My recovery from CFS/ME
My journey back to full health from the misery of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was unfortunately longer than it could and should have been. If we (my husband, Pete, and myself) had known back then what we did now, the trial and error we went through could have been avoided and we could have honed in on those things which not only really helped me but also have since been scientifically proven to help.
One of the therapies I tried back when I was ill was Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) otherwise known as Tapping. I will be blogging more about this technique in upcoming blogs but, in a nutshell, EFT is a simple yet highly effective self-help tool based on energy psychology. It is based on the Eastern philosophy of gently tapping on energy meridian points throughout the body, the same meridian points used in acupuncture and acupressure. When I was ill, exactly how or why EFT worked was irrelevant to me; what I simply recognised was that I felt better after using it. EFT is simply amazing at helping with emotional, physical and behavioural problems, as well as helping to overcome negative thoughts.
I was taught EFT by an experienced practitioner who showed me where the tapping points were and how to tap effectively, for maximum benefits and health gains. Once I was taught it I could then use it myself at home whenever I needed to. There were times when it did not seem to be as effective as it could have been and it was then that I knew it was time to see the practitioner again as she seemed able to ask the right questions to bring up emotions that might have been hiding under the surface and which I was too reluctant to tackle myself. However, in general, tapping at home several times a day seemed to really help me feel more relaxed, which ultimately helped me feel physically better as well.
As I said, at the time, I did not really care how EFT was helping me, only that I knew that it was. However it is really interesting now with hindsight to read emerging research on EFT which scientifically demonstrates the physical effects EFT can have and why it was so helpful to my recovery.
A randomized, controlled trial study(1) has recently shown how EFT can have a physical effect on the body by affecting the biochemical marker of stress called cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone, often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’ as it is often elevated when we are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. In this study, 83 participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 were given one hour of traditional psychotherapy, ‘talk therapy’, group 2 were given one hour of EFT and group 3 were the control group and given no interventions. The cortisol levels of each group were measured before and after treatments.
The results were staggering. There were no changes in the cortisol levels for participants in group 1 and 3, but in group 2, the EFT group, the cortisol levels decreased by 24%. The researchers were so amazed by this response they thought that there must be an error in the readings and they recalibrated their equipment and retested. After a lot of retesting which showed the same results, they finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with their equipment: EFT worked!
If one single session of EFT can have such a dramatic reduction in cortisol levels, imagine what regular tapping could do for your health?
As we have seen in our webinars, the stress response which is responsible for elevated cortisol levels has wide-ranging, debilitating physical affects on our body. Something which starts life as an emotion or a negative thought can actually impact in a very real, physical way on how we are feeling, exacerbating our symptoms and hindering the body’s natural healing response. In my case, the insidious impact of cumulative stressors which had crept up on me and which not only meant then when I got ME/CFS my body was already in a compromised, weakened state but which also kept me ill for so long, was a key factor in my illness. Working with our clients, we know that I was not alone. So many sufferers are hindered by the effects of stressors which are keeping them stuck in ill-health, it is really tragic and frustrating that not more is being done to make sufferers aware of what can be done to help them.
Looking back with the knowledge we now have from the researchers, I am convinced that learning and using EFT was a key factor in my recovery. (In fact, it is now a key factor in my life, as when I recovered I went onto qualify as an Advanced Practitioner of EFT!) We now know how important this simple tool is for our clients and teach it to them so that we are really putting control of their health back into their hands, or rather at the tip of their fingers. If you would like to know more about this amazing tool which can revolutionise your health see Pete’s YouTube video and join us for one of our workshops and tap yourself back to health 🙂
1. Garret Yount, Audrey Brooks and Dawson Church,The Effect of Emotional Freedom Technique on Stress Biochemistry; A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,2012
Like many ME/CFS sufferers, I experienced debilitating brain fog for most of the time when I was ill. For those of you that haven’t experienced this symptom, brain fog is the term used to describe impaired mental and cognitive functioning. Years ago when I used to attend an aerobics class, I remember the teacher telling the class to imagine we were moving through mud (although the reasoning behind this is totally irrelevant to the issue in hand, I think the idea behind this is to imagine resistance so that the muscles of the body have to work harder!). Well, for me, brain fog is the cognitive equivalent of trying to move through mud. My thought processes seemed to go in slow motion and no matter how hard I tried to formulate a coherent thought, it was like trying to access information from some very slow, archaic computer, which clunked along seemingly operating but either not retrieving the correct information, or doing so so slowly that I had forgotten why I wanted it or garbling the information causing me confusion and frustration. Holding a sensible conversation was totally impossible; I could not follow logical trains of argument on even the simplest of topics let alone formulate responses. Following a short television programme or reading a few pages of a book, likewise ended up in a garbled and addled brain, confused, befuddled and exhausted by the sheer effort of trying to follow a linear trail of information.
Brain fog is an extremely common symptom for ME/CFS sufferers and I think I can safely say that all of our clients with ME or CFS have experienced this for at least some of the time before their recovery. But what exactly is brain fog? Well one hypothesis is that any stress impacting on the sufferer can exacerbate this symptom, the reason being is down to how our brain physiology changes when under stress.
Our brains have evolved significantly from the time 6 million years ago when we began to stand up and walk. Scientists believe that back then our brains were not so different from reptiles today. They could handle the essential functions of survival and little else. Eating, temperature control, running away or fighting, reproduction just think of what the average lizard does and you get the picture. As we evolved we developed new parts of brains with new functions. The first of these new areas is often referred to as the mammalian or limbic part as it has characteristics you associate with mammals. Emotions, feelings and basic communication are things you would normally associate with a dog or a horse. Look into a reptile’s eyes and you don’t see much emotion, but look into your dog’s eyes and we can often detect the emotion. The final new part of the brain is the cortex or neocortex; this is the clever part of brain that is involved with creativity, complex thought and language.
So how does this relate to stress? When stressed it is that old reptilian brain that takes over, and the rest of the brain goes on hold for a bit. If you think about it, this makes sense. When faced with a tiger, prehistoric man had few options. ‘Thinking’ would be likely to slow us down and result in a painful death! The part of the reptilian brain responsible for this prioritising of functions is known as the Amygdala. Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, uses the phrase ‘Amygdala hijack’ to explain what happens, which I think sums it up very well. When the amygdala interprets a situation as a threatening it hijacks the brain, beginning the cascade of reactions involved in the fight or flight response.
Along with creating problems with our thought process, the amygdala also affects our memories. How many people remember of the details of a life threatening situation? How often does it all appear a “bit of a blur”? This is because stress affects our ability to store and retrieve memories[i]. Chronic stress in particular can negatively affect memory and learning[ii] Even now, when I try to remember fine details of my illness before I recovered, it still seems a blur, because I don’t think my brain really focused on storing this information at the time; it was too busy counteracting the stress I was under and the stress associated with the condition itself.
Stress effectively robs us of the ability to think of anything more complex than running away or fighting and chronic stress hampers our ability to remember and learn. I don’t know about you but this certainly does sound like Brain Fog to me.
Thankfully, once I had started on my holistic journey back to health the fog did gradually clear, as I took control of stress and my limbic brain took over again and thinking through mud became a thing of the past 🙂
Sky Blue River
[i]Kuhlmann, S., Piel, M., Wolf, O.T. (2005). Imparied Memory Retrieval after Psychosocial Stress in Healthy Young Men. Journal of Neuroscience, 25(11), 2977-2982.
[ii]Pasquali, R. (2006). The Biological Balance between Psychological Well-Being and Distress: A Clinician’s Point of View. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 75, 69-71.