My 19th Nervous Breakdown

24 million people worldwide have CFS; 300 million (or 3-6% worldwide) have fibromyalgia.

Last week I hied myself off to a psychotherapist on the island. Kendra, I’ll call her has 22 years of experience in Los Angeles and has treated many people with Chronic Fatigue and Hypothyroidism. This is extraordinary to me because in the 25 years I have been lugging this illness around, I have met in person no, repeat, no physician or naturopath who knows more than I do about it. 24 million people worldwide have CFS, and those with Fibromyalgia count between 3%-6% of the world population. 5% of the world population is 300,000,000 people. These are staggering numbers, and in response, many thousands of practitioners, research labs and government agencies are now involved in working out a cure. They are not getting very far. They know it is an immune system disorder, they think it has to do with the microbiome, and it is triggered by some kind of viral or bacterial infection that does not go away. But that’s pretty much as far as they’ve got People are bedridden for decades, and many do not improve, in fact, they get worse.

About six weeks ago I found Dr. Rawls in the States who contracted Lyme Disease after he had been practicing as a GP for several years. He was sick for ten years. While he was down and out he researched herbal medicine and came up with a constellation of herbs that work to destroy the microbes that trigger Fibro, CFS/ME, Lyme, Shingles, etc., all the culprits causing dysfunction. I’ve been on his program for six weeks and I feel very much better. I can work and I can exercise, though I still have Epstein-Barre Viral symptoms – that’s the mono virus, appropriate given myself as a teenager.

This is what I’ve done to heal myself: moved to the country, worked from home, found a peaceable mate, built relationships within my family, taken medication “to improve the quality of my sleep”, started Low Dose Naltrexone, constructed a nutrient programme with various doctors and naturopaths that is bleeding edge, learned to meditate, learned to pray, established a rock-firm spiritual practice, spent hours hiking hills with my dogs, bought four dogs, given up gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol, built a healthy house surrounded by a conserved forest, monitored all my blood work and fixed anything that was out of whack. It’s a full-time freaking job.

Anyone who grows up with a schizophrenic parent is behooved to monitor one’s mental health, and I have had a half dozen therapists over the decades, even a classic Jungian in London, who helped me find the beginnings of my writer’s voice. I am intimately aware of my precious self and its various (sometimes amusing) perambulations right back to the year dot, and I’ve made friends with myself. I am conscious 60% of the time, sometimes more. But therapy I realized, specific to the illness, is something I’ve not tried.

Just prior to my visit, I’d been studying the role of the autonomic nervous system and CFS. There are several practitioners who insist the disease is caused by an overactive flight or fight response. This made sense to me. Much of my work has scared me nearly to death, and in fact, the first thing that Kendra established was that I’d fallen ill after two years interviewing torture victims and the falsely imprisoned. I’m no Marie Colvin but along with listening to Palestinian nurses detailing Iraqui soldiers slamming baby’s heads against hospital walls, not to mention being up close and personal to families who had lost children in Northern Ireland’s terrors, I’d spent eight months strung between New York and South Africa nailing down the rights to Nelson Mandela’s biography and spent his first weeks of freedom in his back garden. Exciting as hell, but seriously exhausting. Plus one was shot over and nearly trampled in one of those African stadium rushes which are blinking terrifying. This coupled with a sometimes hair-raising though fun and exciting family given to paranoia, rage and reality breaks, set me up for Autonomic Nervous System disorder. And all I have to do is shift myself over to the para-sympathetic nervous system (which is when you feel relaxed, rather than feeling ready to fight the Kurgan hordes or whatever) AND LET MYSELF HEAL.

Since that moment of revelation, a true Ah-Ha moment, I feel good almost all the time. Kendra bolstered this theory with the work of an overlooked physician, Dr. John Sarno, who taught at NYU, who said, ‘look, your body is talking you into this because you need it. Figure out why you need it and the illness will vanish. It might take some time, you’ll have to work with your mind, and maybe bloody hard, but you will recover and you will not relapse. Sarno insists that pretty much all illness can be related to uncathected emotions, including cancer. We give ourselves disease, in order to block uncomfortable feelings.

No one (in the CFS/Fibro community) wants to hear it’s all in your mind because that means you are weak and pathetic and do not deserve to live. This, of course, is a militarist view and not helpful or deep or caring or useful. What people can hear is that “Hey girl, you were so disciplined and hard-working, you blew up your nervous system and you have to find a way for it to heal.”

This idea is pretty much anathema to the massive CFS and Fibro community of patients. No one wants to hear it’s all in your mind because that means you are weak and pathetic and do not deserve to live. This, of course, is a militarist view and not helpful or deep or caring or useful. What people can hear is that “hey girl, you were so disciplined and hard-working, you blew up your nervous system and you have to find a way for it to heal.” This skates very close to New Age “if you build it they will come” philosophy. I don’t care. Right now, it is working for me.

In my mother’s time, what I experienced in a mild form and somaticized, was called a nervous breakdown and you were considered weak, rather than diligent and courageous. During the 18th century, it was called neurasthenia and you were considered weak and pathetic. Nervous system diseases, I believe, and surely this is obvious, are related to the blistering hot speed of change, both societal and personal. We have built ourselves a terrifying world, where people are hag-ridden by one imperative after another every day. I do not know the solution, but recognition, I learned from one of my many therapists, is at least half the battle.

One thought on “My 19th Nervous Breakdown”

  1. Fibro is a nightmare. What I love about this post is that it goes back to what my naturopath discovered when I first started working with her: that I had an over-active fight or flight response due to what is basically PTSD. It has been an uphill road, and I relate to all of the adventures trying to treat this thing. (I miss gluten and dairy…) But each day when I go into my office and happily start the work I love, it reminds me that this is working. My system now has extended periods of healing and rest combined with more appropriate startle reflexes (that website just did WHAT???). I’m so happy that you’re finding healing. And oh, how I laughed as you went down the list of things you’ve tried…I was thinking, “check, check, check….” I was stunned by the statistics of how many people have this. I had no idea it was that wide spread. BTW — did you mention dry needling? That has helped a lot, too. LOL

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