About three years ago, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome took over my life. I probably had the disease to some degree before then, but my health suddenly affected my ability to work, parent, and exist outside of bed in October 2015. After limping along with work for several years, I finally quit my job in France in May 2017. I moved back to America to pursue healing full time.
I didn’t know how long it would take to get me well, or if I would get well at all. To this day, no doctor will formally diagnose me or offer me a treatment plan. They tell me that I very well may have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—my symptoms fit the bill—but there isn’t a definitive test to diagnose it, and even less is known about how to treat it. The best they can offer is to rule out anything else that might be causing my symptoms. So far they can’t find anything.
Like many patients with illnesses that fall beyond the current medical scope, I’ve learned to do my own research and treat myself as best I can. In previous posts, I’ve talked about my self-guided treatment plan. It includes a hefty list of supplements, switching to non-toxic products, and pursuing somatic therapies.
Today, I’m excited to tell you that IT’S WORKING!
Supplements have long helped me manage my fatigue, brain fog, stomach pain, inflammation, and immune system deficiencies. The switch to natural, non-toxic products has also caused a gradual improvement in my health. But when I started doing an intense regimen of EMDR therapy, Somatic Experiencing therapy, and the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS), I experienced huge leaps and bounds forward. My brain fog disappeared, and my energy steadily increased. I started being able to do things I hadn’t done in years, with little or no crash afterwards.
After just a few months, I would say that I’m about 50% better than I was before. I still have to live at a much slower pace than I did pre-sickness, and I’m still sensitive to a lot of things (overexertion, certain foods, emotional triggers, etc.). But my quality of life has significantly improved, and I expect that it will continue to do so.
In the next few weeks, I’ll write in-depth blog posts about each of the therapies that have helped me. But for today, I’ll just give a brief overview of each.
I learned about the DNRS program from a blog post I read years ago. A woman with extreme chronic fatigue, food sensitivities, stomach pain, and inflammation (sound familiar?) documented her recovery using the program. It seemed too good to be true, but I thought about that post for months. After many frustrating doctor’s appointments and tests, I finally decided to try it.
The Dynamic Neural Retraining System is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that (1) trauma causes major brain changes, (2) these changes can have a profound impact on the body, and (3) the brain has the potential to be rewired.
DNRS targets the limbic system, which is the trauma center of the brain. When the limbic system is overwhelmed (by stress, trauma, viral infection, or toxic exposure), it can get stuck in “fight or flight” mode. This keeps our bodies in a constant state of stress and impairs our ability to heal.
The DNRS program uses neurological exercises to gradually rewire the brain out of the illness-causing rut it’s stuck in. I like to think of it as physical therapy for my brain. It’s hard work sometimes, and it requires an hour every day, but the long-term results are worth it. In as little as a week, I noticed some big improvements, and I continue to see cumulative results.
About six months ago, I picked up a copy of The Body Keeps the Score, an eye-opening book about how trauma can affect our bodies and the various therapy techniques that can help. After years of having professionals tell me there was nothing they could do for me, this book felt like a miracle. It explained my symptoms AND gave me an avenue forward. I found a local therapist who was certified in several of the techniques mentioned in the book, and together we’ve found that two really work well for me.
EMDR (or Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) therapy takes a neuroscientific approach to healing traumatic memories. The therapist uses bilateral stimulation (ex: guiding the patient’s eyes back and forth or tapping their palms rhythmically) to induce a state similar to REM sleep, which is the body’s natural mode for processing memory. The therapist then guides them through the traumatic memory and helps them reprocess it into something more benign. I often begin a session with a memory that can immediately bring tears or panic. By the end, the memory feels much more distant and doesn’t bother me.
EMDR has really helped me get out of fight-or-flight mode. I didn’t realize how trapped I felt by memories and obligations from the past until I started doing it. But I’m glad to be free of them now!
Somatic Experiencing (SE) Therapy
SE therapy focuses on the physical response to trauma. It uses various techniques to unlock the “stuck” physical memory of the event and release the tension and energy associated with it. It also helps patients get attuned with their bodies and experience normal sensations (since they often feel nothing or extremes instead).
SE therapy has really helped me see how out of touch I was with my body. I had stopped listening to my physical and emotional instincts. I chose to push through any sensation (like fatigue or discomfort) until I could no longer identify what my body needed. Meanwhile, my body was using increasingly extreme signals to try to get through to me—thus my plethora of symptoms.
This therapy has helped me notice changes in my body and use that information to care for myself. The more I practice it, the less extreme my symptoms become.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a complex disease. I wish I could say that these therapies are the end-all cure for it, but that would be a vast oversimplification. I got sick during a period of intense stress and traumatic events. So it makes sense for me that my treatment would involve dealing with those traumas.
However, if you’re reading this and considering any of these treatments, I do wholeheartedly recommend them. They may not fix everything, but they are incredibly helpful tools for achieving a healthier mind and body.
I am extremely grateful to have found them and the healing they offer. For the first time in three years, I have real hope for my body. And I will continue to update you all on this journey to wholeness.
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Photo: © Elizabeth Steere