Many things contributed to my recovery from ME. Many, many things actually:
- Getting the nutrition and supplements right to support my body in starting to fire up the processes that it had forgotten how to do properly
- Protecting my weak nervous system from environmental stressors like wifi and electromagnetic fields, and removing toxins like mercury fillings
- Quitting the industry that I had been in for twenty years, that required me to become an entirely different person than who I actually am (it's no wonder my body went on strike)
- Addressing my emotional health by processing some of the baggage I've been carrying around with me for years.
But I realise now that one of the single biggest areas that I had to get right in order to get my health back was this: Lifestyle and Pace.
Like most people with ME, I was an A type personality, cramming my life full of things to do, places to be and people to see. I lived life at breakneck speed when I was well, and tried to carry on doing the same when I got sick.
When I first had ME, I kept pushing through so I could try to keep working the thirteen hour days and doing all the extra-curricular things that I enjoyed doing - boxing, ashtanga yoga, singing in a choir, going out with friends for a beer or six, and anything else that took my fancy.
In a very short space of time, it became apparent that my body was having none of it, often rewarding me with a health crash (I call them relapses) where I literally would be unable to get up for more than about five minutes for anywhere between two and ten days. So I had to reduce my work hours to 8 hours a day (more than my contractual hours but it still horrified me!) - this wasn't so much an active choice as my body forcing me into a hostage situation if I didn't. And even then, this wasn't enough for my poor, depleted body. I soon got into a pattern of relapses every four to eight weeks where I would be bedbound for a few days before returning to work.
So in August of 2016 I took a sabbatical from work - seven months to really focus on getting better. I had no work to worry about and vast swathes of time and space to do what I wanted. So what did I do? I filled it.
It was only towards the end of my time off when I was congratulating myself that I had never been bored, that I realised I had crammed my life with new things - non-work things. I was spending my days sewing, painting, knitting, walking... yes I was sleeping - a LOT, because I had to, but my waking hours were still a steam-train of doing doing doing.
The thing that I had spectacularly failed to do was this: listen to my body. I had been told on many occasions: 'listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs', but honestly? I just didn't truly understand what that meant.
My turning point was one day last spring when I had driven out to a National Trust property, and I went round the house, feeling pretty good. Then, all of a sudden I got 'the feeling'. That awful moment when the puppet strings have been cut, and it suddenly feels like gravity is acting on you three times heavier than it should be. It had become an effort to keep my head upright on my neck and every step forward was a big effort. Now this, dear readers, is the point at which I should have said to myself: 'ok, sweet body - I hear you; what is it that you want right now?', and undoubtedly, it would have said: 'home please, and make it snappy so we can lie down and reboot'.
But what did I do? Worried that I needed to maximise the value I got from my visit, I forced myself to walk round the gardens and over to the working farm. By the time I got back to the car, I was in pieces, highly adrenalised, pretty much vibrating with exhaustion and unsure how the hell I was going to manage the hour's drive home.
Bad move, Bryant.
BUT, this experience was a long-overdue slap across the face. I finally understood what it meant to listen to your body. For me, it means this:
- Getting in the habit of asking your body what it wants before it feels it has to punish you for pushing it too far.
- This might be asking it about plans, or making choices i.e. 'do I want to go out and meet friends today or would I rather lie down and chill?'; 'are we liking the idea of yoga today or would you rather have a little walk?'
- It might be a mid-plan check-in i.e. 'ok so we're halfway through my life-drawing class - do I want to carry on, or am I ready to go home and relax?' (assuming you're the painter rather than the model - lol!)
- It might be checking in with it about what your putting into your body i.e. 'would you rather have toast, or eggs'? (my body loves eggs but gluten, not so much)
- And then, listening. It will be pretty clear whether it is transmitting a 'yeah, this feels good, let's do it!' feeling, or a 'oof no, no, no - I really don't want that right now'. And once you've opened this channel up of really listening to your body, it will start chatting to you more often so it becomes really easy to know what the best thing is for it - and some of these things might surprise you!
- Finally, of course, acting on it. By listening, and giving your body what it wants, you are teaching it that it is safe, and that it doesn't need to give you the big, dramatic relapses because you haven't heard its message.
The thing to know, is that this is not forever. You can get back to doing all the things you want to do in a day, and still have energy left over.
But the other thing to know is that surrendering to what your body is trying to tell you is a huge factor in getting back to full health. And actually, it can feel pretty good to be giving your body what it needs.
The only way out is through, and 'through' is surrender.