CFS and Trauma Recovery

I just had this question from a friend via email, and thought I’d share my answer as an update on how I’m doing:

Have you got anything out of Mickel? I am now onto a new theory that I believe is the key to unlocking us. Have you read DRS Peter Levine, David Berceli… both guys are into Trauma Recovery. Childhood trauma … repression… has locked our fight/flight energy cycle and their are exercises to release it thru shaking/trembling.

The main thing I’ve got out of Mickel is that it’s changed my thinking about what to do when I feel really tired in the afternoons. I used to go lie down. Now, I go out and move my body in some way. I’ve improved to the point where I now exercise regularly and feel no ill effects afterwards; I think being on the adrenal fatigue diet for about 8 months now contributed to this because I remember noticing that I wasn’t so shaky any more before starting Mickel therapy. So my fitness is now improving too; probably faster than my health. I still tense in the head a lot, but I can think straight so that’s not so bad.

I have read Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine, and it made a lot of sense to me. The trauma of growing up hypersensitive in an environment of conflict was heightened for me by my belief that I had to keep my emotions to myself. If I was shaking out of fear, or crying, I would try very hard to suppress it. I can now see that this is the exact opposite of what is needed for the body to recover and avoid internalising the trauma. It makes sense to me that the amygdala and/or hypothalamus could get stuck in this fight-flight-freeze state. I often feel shivers running through my body when doing emotional release work; I have tried to bring them on using somatic experiencing as described in Waking The Tiger, but found the process frustrating. I think moving my body when I feel unwell also helps unlock the tension that’s still stored there.

I feel a bit raw today as I’ve just completed The Hoffman Process, which dives deep into negative patterns learned from parents when we were children. I did it to try and deal with the anxiety that hit me earlier this year; my Mickel therapist said that anxiety was common and indicated that the treatment was working, but I found it very distressing; traumatising in its own right. I identified a heap of negative patterns doing Hoffman, and the ones that led me to suppress emotion seemed particularly relevant to being ill. I was glad my fitness had improved before doing Hoffman because I found it very physically demanding. It’s like all the most intense therapeutic processes you can imagine all crammed into one intense week. I felt a lot of anger towards my mother coming up, but felt stuck when it came to my father. Then finally anger towards my father came up as transference to other course participants in the final half hour of the post-course tutorial. It was too late to do much with in the process, but I’ll be taking up boxing to dig deeper into that.

I figure all this black stuff in the subconscious adds to the anxiety load that triggers the fight-flight-freeze thing but the proof will be in the pudding over the next few months. I’m almost tempted to say I don’t have CFS any more; I just have a lot of tension in my head that makes me tired sometimes. As long as I avoid stressful situations, my flu-like symptoms are quite tolerable… just like having a slightly runny nose.


PS: Just to make all the Aussies jealous, I’m on holidays in Byron Bay for the next week, then headed north to explore Queensland’s east coast. Good times!

Author: Graham

I'm a guy in his late 40's, recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since May 2009. I now offer coaching and support to other people with CFS/ME.

4 thoughts on “CFS and Trauma Recovery”

  1. Graham, you sound like you’re doing great physically. You’ve literally been doing more than I have in almost a decade. I’m happy for you, genuinely. Gives me hope. Im wondering, were you ever so bad that you were home bound by physically symptoms? Thanks. My best to you. 🙂

    1. Thanks. Glad to offer what hope I can. I am doing OK physically now. At my worst, I could only manage to get out of bed, shop for food, cook/eat it, and go back to bed. So I wasn’t entirely homebound no; whatever is just above that. One mistake I made was not asking other people (like my family) for help when I was desperate, which meant they didn’t appreciate the gravity of what I was going through, which meant they couldn’t offer me emotional support either. This probably would have helped me recover more quickly. Cheers, Graham

  2. Hi Graham. Definitely envious of your Byron holiday!! Interesting stuff here. I haven’t read about these processes so I’m responding just on my instincts. The idea of inducing trembling and shaking as a way of processing anxiety (rather than suppressing it??) is an interesting one. I think I agree with you that any physical activity will suffice. I would not ever want to try to recreate a feeling of trauma in order to work through it. I believe there is some science around the idea that expressing anger through aggression (e.g. hitting pillows, screaming, etc) doesn’t, in fact, lessen it. If anything, it can be more stimulating than calming. I do understand and agree with the notion that tension needs to be physicaslised in some way in order to be relieved. In my experience, working with the breath has been one of the most effective ways for me of relieving physical/mental/emotional tensions. Slowing the breath switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. One of my yoga mentors always swears by doing physical labour – digging, working in the garden, etc for dealing with negative emotion. Anyway, interesting post, good read. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jen. The idea of the shaking is to release the nervous energy from the nervous system. The best definition of trauma I’ve come across is “more emotion than we can handle”. We don’t want to recreate the tramua; we want to allow ourselves to experience the unpleasant emotions it created in smaller chunks or ways that aren’t overwhelming. I’ve also read that cathartic processes don’t help people who experience overwhelming anger; it just makes them more angry. But I have a history of suppressing anger and in that case I believe it’s helpful. I’ve done some breath work and yoga too to help me calm my mind. I feel pretty calm right now, so I think it’s working. Cheers, Graham

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