By Dr Francis Teeney
Works at School of Psychology
Queen’s University Belfast
Once upon a time there was a man who was really very happy. He was the envy of his friends; his lifestyle was single, lived in the country, healthy living, sport, loads of swimming, yoga, boating, fishing, Friday night in the pub with his friends, a practising Christian and a job that he adored with great work colleagues. And all this despite being badly injured in an industrial accident in 1994 – not one to lie down but rather overcome obstacles he sought out a job that facilitated his new circumstances and restriction in motor movements and Meniere’s disease. Then one day he took a headache in work – strange for him as he did not really do sickness and never headaches. Someone gave him a couple of headache tablets and he carried on. Next day he tried to drive to work and experienced the strangest and scariest feelings of losing consciousness at the wheel of the car. This was serious and before long he was in hospital – nothing was found and a virus was diagnosed with a week of rest the prescription. Before the week was out he was found lying in his doorway; an ambulance was sent for by his close friends; matters deteriorated beyond belief and a roller coaster of 6 months away from home (and his dogs which were looked after by a neighbour); he ended up being cared for by family and friends as if he was a child. Huge weight loss, confidence crash and every week or so brought a new medical complication into the equation. Vertigo, bladder problems, social phobia, insomnia, aching limbs, brain fog, exhaustion, malaise to name but a few and within a few years had 17 operations. And the complications would come and go; all the while family, friends, medical profession looked on in complete disbelief at the gaunt figure in the bed they used to know as the confident, fun loving comedian who led an idyllic lifestyle. In desperation all manner of people from consultants to faith healers were sought out and all tried but to no avail. The reason I know so much about his person is because it was me.
This story may have started as “Once upon a time” but it is no fairy story. Those who have been exposed to M.E. / CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) will be familiar with many of the descriptions above; those reading about it for the first time will understandably struggle to comprehend how happy families can so quickly become dungeons and dragons. Do not fret if you are struggling with the condition as the global medical profession are in the same position. The uncertainty over cause and treatment is a major obstacle and despite research taking place all over the world we are no further on – or are we? When something sounds wrong and does not sit well with you then a little inner voice tends to let you know.
Fast forward 8 months into the illness. I had tried EMDR; Acupuncture, psychoanalysis, psychotropic intervention and much more. Medical professionals kept dealing with my head (and my inner voice would protest louder and louder as if the surgeon was about to amputate your leg but he/ she was removing the good leg by mistake).
Then there was the rare occurrence when a medical ‘expert’ would say there was nothing wrong with me and while I was angry at the time a close colleague and mentor quoted Socrates ‘The problem is that they do not know that they do not know’. Then I stumbled upon Mickel Therapy – a treatment programme for ME/CFS developed by a Scottish GP Dr David Mickel.
My introduction to Mickel Therapy was different. On the phone this complete stranger (Kyle Davies) truncated my life story without me even speaking – how did he know so much about me and how my life had changed? And the inner voice did not protest – in fact it seemed so at ease with what it was hearing was the cause and effect of M.E./CFS.
We are accustomed to believing that our mind and body are separate having different roles to play. But there are obvious connections. If I think of food then I will create saliva in my mouth. If I am frightened in my mind then it will translate into shallow quick breathing, increase in blood pressure, sweating etc. While these are two simple examples between mind and body consider then if undetected emotions generated deep in the brain were not picked up on, they would have an effect on our body without our knowledge. It is worse if we recognise the emotion and ignore it. Your emotions cannot lie – or at least not nearly as well as your thoughts can. If you are angry, frustrated, bored or fearful with aspects of your life but choose to do nothing about it then the emotions get more intense. More avoidance leads to greater intensity and all the while just as thinking of food creates saliva then the emotions are creating symptoms in the body – getting more extreme all the time. Something has got to give. And thus it was with me – a workaholic who could not say no, refused to lie down, continually running (metaphorically) from one job to the other, then going to the pool and squeezing in a swim before hurrying to the next engagement before going to sit at the side of a river fishing, or out on a boat with friends, sitting back enjoying the view, more work and more and more and anything else I could manage within my physical limitations ………….. I forgot to rest; forgot to do things that I wanted to do in my own time; forgot to do things in moderation, forgot that several medical professionals had told me to take it easy as opposed to trying to push myself beyond my physical limits and ignored the symptoms my body was generating with the assistance of my protesting emotions.
And so began my Mickel Therapy with Kyle Davies. Learning to read the emotional signals and acting upon them. Learning to recognise the ‘Liar’ voice in my head that told me I would never get better and seeing it for what it really is – nothing more than a little liar chattering out negative thoughts. I learned to do things that left me emotionally satisfied like the feeling you have after a lovely satisfying meal or after achieving something very worthwhile. Yes it was fraught with challenges and many times I felt like Frodo Baggins at the foot of Mount Doom – I knew what I had to do but was just afraid to do it.
There is a difference between the feelings that arise from our emotions and our picture of them. If the feeling is there, then it is telling you something. The feelings that arise directly out of emotions do not tell lies. Our picture of them is a different thing. It can airbrush out feelings that are there, or tell us that we have feelings that we would like to have, or perhaps were there, but that are not there now. The basis of Mickel Therapy is to let your true feelings/ emotions be your guide. The over activity in your brain’s emotion centres will then settle down and the need to generate symptoms in the body will pass.
This is a life choice and sometimes life can get in the way of recovery. Recovery can be stalled and thrown off course but the road to recovery lies in being true to yourself and not be the servant of all others. Yes you can still help others – I am not advocating a selfish lifestyle but rather a self first one. Get your ‘self’ emotionally contented and in moderation you can help others. Your true friends will also keep you right and nudge you when you are on the wrong path – recovery is contagious and many will want to help you.
Some of you may find it difficult to accept how emotions could be at the root cause of ME/CFS – let me give an example. The annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge witnesses two teams covering the exact same distance and under the exact same conditions – and roughly exerting the same energy in this encounter. Some years we are treated to a very close race and a few inches separates the two teams at the finish line. The winning team are jubilant, dancing around, hugging people after just having rowed themselves to their physical limits. The losing team having covered the same distance are exhausted, sometimes have to be lifted from the boat for emergency medical attention, heads down, depressed. The energy exerted was the same for both teams but one enjoys the emotional buzz of winning the other the emotional trauma of losing. One set of emotions creates energy and well-being the other produces exhaustion and despondency. So it is with Energy Disorders such as ME/CFS – the emotional centres in the brain are conveying messages that if not addressed produce exhaustion.
And if you know a little more about ME/CFS now than you did before then this blog was worthwhile. If not then it is just is another blog about M.E.