“Your journey has moulded you for the greater good. It was exactly what it needed to be. Don't think you've lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time." ~ Asha Tyson
Photography by Brittany Chard.
For fifteen years I lived a ceaselessly busy life, driven by a constant need to achieve and a tireless commitment to my corporate profession.
I had lived a good part of my life very actively pursuing my life goals and being physically fit. For over 10 years, I had been constantly pushing myself beyond my limits on all levels, and ignoring my body’s need for rest and nourishment.
Right up until I came crashing down with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) in January 2010 I had been burning the candle at both ends. My body was often in a state of 'flight and fight' mode, with the pressures and deadlines of a corporate career. At the end of the day, I was trying to be everything to everyone ~ to family, to career, to contributing to communities, and to my own personal commitments with study and fitness.
Towards the end of my corporate career in 2009, I started to suffer severe lower back pain and burnout that gradually led to glandular fever. I also developed the Epstein-Barr virus, intolerances to foods, a constant sore throat and swollen glands, muscle weakness and pain, and then debilitating chronic fatigue. This resulted in my life turning upside down.
At the peak of my youth (31 years) I experienced the grief of losing my 'independence' identity, and life as I once knew it.
I felt the betrayal of my body, as my body began to breakdown. I withdrew from the world in solitude to consciously heal my body, mind and energy system for 2.5 years.
The fatigue was absolutely devastating and overwhelming. For 12 months a heavy blanket of fatigue, exhaustion, lethargy and grief pressed down upon my body, mind and energy system. For example, the 8 meter walk or (sometimes crawl) from my bed to the shower became an exhausting task. After a shower I would often have to rest and recover in bed for the rest of the day. The simple pleasure and movement of patting my cat became unbearable to do. I went from being superwoman to being bedridden 24/7. The acute stage of the chronic fatigue syndrome over 12 months was a very raw, vulnerable, fragile and painful experience on all levels – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Like many others with CFS I tried to push through my symptoms, because I had always done so in the past when I was unwell with a flu or head cold.
But this time I kept getting worse. My energy continued to crash, symptoms flared, and I had to rest in bed for days. My body and muscles became weaker, I lost all my physical strength, and had little energy to communicate.
The gruelling force of the crash was also experienced with abdominal and digestive discomfort and pain, loss of appetite, and dramatic weight loss. I developed food intolerances as my digestive system began to shut down. I began to experience the loss of my personal will and motivation, and the inability to organise my mind and life. There was unexplained dizziness, short term memory loss, debilitating neurological / cognitive dysfunctions where I was unable to string a sentence together, or mentally process information. I’d lose words in mid-sentence. I also experienced chills, night sweats, fever, and sensitivities to the cold, heat, noise, and light. Further symptoms included emotional stress, nausea, low blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, poor circulation, muscle and joint pain, and insomnia.
I came to realise that living with this illness meant I had to change.
Acceptance was a major step towards feeling better, and towards recovery. It didn't mean embracing my pain or identifying myself only as a person with the illness of CFS. It meant a willingness to experience pain and fatigue as a part of life, and a willingness to move on with my life even when pain and fatigue were present. Ultimately acceptance meant adapting, more or less gracefully, to the changes that chronic illness brought. Living life well with a chronic illness meant nothing more and nothing less than accepting my humanness.
The CFS illness is not a detour but a journey along a bumpy road. It's not time out from real life; it IS REAL life.
I found I had to let go of the "before and after" comparisons, and work with what I had. I had to continue to live my life, taking profound responsibility for the core manifestation of the illness, and why I did and did not heal along the way.
My Healing Journey
At the beginning of my healing journey with CFS, the hardest thing for me was acceptance. I felt I had to explain my symptoms to the people around me. But since I didn't understand what was happening to me, I was extremely frightened by my symptoms. What was important during this process was that I had to learn not to be influenced by others who had unrealistic views of my abilities and what I ought to be doing.
The grieving process is difficult and painful but a necessary reaction to any significant loss. My intense grieving process took place for 12 months.
I believe healing and recovery cannot take place until the loss is mourned. The significant losses that an individual often experiences, like in my case with CFS include: vitality, enthusiasm, ability to perform responsibilities, activities and certain roles, ability to make love to my partner, the ability to communicate, motivation, independence, predictability and control, financial security, self-esteem, educational or training plans, leisure and social activities, plans and dreams. We lose vital parts of our lives and of ourselves.
There are several stages in the grieving process: denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, (for some) depression, and finally acceptance / adaptation. We may experience the stages in order, skip around them, omit certain stages entirely, or return to one stage repeatedly. There is no right way to grieve, nor an easy one. It’s a lengthy and bumpy process with no short cuts. We bounce back and forth among stages, sometimes feeling we have finally adapted, only to find ourselves thrown back into anger, denial or sadness. However knowing that I survived these earlier cycles within grief, meant I was less overwhelmed the second or third, or fourth time around. I came to a deep realisation that emotions are simply energy in motion that need to be expressed. I also became aware through this grieving process that I was releasing deep cellular suppressed emotions that were connected to trauma I experienced through childhood and life. I highly recommend seeking help with an experienced family therapist or grief counsellor who is CFS familiar - to cope with the emotional fallout of chronic illness, post traumatic stress, and especially when the memories of trauma appear.
The accepting, grieving and letting go of resistance towards my increasing debilitating state, allowed me to surrender into the healing process. The accepting and surrendering process enabled me to enter into a meditative place of peace and stillness within. This was when the healing truly began; when I found a place within that made me feel like I was whole and complete exactly as I was, enfolded within peace, love and comfort. I experienced no suffering with the body and emotions from within this place.
Learning to listen to (the wisdom of) my body was another significant step forward towards recovery.
I discovered that the moment you start to truly listen to your body, you send a powerful message to your brain, and your body stops resisting the healing process. I had to break the pattern of pushing myself too hard, by honestly looking at my need to achieve and to be "always doing". The more I began to listen to the messages my body was sending me, I slowly started to improve.
Listening to your body is about letting all the messages from your body speak to you, including the ones often shadowed by pain, the busyness of your day, or fatigue. Listening to your body is about giving your inner wisdom a chance to offer you some guidance on how to take care of yourself. And then having enough self-love to respond and follow through with the guidance you receive. It's about rebuilding a relationship with your body, seeing your pain, fatigue and illness as your guide and teacher.
It's about asking your body, 'What do you need right now? What would nourish you best in this moment?'
Once I had learnt to listen to my body I reached a new plateau, where neither the symptoms of CFS decreased or increased, and I found it hard to move beyond recovery. I had no other choice but to look within again and to try to identify what was stopping my recovery. In these moments of self-inquiry and discovery I would surrender to peace and the deeper healing process within.
Learning to pace myself was the hardest thing for me to do because I had to change a lifetime of faulty core beliefs and thought patterns that had developed throughout my childhood. I believe this was partly linked to my low self-esteem (at the time). I tended to look to people for approval. Growing up I had always received praise and validation for the things I had achieved in life, rather than for who I was.
Therefore, as an adult, I worked long hours in the corporate world chasing that achievement. I learned to push through illness and ignore the messages my body was giving, so that I could continue to achieve. With CFS, I had to learn a new way of being in the world. What finally relieved and lifted the heavy chronic fatigue, strengthened my spirits and faith, brought peace, and ultimately restored my well-being was deepening my connection to my spirituality. This part of my experience may not be shared by all CFS sufferers. However, for me it is an essential aspect of finding peace in my CFS healing journey. My spirituality deepened and became my lifeline, and brought with it a compassionate understanding around illness, living, dying and hope.
These are the other healing approaches that were involved in my recovery:
- Resting in stillness (meditation) and deep peace for the initial acute phase of my illness which occurred over 12 months, and then 'just being' for 2.5 years
- Acupuncture – Stimulating the life force energy flowing through the physical body and meridian energy pathways
- Naturopathy – Naturopaths believe in the ability of nature to heal. They focus on the body's innate healing ability. There was also a need to clear up the parasites in my system and correct my mineral and vitamin levels in the body. I also had an acute mineral deficiency affecting my health
- Ayurvedic medicine – A philosophy and medical practice originating from India that focuses on a wholesome lifestyle, incorporating diet, herbal preparations, massage, meditation and behaviour. The whole person rather than the disease label is the focus of treatment.
- Body and breath awareness
- Restorative yoga
- Deep relaxation; resting in stillness
- Adjustment to an alkaline (gluten, dairy, preservative, flavour enhancers & sugar free) diet
- Nutritional supplements - OxyMin Spirulina & USANA
- Ayurvedic and Kahuna massages
- Healing post traumatic stress
- Healing the masculine/feminine energetic dynamics within my psyche
- Tapping into the living intelligence of light and the power of love
- The elements within nature
- Cultivating qualities of self-love, acceptance, gratitude and compassion towards myself and the CFS illness along the way
Looking back, CFS has taught me so much about myself, spiritually, physically and emotionally.
There's no way I could have learned such valuable lessons without going through what I have been through, and developing a new life philosophy.
I now see that CFS has been a gift in my life, as it finally gave me permission to rest deeply, and treat my body with kindness and love. The period of deep rest gave me the opportunity to be with my deepest feelings, fears and needs I had negated from a young age. This period of deep healing gave me the opportunity to finally lay to rest the drive behind being chronically busy 24/7, and this brought me into a wonderful place of realising – 'who I am is good enough'. It was a doorway that opened by grace, allowing me to return home to my deepest yearning - to be at one with peace, and to share this peace and total wellbeing with all through my work. If my story resonates with you, you may like to read my contribution to the book 'Heart to Heart: The Path to Wellness'.
The journey for me has been about reclaiming my original authentic self, and restoring my natural energy flow as a woman.
It has now been 5 years since I launched my vision for Radiant Wellbeing in Melbourne, and I feel truly blessed to have come through the other side of CFS - where the illness no longer affects my overall wellbeing and life. It is truly wonderful to feel again such an aliveness of peace, joy and vitality running through my cells and body. I feel like I have been given a second chance at life - to live and love fully with compassion and gratitude for everything that has been, is, and will be.
It is now 2017 - seven years on from being diagnosed with CFS and going through my greatest wake up call to health & living. I now find myself updating my website again to reflect how I have evolved in my understanding around all things wellness, chronic illness and working with people's complicated health challenges.
My awareness around my own health and how my body responds to stressful situations in life, continues to grow and I am beginning to understand on a much deeper bio-chemistry level - why some people are affected with chronic health conditions and why other's aren't. I now believe I have found the missing key to the foundation of managing excellent vitality with my own wellbeing and the why behind many chronic health conditions that are stressed induced. Like to find out more? click onto this link to read my updated story & research [insert link - update coming soon]
My health tip: Always keep persisting with asking questions with your health and have the tenacity to understand the why behind whatever health challenges you maybe experiencing. Stay curious. Think outside of the box and never accept being "put into the too hard basket" with your health condition. Because YOU matter. YOUR life matters. We only get this one precious life to play with. There are always professionals out there researching the latest bio-chemistry to understand the why behind complicated physical and mental health conditions. I am delighted to share some of these professional practitioners with you & the missing link to many people's wellbeing - this page with links will be updated soon.