How to make that breakthrough

Breakthrough

My good friend and collaborator Mark McGuinness recently alerted me to a stimulating new book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work which is about a subject dear to my heart: how to overcome Headmind when it is messing your life up.

I was doubly intrigued because Steven Pressfield once wrote a powerful historical novel about the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae called Gates of Fire – one of the very few books of that kind which had me (and my wife) in tears by the end.

Taking time off from writing fiction Steven’s new, very short, book is about how to achieve your goals when you don’t think you can.

The premise is simple: whenever you work on a project that is really important to you, but which is going to take time, hard work, and personal sacrifice then you are going to hit a wave of resistance. And that resistance comes not from outside but from within;  your own personal version of Headmind in fact: doubts, excuses, distractions, worries, whinges, procrastination, or so-called ‘low self-esteem’ – in which Headmind keeps on repeating the mantra that there is no point in your doing anything very much because it is bound to end in failure.

The solution is also simple: just do it. Once you have decided that the project really is important to you then you ignore Headmind when it is trying to do you down and sabotage your goals. Specifically, you ignore the Chatterbox. Or just tell it to shut the fuck up while you get on with things.

Here are some examples from the world of Therapy:

You are working on your recovery from Depression and you have decided to get out more. The Inner Voice says ‘what’s the point?’. Your response: go ahead and call a friend and make that date regardless.

You are working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and you have decided to increase your morning exercise routine to 10 minutes. Your Internal Saboteur says: ‘you’ll make yourself ill’. Your response: increase it to 15 minutes.

You are working on Anxiety. Your Internal Control Freak says: ‘I worry that you won’t be able to stop worrying because you have been a worrier all your life….’. Your response: you focus your attention on a non-worrisome activity for the next few hours.

One difference between using Steven’s method on creative work, and using it on personal problems is this: in creative work you just get on with the project (for example: your next novel, or work idea, house redesign, etc.). In that way you force Headmind to get on with doing something useful.

Whereas if you are depressed, anxious, obsessional, etc., you may need to give Headmind some substitute activities to do. A good example relates to giving up drug/alcohol/cigarette/ gambling addictions. Whenever the Internal Saboteur twitters on about needing a fix/drink/fag/bet then you just do a 180 degree attention turn and go off and do something more worthwhile. My experience with my clients is that when they do this repeatedly, then over the ensuing weeks that Internal Voice will gradually dwindle away to a whisper.

Image by permission of Fuyoh

Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Well This is a reprise of an email session I held with a client two years ago. I have edited some details to preserve anonymity. She had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years and is well now.

The aim is to give anyone with M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome some thoughts on how to get well. And, of course, any of our clients in Reverse Therapy out there can learn from this too.

Client: During my second appointment with you last month I had difficulties in saying what I needed which you helped me to overcome by teaching me how to put things into words. I told you I was confused with what you were telling me and that I did not understand. You told me to establish contact with my Bodymind and I felt relieved. I think there is a lot of fear inside me. Fear of staying ill, fear of not being able to succeed with Reverse Therapy.

My comment: It is important to distinguish between Headmind worry and Bodymind fear. Bodymind sends you a fear emotion when it notices that you are vulnerable in some way – in order to encourage you to express your need for help and support, and take small steps to raise your confidence in that situation. Your Headmind worries about not being able to get well and not being able to do Reverse Therapy. This is natural but unhelpful. It is important not to give any time to these worries. Instead, do something like this:

  • Go into your Body
  • Remind yourself that you know how to be well
  • Spend a little time in your body deciding what feels good to do next about your messages and go and do that straight away

Client: This is all Headmind stuff, I know, but fear is somewhere stuck deep in my cells. One day, soon after my first Reverse Therapy session I was in a meditation group – and we were guided to recall our most important event over the summer. I “went” to my first session with you while I was in a deep state of contemplation and I felt – very strongly and clearly – how something was “melting down inside” as tears were rolling down my face and this was helping my recovery. I was impressed when this “something” that I was feeling so clearly deep inside me came out as “fear”. That fear I felt at that time when I was recalling the first RT session was deep in my body and the whole process of retrieving that RT session while in a meditative state was helping a lot in letting it go.

My comment: This is good work! You may indeed have become vulnerable and your Body created fear to remind you to be gentle on yourself and take good care. There is no need to let go of fear – just honour it and act on it.

Client: Is this fear – which I’m not generally aware of – a fear that my Bodymind developed when I was under a lot of stress, specially when I had glandular fever and I kept working under stress, without resting? Is this fear misinterpreted by Headmind and leads me to be afraid of not being able to recover?

My comment: See above. But Headmind stuff will be worry rather than fear.

Client: One of my concerns is my need – I guess a Headmind demand to “understand”. Which probably comes from a need to control. So I spend too much time in my Head. Although I am learning that when I am living in the moment, in Bodymind, I feel at peace. But the thing is that I live in a world that is run by Headminds!

My comment: Yes – it is about ‘unlearning’ the Headmind habits and conditioning you received through unbalanced education. Reverse Therapy is a discipline (like meditation) which needs to be practiced every day until it becomes more natural to stay in the moment and let go of Headmind’s need to explain, worry and control. We have to acknowledge that the world is mostly run by ‘Headminds’ but that doesn’t mean we have to play that game any more

Client: Getting onto the more practical aspects of doing Reverse Therapy, I am not keeping the journal up to date. Nor am I planning activities. I have never been good at organizing my time. And having spent 4 years without working has not helped me much in that.

My comment: OK – let’s not make the Journal into a burden for you. It is only used to help you remember the discipline of noticing your symptoms, acting on the messages, and noticing what happens to the symptoms. But if it has become another Headmind chore for you then let’s drop it for now.

Client: I am now trying to do more things I enjoy – like visiting friends, arranging dinner-parties, shopping, and the like. And I have had fun, and people who knew me before the illness have mentioned to me how much more energy I have. It shows in the way I talk, in how I am with people, and in the joy I have in doing things. Just as an illustration, the other day, over a dinner with a group of friends, I told a joke – a long one! And I realized when I was about to start that it was the first time I had done that for more than 4 years! 

My comment: Very good! Please do more of this as your Body clearly enjoys being with your friends. Interestingly, it has been established that laughter is a sure way to enable Bodymind to release endorphins, which both reduce symptoms and confirm that you are on the right path towards recovery.

Client: Yet a couple of hours before we all met for dinner I had symptoms. My energy level was very low, I was feeling sick and I just wanted to lie down. There was kind of a “fight” inside me and finally I won through the faith I have in you. My Headmind could not get that something other than lying down could help me in that situation. But I trusted Reverse Therapy and I did what I was told to do in these situations. I regained confidence and energy started to come back. The problem was my partner was late getting back from work and we were going to be late for dinner. After getting into Bodymind and reading the message I started to act with serenity and coped with the situation. The dinner went great!

My comment: Excellent! You really let go of that Headmind trap there!

Client: Next day, we had a lunch at home with a friend. I woke up very tired and thinking I could not be able to manage it. I was feeling sick again. Headmind telling me it was because I had done too much the day before (although I didn’t believe it). We normally do things at the last minute and my Body was probably telling me to slow down. After reading my message I calmed down and I decided to take it easy and got on with other things. It was like I was expressing my needs to myself. It worked well. We both enjoyed having lunch with our friend and we had a wonderful time.

My comment. Hmmmm. Might be an idea to get together with your partner and look at some ways for you both to have more time to get ready.

Client: One of the things that concerns me a lot is my sleep. I seem to need to sleep forever. As a student, I always stayed up until late during exams and woke up late in the morning. When I was working, I always tended to stay late to do tasks that required more concentration. What is happening now is that, in the absence of any activity that requires me to be somewhere early, I tend to wake up very late in the morning, which gets me very restful but feeling quite useless.

My comment: I am afraid it does take time for your Body clock to get back to normal. It is important not to stay in bed too long but get on with activities you have planned for that day. Please also ensure that each week has a balance of early nights and late nights. Remember, your Body might be using morning fatigue to warn you that there is not much enjoyment available. Finally, watch out for Headmind and its yada-yada-yada about your being ‘useless’ because you have symptoms.

Client: The other main concern is about my poor skills in planning and organizing. As I told you, I have never been good at that, but now it’s even worse. Over the
week I have few fixed activities, but I still struggle to get to them in time. And I have not yet learnt how to fill the gaps in between, unless I improve, which does not take me very far. I simply do not know how to design an activity schedule. I feel quite frustrated and helpless about that, especially now that I realized how important it is for my recovery,

My comment: Can you not get your partner or a friend to help you do this? Otherwise we can work on it together when you next see me.

Client: Something else I wish to tell you is that I have put my hopes in Reverse Therapy and that I trust you. I think you are a very talented person and I feel very thankful to be able to get Reverse Therapy from you. I also get lots of confidence from reading the testimonials of people who have undertaken Reverse Therapy and have recovered. But my Headmind –here it is again – keeps damaging my hopes with doubts. One of them has to do with the apparent simplicity of the method. If Reverse Therapy is so simple then I think that what I have suffered during these years was “only in my mind”. I fought a lot during these years against the doctors who had no idea about this illness and who have even told me that I had nothing wrong with me. And when I asked them why I was feeling so ill they would shrug.

My comment. Your symptoms were certainly not all in your mind! Reverse Therapy is simple (although not always easy) but Headmind always wants it to be more complicated because it demands ‘explanations’ and intellectual control.

Client. Am I fearing recovery? Am I fearing that this is an underlying process that I cannot understand? I trust you, and I just want to be very honest with myself and to you, so I can help you to help me.

My comment. No – this is your Headmind daring not to believe that you can be totally well. Because all it has ever known for the last six years is pain, exhaustion and worry. The more days you have when your energy comes back and your symptoms go, then the easier it will be for Headmind to let go of the idea that you cannot get well.

Client: I feel good that I can share with you my inner concerns, and what I believe is Headmind resistance to the process. It is like if my Head wants to know “the secret of RT”. Also, I think there is some reasoning going on like “if it is so easy to overcome the symptoms that have got me to a completely disabled life, I must be an idiot”.

My comment: This is something many of our clients tell us. We always say to them: ‘It is not your fault that you became ill.’ As for the simplicity of the method, it is only ‘easy’ once someone has shown you the solution. Like one of those psychological puzzles when people can’t ‘see’ the face of the old woman/young girl in the drawing. But once someone shows you it is easy to see it. Surely, the real idiots are the people in the medical and psychological professions who have spent years studying the illness without coming up with any answers?

Client: It is not easy for me to write down what I have just said but I know you are not judging me, so I should not judge myself and I should feel confident in expressing my thoughts, no matter how distorted they might seem, even to me. So, being honest to you, John, it has been because I have faith and confidence in you and in Reverse Therapy that I do the assignments, not because I understand what I am doing. And this brings humility – the realization that the answers come from somewhere that is far beyond my head, and far deeper inside me.

Why Chronic Fatigue Syndrome isn’t in the mind and yet it is curable too


SATURDAY, JUNE 12, 2010 AT 01:21PM

Ever since I finished developing the Reverse Therapy method in 2002 I regularly get abusive emails from people who don’t want to learn anything about Reverse Therapy, or hear the truth about ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – ie that they are the same problem and have the same solution. My readers might be surprised by the foul-mouthed names I get called. They might be even more surprised by the fact that some of these people have enough energy to spend hours on the internet abusing me…..

Please let me hasten to add that I and my colleagues have, over the last 8 years, worked with thousands of people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who a) were seriously ill; b) were open-minded; c) got well by adopting a different approach to the one that many people have been spoon-fed by the medical establishment.

The reason I bring up this subject again is because I have just caught sight of an excellent video which summarises the current state of play on this very difficult subject. It is by Dr Anthony Komaroff, who is also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

You can catch that video here: CFIDS Talk 

What I like about this item is that Professor Komaroff:

a) sympathises with people who suffer from this terrible illness

b) is extremely learned about the subject

c) is open-minded about the potential causes of the problem

d) makes a number of important points which support Reverse Therapy (which I summarise below):

1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not ‘all in the mind’; it is a neurological illness

2. In CFS the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis is compromised

3. The Sympathetic Nervous System swings from over to under activity

4. Serotonin release (a mood hormone) in the brain changes

5. Yet CFS has little in common with either Depression or Anxiety

6. The Immune system becomes inefficient following continual over-activity

Dr Komaroff also says that although many cases of CFS begin with a viral infection no single virus has ever been identified as the cause of the illness. He also says (as we do in Reverse Therapy) that it may be that prolonged viral problems in CFS are prompted by a breakdown in the Immune system. The same applies to the XMRV retrovirus.

It is clear, also, that there is a genetic component in CFS. Identical twins are far more likely to get this illness than the average and researchers have identified 22 genes that behave differently in CFS, But let’s be clear on this: genes don’t cause illness on their own. If that were true ALL identical twins would contract the same illnesses in the same way at the same time. Genetics interact with the person’s environment in the same way that they are in dialogue with your emotions, your behaviour, your thoughts, your diet, your physical activities and the people you hang out with.

Indeed, the picture I can see emerging from Dr Komaroff’s presentation is something like this:

Some people are more at risk of getting CFS than others, in the same way that other people are at risk for heart disease, allergies or breast cancer,

The majority of people with CFS (but not all) suffer from viral problems early on in the illness, although here, I am arguing that this is because the immune system is compromised by the brain disorder known as CFS. It is, however, possible that certain viruses complicate and compound the disorder.

There is now extremely strong evidence that both the emotional and thinking centres in the brain demonstrate abnormal activity, exactly as Reverse Therapy suggests.

The illness is maintained, as I have argued in my books, through interactions between the limbic system, the hypothalamus, the adrenal glands, the sympathetic nervous system, and the immune system.

Dr Komaroff has also stated elsewhere that he believes that therapy – cognitive-behavioural therapy – can be of help in that it teaches sufferers how to change thinking patterns and behaviours that maintain the problem. My only dispute with Dr Komaroff here is that therapy – Reverse Therapy – can go on to teach people how to control the symptoms themselves.

How I recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome

Tsunami
Today I am publishing an excellent letter from Sarah (not her real name) who recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome using Reverse Therapy.

I think the letter speaks for itself. It is also a moving, personal story.

The Tsunami

I applied to Oxford University and was invited to interview.  My family flew to Thailand the week before my interview so I got myself down there on my own, interviewed, got myself home and then travelled to Thailand to meet up with them.  We were on a beach on Boxing Day when the Tsunami hit.  Luckily we all survived but my sisters and I (they were 8 and 10 at the time) were separated from my parents and brother for some time, and had to run for our lives without them, not knowing where they were – I thought they were dead, until we found them again a while later.  We returned to England, where I found three letters had been posted to us; one to let me know I had got into Oxford on condition of 3 ‘A’s at A level, and the other two from newspapers asking us for our story.  I returned to college to complete my A levels – it wasn’t going very well and around three weeks before my exams 3 of my teachers independently advised me to defer for a year as they did not think I would get three As, so I sorted my head out as best I could and managed to do it.

Oxford

That October I started at Oxford.  I was never really truly happy there.  I’m a bit of an unusual combination of characteristics and traits; my friends have always been the people who dropped out of school although were wonderfully interesting, humorous and accepting of other people, but I was never totally satisfied with that life because my brain was never stretched enough.  When I got to Oxford my brain was certainly stretched and I loved being around people who were career-minded, ambitious and energetic, but the other side of my life was missing there; there was very little, if any, empathy, it was cut throat and cold blooded; people who fell behind were left behind, and lots of them did including many lovely people with personal issues like clinical depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, to name a few.  There was no help there for anyone, and their peers turned their backs on them as soon as they fell behind – it was as though it was so stressful that no one had any time for any one else at all.  This really bothered me; I struggled to cope with the fact that some of my friends were so cold and uncaring.  The terms were only 8 weeks long and then we had to go home for 6-8 weeks and the transition between Oxford and home was especially hard – I would have a head ache for a week after I left, and it would always be terrible in the car on the way back.

In my first year there, it was hard to deal with leaving my sisters behind, and the atmosphere made this worse because it was so alien to me.  At first I would leave to visit my friends in Liverpool at the weekends, but I would feel so terrible when I returned that I made the conscious decision to give up that lifestyle until I had finished my degree.

In the second year I got very involved with sport and extra-curricular things – I trained six days a week, organised a black tie event, and gave a speech in front of some Law Lords, which was the most incredible experience (I love public speaking and debating – I was a member of the National Squad when I was 17 – but I gave that up when I went to Oxford because the other people who did it were generally the very worst sort of Oxford student, in my opinion, so they reminded me of all the things I disliked about the place and I suppose it was too hard for me to deal with).

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Halfway through second year I got ill, and just didn’t recover.  6 months later they found out that it was Glandular fever.  After a year or so they diagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Despite everything I completed my degree on time and obtained a 2.1.  Every medical official and academic I had spoken to in this 18 month time period had told me that I would not be able to do it – apparently I was a very severe case and they expected me to be ill for years.  The National Health Service offered me nothing – for the first 6-12 months – they simply didn’t care, then they started to offer me anti-depressants without even asking me whether I felt depressed!  I refused on every occasion, explaining that I wasn’t depressed I was pissed off and frustrated, and that was a normal reaction to my situation.  I lost my ability to communicate and my fitness – I couldn’t walk 50 yards without blacking out. This lead to a loss in confidence (something I had never experienced before!).  I was devastated and began to lose hope as there just didn’t seem to be a way out – I hate sitting around waiting for things.

Reverse Therapy

After finishing my degree in summer 2008, I came home.  I had improved a lot at this point.  My Mum thought that there was something that still wasn’t quite right in me, and she contacted Dawn, who had been recommended to us by a former client of hers.  I didn’t want to go, because I didn’t want to go over everything yet again (I had seen over 15 different medical people and not one of them had really helped me), but I went because my mum wanted me to.  I thought it sounded a bit fuzzy and daft from what my mum told me, and decided not to look into it because I knew I (or the bit of me that I now know to be my Headmind) would dismiss it.  As soon as Dawn explained it to me I was sold; well, my Bodymind was – Headmind was still a little hesitant, but I chose to give it a go because it was the first thing that anyone had said to me that made sense, and it gave me permission to go for a run instead of a boring walk, which was something I desperately wanted and needed.

Reverse Therapy truly and utterly reversed me; it took away all the excess baggage that had built up over the years as a result of my insecurities, fears and losses and gave me my zest for life back that I had lost along the way.  Today, after just a couple of sessions I feel like the person I was four years ago, and I love it!  Reverse therapy sounds like a miracle, but it isn’t, it is the most logical approach to Chronic Fatigue that I have come across; in fact the only logical approach.  When I was ill doctors would look at me, some with pity, some with disbelief and some with irritation, and ask me what I wanted them to do for me. Every time I replied ‘I want to get better, I want to know why this happened, and I want to know how to stop it happening again’.  None of them could ever give me an answer.  The best they could do was tell me to slow down and wait to get better.  Even holistic medical practitioners couldn’t explain it – they would tell me that I had pushed myself too far, that I needed to ‘slow down’ and listen to my body more, but they never explained how to do this.  This served to confuse and frustrate me, in my opinion a healthy 20 year old should be able to train six days a week, do a degree and have a social life, and I was super healthy – I ate organic, home-cooked food, didn’t drink or smoke and exercised regularly.  Reverse therapy has answered these questions – I now know why I got sick, I have already made myself better, and I know how to stop it happening again.  Now I know how to listen to my body; actually hear what it is saying and to interpret it.  Reverse therapy may be logical but it is a truly revolutionary way of thinking for the modern medical profession, and the most academically brilliant thing I have ever come across – it explains and allows for the link between body and mind which I think is the keystone that modern medicine is missing.