Many of you know that I have been supporting the ME / CFS / FM community for nearly 10 years now and I think it is fair to say that I know a little bit about how to live with these complex conditions we support. However, this year, I have learned the difference between knowing something at an academic level and knowing something through a lived experience.
As much as my year has been a really crappy year health-wise suffering symptoms of fatigue and brain fog, it has bought some great learning at both personal and professional levels. Thankfully, the work I do provides all the knowledge I need. It has been a time to ‘walk my talk’ and apply all that I teach my clients. I know this stuff inside out; I can recite it in my sleep. But can I put it into practice as I expect my clients to do?
I knew that resting and pacing were important, I knew that I needed to live within my energy envelope, and I knew the importance of giving myself permission to rest. And that I did! We speak about the importance of holding compassion for thyself: and that I did too, albeit in varying degrees.
Applying these practical concepts was good, but I needed to explore more. I became my own science experiment and stepped back from myself regularly to simply observe; observe what was happening, observe my emotions and how I felt about what was happening, observe my thinking and what I thought about what was happening, and observe my behaviours and how I was reacting to what was happening – All observed through the non-judgemental lens of mindfulness and compassion (mostly / sometimes).
I noticed I used distraction a lot as a coping mechanism and to avoid what I was thinking and feeling. I’ve never been one for playing games on my phone, and yet I found myself playing Spot the Object in the Picture, untangling twisty knots and playing Wordfinder. I watched A LOT of TV and I craved and consumed truckloads of carbs and chocolate that I had no mind over to control.
Occasionally I had bursts of energy and enthusiasm to start a new plan but went too hard, too fast and crashed. This happened a couple of times before I realised that this is classic PEM in action. Again, the many conversations I have had with clients came to mind…
What amazed me the most was ‘knowing’ what I needed to do but the powerlessness I felt to transmute that into ‘doing’. While the scientist in me scratched her head in amused wonderment and curiosity, the Tracey in me eventually went to dark places in her mind and heart.
I had now entered into an emotional journey which in itself was very fascinating. Back to my childhood I went and found myself revisiting some old haunts in the recesses of mind and heart. It was interesting to hear some old self-talk tapes play again after a long hiatus.
OMG did I really think like that once? I was finally able to acknowledge and find peace with those long-held emotions and release old beliefs and ideals that no longer serve. Yay!
I had been listening to a lot of podcasts about trauma which helped me to realise how my behaviours were a reaction to stress – I wasn’t in ‘fight or flight’ but in a freeze state. My living habits were actually my ‘stress behaviours!’ I realised this without recognition that I was in fact stressed. Or rather, had been stressed. I realised that I was still stuck in a freeze response, well after an overwhelming event that had happened months ago.
I reread my presentation on Stress (February 2022 – See our website) which states that “you cannot ‘think’ your way out of a stress response”. In other words, you must start with the body. I now realise that I never really understood what that meant. No wonder my earlier cognitive-based planning turned to custard.
A lightbulb moment came in September when Annabelle presented Vagal Nerve Activation. After doing the exercises she demonstrated, and googling some others, I noticed how much more relaxed my body felt. My shoulders were relaxed and down, no longer hugging my earlobes; my posture was straighter; my mind felt calmer, I was less reactive, and I suddenly had an urge to connect with others. Previously I felt isolated, which was okay for a small time as I withdrew into myself for self-preservation, but I was now ready to come out of my inner sanctuary to reconnect with the world and reengage with living.
So, “starting with the body” I now understand means relaxing the body first and then the rest will follow. Relaxing my body allowed emotional tension to release and OMG, that s*@t is heavy!! I now feel a renewed sense of energy emerging. With a relaxed mind, heart and body, I have fewer carb cravings and I find myself naturally making better food choices. Self-care is soooo much easier to do! What I have learned is that nothing will work UNTIL I am relaxed and in a state of calm!!! And vagal activation and toning have been the key for me. Halleluiah!
I now am bouncing my boundaries to include more activity into my day and get my body moving again from being so still for so long. Rest is still taken when I need it, with no apologies! Knowing my dashboard lights is really helpful but listening to my body and pacing still needs a little work. YES!! I really do get how hard it is to NOT ignore those warning sign.
My science experiment is forever ongoing, but upon reflection, I recognise that the healing journey, regardless of the illness, or cause, is a sacred journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. It is not just about physical healing, but my emotional world needed some air time too.
In sharing a wee slice of my journey, I hope to encourage you to be your own science experiment and bring calm into your daily life. For me, this is where my healing started and from this calm space, the next steps on my healing journey continue to reveal themselves.
Give it a try, you may be surprised by what you learn and where your journey takes you.