and forget about everything I’m missing out on, life’s not so bad. At least I don’t have, say, leukaemia. That’s gotta suck. And the World’s Greatest Shave is coming up to raise money for The Leukaemia Foundation, so I’m taking part. If you like this blog, or just want to support a really worthy cause, please sponsor me by clicking here. It’ll help take your mind of feeling tired.