Using Music To Express Anger and Rage

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been studying Music Performance at a local tertiary college, and the experience has made me more convinced than ever that social isolation and repressed anger are, at the very least, perpetuating factors in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Dragging myself to college every day when I don’t feel great has been a challenge, and it’s been a constant balancing act between participating in class when I have the energy and resting when I need a recharge. The interactions with other students have also brought a lot of my unresolved adolescent insecurities to the surface: in some ways, going to college is like going back to high school. My fears about whether I would fit in brought up a lot of anxiety for me, coupled with a very strong desire to try hard to make other students like me. I often had to take a deep breath and remind myself to focus on what I was learning and just have fun participating instead.

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Daniel Neuffer’s ANS Rewire CFS/ME Recovery Program

Daniel Neuffer, the author of CFS Unravelled, has released a new CFS recovery program based on his theory that CFS is caused by an Autonomic Nervous System dysfunction. I have spoken to Daniel several times over the last few years and always found our conversations insightful and encouraging. I always remember him saying to me: “Graham, would you still be so anxious if you knew you would be fully recovered in say a years time?”

I think his theory about the cause of CFS is probably accurate and although I can’t vouch for the contents of his recovery program since I haven’t seen it, I thought I would let you all know about it so that you can check it out.

If you want to try the program, check out ANSRewire.com; and please leave a comment below letting me know how you find it. I’m particularly interested how it compares to DNRS and The Gupta Program.

How To Learn Tai Chi For Free

I’ve been learning Tai Chi lately, because I find the gentle movement more engaging than sitting meditation. It’s relaxing, and since it’s a very light form of exercise, I find that I don’t overdo it. I did some local classes early in the year, which was good in terms of getting out and meeting other like-minded people, but I found the teacher frustrating and nights still aren’t great for me.

So I decided to learn at home using this YouTube video Chris Pei. Tai Chi For Beginners:

At four hours long, it’s an epic undertaking; but remember that learning Tai Chi is a life-long process, and it’s not like something you just master first time. I suspect that my old attitude that life was about pushing through to the next accomplishment is part of what made me sick, so now it’s more about enjoying the learning process.

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How I REALLY Feel about My Mother

I woke up this morning feeling quite content. I had a fun day yesterday: I spent the afternoon in an Improv games workshop, playing improvised theatre games with a bunch of my old Improv friends. When I first got into Improv a few years ago, I was still quite ill. I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety, and I found the two hour classes each week a welcome relief because the games we played was so hilarious.

I was hoping that the fun would just naturally translate on to stage when I was performing Improv in front of other people; but in hindsight this was the best thing for me at the time. Although it was often hilarious for the audience, it was just far too far outside of my comfort zone. After doing Improv, I would often feel like I’d been smashed over the head with a frying pan. One of the golden rules of Improv is that “you can’t get it wrong”; but just try telling that to my limbic system with my deeply ingrained fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, and fear of what other people think of me. Lurking there in my subconscious, like little landmines ready to go off at any moment.

After a while, I began to resent Improv and the nervous breakdown that it gave me. My inner child had it the whole freak-out thing. I had to really push myself just to step into a scene, and it simply wasn’t fun any more. I was tired of pushing myself.

Now, a couple of years down the track now, I heard about yesterday’s drop-in improv games workshop and decided to give it a go. I was happy to find some of my old friends there, and it was great getting up and doing it just for fun. In some of the games there were opportunities to get angry; I found that it comes really naturally to me now.

I came home having had a fun afternoon, and caught a ride with one of the girls from the workshop; we had a great conversation on the way home about the teachings of Eckardt Tolle, consciousness, presence and all the cool things that I’m into nowadays. It was a Saturday night, but I still came home early; I’m kind of used to that now.

So back to this morning: I woke up feeling content, and had a bit of a lie in. I’ve been practising sending loving thoughts and breathing into emotions and physical sensations that I have, whether pleasant or unpleasant. I was really struck by one of the remarks in the TMS Recovery Program which said that the basis of self-love was loving and accepting your emotions. ALL of your emotions; even the ones that don’t feel so good.

That was going fine, until thoughts of my mother entered my mind. In case you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve had very little contact with my mother since a big argument we had 12 months ago, after which I realised that I just don’t feel emotionally safe around her (duh!). Feeling safe is really important to me, so I attempted to negotiate some new boundaries in our relationship that would leave me feeling safe. Since this process has stalled, we have more or less cut contact.

Cutting contact with my mother is painful, but I noticed my body reacting with migraines whenever I spent time with her. I’m still really triggered by the way that she treats my father, and I just don’t like being around it. I’m also treated by the way she responds when ever I feel upset, especially about something that she’s said or done. This makes family get-togethers difficult if I attend, or painful if I don’t; my old abandonment stuff just gets triggered again.

So during last week I rang the minister of the church where I grew up, which my parents still attend, in the hope that I could get some advice from him. Maybe he might even be able to broker some kind of peace deal between us, which could lead to us both sitting down and talking about the kind of relationship we would like to have. I want a relationship that meets both our needs, where we both get to feel safe.

And maybe pigs might fly backwards in space one day.

The minister was very understanding about where I was coming from, and I really felt heard. He was completely accepting of the idea that my migraines are linked to my feelings about my parents, and that I need to listen to what my body is telling me. He also had a perspective that I didn’t think my parents would ever really take seriously: that support from their adult children becomes more and more important as they age. Unless my mother is willing to do something about our broken relationship, it’s unlikely that I will want to do anything to support her during her twilight years.

I don’t think she can even see, or just plain isn’t willing to acknowledge, that the relationship is even broken. I can barely stand being around her when I know that she reserves the right to say things that trigger me so easily, and is unwilling to even talk about how we could make a relationship work for me.

So the minister could clearly see that it’s really in both my parents’ best interests for my mother to do something constructive about the situation between us. And for my father to step up and encourage her, rather just don’t just sit back and act passive like he has in the past.

Every now and then, I feel the urge to do something constructive myself to create a relationship that feels healthy my mother and I. The truth is I still feel really angry with her, and part of me probably doesn’t want it resolved. Why should she get the benefit of me looking after her physically in her twilight years, when she’s never looked after me emotionally during my entire life?

At the same time, I feel guilty about the resentment that I feel towards her; after all, she was there physically for me when I was growing up and she did cook, clean, clothe and send me off to school for years. But I never really felt safe around her emotionally, and feel tremendously resentful for the way she reacts to me when I’m upset. This has caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety, and had a devastating effect on my sense of self and my self-confidence. It’s the textbook childhood recipe for an adult attachment disorder.

So really, deep down I’m still just really fucking angry with her, and my father. These people whose apparent indifference to my emotions has caused me so much pain and trauma over so many years. No wonder I’m not interested in looking after them.

As the thoughts about my mother and father flowed through my mind in bed this morning, I felt this heavy sense of exhaustion sweep over me. It’s not just a psychological thing, it’s a physical thing. This rage that is buried deep inside me.

At the same time, I’m fucking sick of the whole deal, and just want to get on with my life.

During my phone conversation with the minister, he made a passing remark: “You know, you could just walk away”. I’m pretty sure that his point was that my parents should be grateful that I’m still making an effort to connect with them. But this morning, it sounds like really good advice: just walk away.

I guess a part of me is still hooked on wanting my parents emotional support. Or even just a connection with them that doesn’t cause me further pain, or simply drive me crazy with frustration.

Even though it’s never like me to come.

My experiences with people generally have taught me that the more needily invested I am in getting something from somebody else, the less likely they are to want to give it. If I really was to just walk away, not only might I save myself a whole heap of ongoing pain: It also opens up the possibility that down the track my parents might work out that not having me in their life is actually more painful than sorting out what causes me to stay away.

After visiting my mother in hospital last week, where we pretty much pretended that there was no problem between us, I’m afraid of just reverting back to our old adult/child relationship; which simply doesn’t work for me. So it’s either create a new adult/adult relationship, or walk away.

I took some solace this morning from Craig David’s song Walking Away:

Other People Don’t like Me, and Other Victim Stories

I’ve been feeling an increasing frustration at the difficulty that I’m having making new friends in the suburb where I live. I moved to Bondi about a year ago, and expected that I would be meeting people all over the place, especially considering that there are attractive, interesting people all over the place to meet.

Backpackers from all around the world come to Bondi, and there are plenty of interesting locals here as well. When I first moved in, it seemed really easy to meet people; but since then I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut and have found it more challenging. The local beach is full of pretty, interesting girls from all around the world, and yet something is stopping me from going up and talking to them.

It’s not hard to imagine what that something might be: my old fear of rejection rearing its ugly head again.

I can remember several years ago walking up to a pretty girl on a beach, despite my nerves, and saying “Hello, do you mind if I join you?” to her. She was quite polite and replied “I’m sorry, I’m not really up for a conversation right now.”

I wandered off feeling like I’d been hit in the head with a frying pan as a full blown panic attack set in. The fact that it was a nude beach, and neither of us had any clothes on probably didn’t help with my anxiety. I ended up calling a friend to help talk me down again. With memories like that, it’s no wonder that I’m still a little reticent.

I’ve had several really good experiences of meeting girls on the beach since moving here, and I don’t feel anywhere near as bothered nowadays when they don’t seem to want to engage with me. But a big part of me remembers those old panic attacks, and just doesn’t want to take the risk.

Even now just writing about it, I’m feeling that tense feeling in the head again.

So yesterday, I headed off to my psychologist to talk about what’s going on for me. If rejection doesn’t bother me so much any more, why is it I still feel like I’m struggling to meet new people?

Almost immediately in the session, I felt some powerful feelings of fear, sadness, grief and anger. Anger at not feeling well enough to do all the things I want to do, and at the people who have rejected me in the past; grief and sadness at the times in the past that I haven’t felt accepted or appreciated by other people; and fear about the whole rejection/loneliness/abandonment thing.

It’s amazing how deep some of these feelings can go. Even after years of working on this stuff, I still get strong feelings of not being safe around other people sometimes. Each time I told my therapist that I didn’t really feel safe, I felt the fear, sadness and grief come up again.

Things that didn’t feel safe for me included:

  • Meeting new people, especially cute girls.
  • Expressing my anger.
  • Telling the truth about what I wanted.
  • Making mistakes
  • Getting things wrong
  • Failure

I still did these things sometimes even though they didn’t feel safe; but I really wanted them to feel safe so that I could be more consistent and not feel like I’m pushing through anxiety all the time.

Another friend who used to suffer from social anxiety recently told me that once he had overcome the social anxiety, he still found that he had another fear to deal with: fear of the fear itself, and that really resonates with me. I can see that over the past few years with all the anxiety related to CFS, I’ve been telling myself a story that anxiety is too much for me; that I just can’t cope with it. I’m still afraid of my own feelings, basically.

I came home feeling exhausted, anxious and restless. It made for a fairly sleepless night.

Dealing with anger and anxiety in particular are still quite challenging for me, but I can see that the extent of the challenge is heavily influenced by what I tell myself about these troubling emotions. When I get all caught up in the story that it’s all too much, and I can’t do it, I just end up creating more stress and suffering for myself. It’s like my inner child still wants mummy to come and fix it all for me.

Clearly, that was never, and is never, going to happen.

Whereas when I tell myself that they’re just feelings, that there is nothing wrong, and that I don’t need anyone to come and save me from them, I feel more empowered.

It’s time to let go of that old story that meeting other people doesn’t feel safe, and start seeing it as a fun, exciting adventure.

Giving The Paleo Diet A Go

I’ve decided to give the Paleo diet ago, just for the fun of it.
“Who wants to eat a diet our ancestors ate when the average life expectancy was 25?” – A Comedian I Heard Recently Whose Name I Can’t Remember. (Anyone know, to save me doing the actual research?)
I’m pretty convinced that my CFS is due to emotional trauma, but I can also see that feeding my body food that our ancestors didn’t really evolve with probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world to do. It seems that CFS makes us more sensitive to everything, so it makes sense to avoid foods that we haven’t had enough time on an evolutionary scale to really adapt to.

My resolve started to waver though when I came across this TED talk titled “Debunking the Palio diet”:

While the first half of the talk does a good job of pointing out that our paleolithic ancestors probably didn’t have access to any of the foods that are included in the modern Paleo diet, I’m not convinced that the diet has actually been debunked here.

As far as grains go, the examples that she gave as evidence that our ancestors did eat grains was from tens of thousands of years ago; very late in the Palaeolithic era, which lasted 2.6 million years. It still makes sense to me that for most of that time, our ancestors didn’t know how to mill grain and it wouldn’t have been a part of their diet.

At the end she makes these points about what we can learn from the actual diet of our paleolithic ancestors to consider for a healthy modern diet:

  • Some of them ate lean meat occasionally.
  • They ate far less sugar.
  • Their diet was diverse.
  • They ate mainly fresh foods.
  • They ate mainly whole foods.

These are the very principles that the Paleo diet seems to be based on. So much for debunking!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.

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.

Unrefreshing Sleep!

Woke up this morning feeling depressed and washed out. “Unrefreshing sleep”, as they say. Well, I’ve never been a morning person so this is just more of the same. I think it was mainly about feeling overwhelmed and the zoned-out feeling in my head doesn’t help. I tried some anti-histamines yesterday to see if it did anything to my nasal congestion; but it did not. I also tried some Benadryl PE cough suppressant to try and help me get to sleep last night, and I think that helped a bit.

This afternoon I went to my men’s group, which I really enjoyed. There’s something about having a group of guys who don’t judge you; who accept you for who you are and where you’re at. I few years ago I would never have told anyone that I was depressed; the stigma would have been too great and I would have felt ashamed. But what do you know… everyone in the group has been depressed at one time or another. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s not what you want, but it’s part of the whole experience of being human.

Meanwhile, I have big plans for the future, and I’m working towards them. For some time I’ve been working towards becoming a professional public speaker or comedian. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to pan out, but I’ve got a few ideas for going forward. The main thing to deal with is my fear of failure. It’s unlikely that I’m going to hit the nail on the head first go, but I’m tired of feeling listless and like I’m not going anywhere. My fatigue is worst on the days when I have to get up in the mornings, but I cope reasonably well in the evenings. So evening gigs should be do-able. I need to keep reminding myself to be patient because it’s going to take some time to get the skills that I need and to do the networking that I need in order to get bookings. In the meantime, I’ll coach other people and pass on the communication skills that I’ve learned so far – They say that the way to fulfil your dreams is to help others fulfil theirs. Having a direction of some sort leaves me feeling more optimistic and less anxious than when I just have a vague plan and little real direction.

Self Acceptance, Emotional Truth, & How to Argue

While reading the introduction to Social Intelligence last night, it occurred to me that if the way I handle emotions is just a function of the way my brain is wired, plus my social conditioning, then what possible reason should I have for beating myself up about that? So I hold my feelings in… big deal! I decided it was finally time to try some radical self-acceptance.

However, this is a problem in the context of my acting practice exercises (rep), where people are always hassling me to “open up” more. I’m slowing getting there, but on the other hand, what if I just didn’t worry about that, and just enjoyed doing the exercise instead. Frankly, I have more fun when we laugh and joke around. They tell me I’m “avoiding”, but I actually enjoy laughing and joking around! I don’t enjoy getting upset, or angry.

So tonight I rocked up with my new I’m-just-going-to-have-fun attitude, and had a great time. Then I started rep’ing with one of the intermediate students, who I basically said “let me have it” to. She kept provoking me and provoking me until I really was angry, and we had a full-on screaming match. I was totally pissed off, and so was she. Then an amazing thing happened… we got to a point where her hostility gave way to upset. I recognised that she was hurt and called her on it, at which point she broke down and I became apologetic and compassionate. I comforted her with a hug, which she accepted, and we actually ended up really feeling connected. Aha! So that’s how a real-world argument is supposed to go! Assuming both partners are actually committed to sorting things out, rather than to just getting-each-other-back, eventually someone admits a vulnerability which moves the other person to compassion. Even though we were both really, genuinely pissed off with each other, I didn’t feel at all angry with her after the argument because we actually reached closure.

This is something I never saw in real world arguments while growing up, which made me fearful of conflict altogether. It turns out that you can have really heated arguments with tremendous emotional intensity, and yet end up with positive feelings towards each other; you’ve just got to be prepared to work to the point where you have closure and compassion for each other.