Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. and Fibromyalgia are severely debilitating conditions that render normal life impossible. You never know when your symptoms may escalate – you may start feeling ill when you go shopping, eat out with friends, or try to read a book. People who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. or Fibromyalgia often quit their jobs, limit their social interactions, avoid any kind of physical or mental exertion, and eventually start thinking of themselves as disabled people who have no hope of returning to normal life. People with CFS/M.E. or Fibromyalgia basically lose their lives. And as if losing one´s life wasn´t enough, there are people (including doctors) who say “it´s all in your head” and “you are just being lazy.” These are two of the worst things you can say to someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. or Fibromyalgia. These conditions are not in the head, they are very real! This article deals with the importance of starting to live a normal life again.
Having been cut off from work and social life for many years, it becomes increasingly difficult to change things back to normal. Even imagining that one will someday live as a healthy person again becomes impossible. If you´ve had agonizing pain and indescribable fatigue for 15 or 20 years, you will even forget what being healthy feels like, and you start to lose hope that you will ever be well again. Sounds like hell, right? There are millions of people who are suffering from these conditions. I used to be one of them. I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 15 years – 13 years of pain and suffering without even knowing I had CFS, let alone what the cause was, and then a couple of years of more suffering, but trying to recover at the same time. Now, it is not only my duty, but also my joy to share what I have learned during these years, and especially the 4 years it took me to regain my health.
So how did I recover? To say it in a nutshell: recovery meant a complete change in how I relate to myself, others and life itself. Instead of being focused on negative feelings and attitudes I had to learn to forgive, develop compassion, and rethink the basic assumptions about life. Change was not only mental and emotional – changing my mind was the basis on which I could start making changes in my everyday life. You can read more about my recovery story in these articles CFS is not in your head, but it may have something to do with your mind after all, How TAT can help Overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. or Fibromyalgia, and A New Idea for Dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. or Fibromyalgia.
Mind-body healing is about listening to your body´s “messages” (symptoms) and acting accordingly. In the case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. and Fibromyalgia, your body is probably trying to tell you to balance your true wishes with the demands of others, learn to assert yourself in difficult situations, heal your traumas, deal with your stress, and/or start living your life in a way that would bring you true joy and happiness. The messages our bodies are trying to get across are of course individual, but the above-mentioned ones seem to be quite common. The idea can be summed up in simple language: when you start to pay attention to how you are feeling, it will be possible to get the message, and once you get the message, you will know what to do. And when you do what the symptom messages are saying, the body has no more need for sending them to you. It may not be as straightforward in real life, but that´s basically it.
If you think about it with your rational mind, it seems that symptoms like fatigue and pain are telling you to slow down and pace yourself. But our bodies speak a different language, a language that cannot be understood with the logical mind. Even though it could be necessary to slow down (especially if you are stressed out), the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. and Fibromyalgia may be suggesting something else as well. Their purpose cannot be understood with the rational mind because it is your subconscious mind (bodymind) that is sending them. So instead of “take time off,” their message could be “do more of what you really love doing” or “stop putting up with abuse from other people and start standing up for what you really feel.” Your symptoms may also be related to unresolved emotional issues that are now making themselves felt through physical symptoms. There is a cause for everything, and also for your symptoms. As far as mind-body healing is concerned, getting to know what your symptoms are trying to communicate is the central part of overcoming any health issue. There are several ways to do that: observation, keeping a symptom diary, sensate focusing, meditation, and therapy. The most effective way for understanding my bodymind has been sandplay therapy (please see my article on sandplay therapy). There are probably more ways to do that, but the ones are mentioned should be enough.
When you have done what your body wants you to do, you will have less and less symptoms. Then, at a certain point, it will be possible and necessary to take slow steps towards living a normal life – going to work, hanging out with family and friends and doing other things that make you happy. You can start by trying to live as if you were healthy again. Even if you cannot yet go to work you can start by waking up and putting on your clothes as if you were going to work. Even if you are not confident enough to go jogging, you can put on your sports clothes as if you were going jogging, and try walking around the block if you can. The aim is to get over the emotional/energetic disturbances that are causing the symptoms so that it´s not necessary to be afraid to do “too much” anymore and you can, after some time of “faking it,” really start to lead a normal life again. You may find relief from pacing, but it is nothing more than a coping strategy. People who need to restrict their activities to keep them feeling tolerable may experience severe flare-ups of symptoms whenever they “do too much.” I´m sure your bodymind does not want you to restrict your activities for the rest of your life. It wants you to be well and happy!
Your bodymind understands actions rather than thoughts and your courageous participation in life`s affairs will send a powerful message to your bodymind: I AM WELL! I CAN COPE WITH MY LIFE! It is very important to make that shift at one point. Starting to live a normal life again is a challenge for those who have been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for any number of years, but it becomes necessary in later stages of recovery. If you have become accustomed to pacing yourself to keep symptoms at bay, doing something extra may bring up symptoms. But this is just what you need if you want to get well with the help of mind-body healing techniques. However, this should not be done too early. Thinking that you have recovered and then suddenly increasing activity can have adverse results. So it´s wise to take it slowly, step by step.
It is absolutely crucial to keep an eye on your symptoms and emotions throughout the recovery process. TAT is a great technique to use when some fear or other strong emotions come in the way of doing what you would like to do. You can deal with those obstacles easily if you know how to use TAT. For example, it is possible to get over fear of symptoms, negative beliefs around your health issues and much more. I would recommend having TAT in your toolbox for any problem or obstacle you may experience during your recovery. Please see my article on TAT for more information.
It is also important to find a healthy balance of activities during a day. Don`t do anything for too long. After sitting at your desk for hours, your bodymind can send you a signal that it is time to do something else. Then, just do what you feel like doing. Your body will reward you with a reduction of symptoms and maybe a pleasurable feeling. Doing things that create endorphins (the pleasure hormones) helps you to heal. Go to gym or the swimming pool if that`s what you`re into. Go to see a movie with a friend or go out for dinner. Slowly start to do things you love doing and you`ll see that gradually, as you gain more confidence, your body will let you do more and more. I encourage you to live your life as if you were healthy. Forget about your illness. Throw the idea of being sick out of your mind and out of your vocabulary. Be healthy and prove it by your actions! Act as if you were healthy. This will give the bodymind a strong signal that you are on top of things again. If you take charge of your life, your bodymind can soon “swich off” the symptoms because you trust yourself.
Think of the things you used to do or would like to start doing. If you haven`t been going swimming or jogging due to your symptoms, slowly start to do these things again. If symptoms arise, pay attention to what is going on. You might find an underlying fear or idea that seems to say: “You lack confidence (or strenght) to do it, so you better don`t.” It is important to let your bodymind know that you can cope with any activity, and especially with the ones you love most. And you can let your bodymind know that you can do it by… ACTING. Actions are more powerful that thoughts and words. Your bodymind wants to know that it is safe to drive a car, go shopping, play pool with friends, start full or part-time employment etc. Once you have made it clear by your actions that you can do these things, bodymind will take notice and let you do more and more of the things you love doing. The bodymind is spontaneous, so it requires you to be spontaneous. Find a range of different activities you love doing or need to do. Keep things simple and don`t do too much. Also, the bodymind has a gigantic memory. It still remembers all these situations where you felt helpless and did not resolve the situation. This information is stored in the cells of your body and is waiting for release. You must resolve any unresolved situations in order to go on with your life. There is nothing you can do about what happened, but you can change how you feel about what happened. And you can change it only in the present moment, right now!
The key is changing your attitudes and behavior and find a healthy balance in life:
Create space for yourself and have others respect your privacy
Do things you love doing
Stand up for yourself in difficult situations
Find balance between “time for yourself” and “time for others”
Ask help in difficult situations
Restore confidence in difficult situations
Become clear about your rights and responsibilities
Learn to say “no”
In general, be more self-confident. Do what you want to do and say what you want to say. Be true to your feelings, be true to yourself and don`t lie. If you really want to have that ice-cream then go and have it! If you really want to go for a walk on the beach, just do it! Do not leave anything undone because you are afraid you cannot cope – take risks! You can slowly start to do the things you love doing despite all the hindrances. Explain to your family members that it is important for your recovery to do things you love to do and do less of the things you don`t want to do. Self-assertive behavior will have a positive effect, but do not become selfish. Create space for yourself, but leave some for others too. Try to find a healthy balance between your own needs and other people`s needs, but at least for the time being, put your needs first.
About a year and a half after I started to heal myself I felt I was not making very rapid progress anymore, so I thought it would be a good idea to go back to a normal lifestyle and start full-time employment again. I decided to try and see if I would gain more self-confidence and thereby switch off the body`s alarms. The symptoms didn`t simply disappear and my body kept sending the symptoms, so I had to maintain the level of presence if I wanted to feel good and be able to do my job well (I learned to become present whenever I got symptoms and that always made me feel better). Although going to work didn’t heal me, the time in the office definitely had a positive effect on my self-confidence. I was living my life as if I was healthy by doing all the things a healthy person does and therefore I soon no longer had to be afraid that I might not cope with life. I proved by action that I could manage. The mild (and sometimes stronger) symptoms were really not a problem anymore because I already had the necessary level of energy and felt good enough to lead a full life. Also, I now had the necessary knowledge and experience to deal with symptoms. All I needed to do to make myself feel better was to go into my body and feel everything that was going on. After some time of concentrating on the unpleasant feelings in my body I invariably felt much better because the symptoms subsided. I had achieved a certain level of wellbeing and started to think of myself as healthy again. I lived with that contentment for quite a while, until I started to write this book and needed to re-experience the process of recovery and deal with whatever discomfort I still felt.
Finally, I decided to deal with the last remaining symptoms – mild brain-fog, pressure in the head and in the eyes and some fatigue. Writing a book on my recovery was one of the enjoyable healing actions I took and it motivated me to heal myself completely. I used EFT and TAT to deal with the symptoms that had not disappeared despite all my previous efforts. I felt that the underlying problems were too deep and too complex to ease out with actions alone. I wanted instant results and I wanted to eliminate the root of the problem. However, I realized that even though I used EFT and TAT to deal with symptoms, I still had to act according to my deepest needs. This is one of the key elements of recovery. You must live your life as if you were healthy – doing things you love doing and fulfilling your true potential in life.
Trust your intuition and see when is the right time to return to living a normal life again. It can be an enormous challenge after years of suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but it is possible. TAT is a great method for reducing fear, anxiety and stress you may experience during this process. There is always support if you need it and are willing to accept it. My main message is that full recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is possible, and moreover, it can be fun! You will learn a lot and become a stronger, happier and better human being. I hope you will find a way to recover.