This past semester, I've seen positive improvements in my health, albeit from an unexpected source. I was much busier than I was in the fall, my diet slipped, and I put my next phase of treatment on hold until I could focus on it in the summer. However, I continued to gain strength, and my health has exponentially improved. The reason? Breakthroughs in counseling.
I'm going to talk about emotions and psychological stuff and the impact these things have on illness in this post, but please don't misunderstand: I am not saying that chronic physical illness is all in our heads after all, or that if we just have better self-talk we'll be cured, or that getting sick was our fault because we don't process emotions healthily or something. Also, it's totally possible to have a chronic illness and process emotions great. I'm just going to talk about what I've found to be a major factor in my own health journey.
When I first became ill and started researching possible explanations, I came across some research that suggested that the majority of people who come down with SEID had experienced some type of childhood trauma/abuse. I remember stopping for a second and thinking, "Well, that's not me, I had a perfect childhood. So why on earth am I sick?" Fast-forward 3 years......and lo and behold, life gets crazy and it starts triggering flashbacks of various childhood memories. Memories that definitely don't fit into a happy, rosy childhood where I felt accepted or safe. Turns out I had been severely traumatized and emotionally abused by someone I'd spent a lot of time with. Only it had been so traumatic as a kid, I had suppressed the memories and honestly didn't realize I had been mistreated. But it led to symptoms of PTSD, which put me in a constant state of fight or flight (something for which I had always blamed myself), severe social anxiety (again, I thought my struggles with anxiety were all my fault), low self-esteem, an eating disorder, perfectionism (but BOY did SEID cure me of that!....well, for the most part), and poor digestion/hormone regulation/immunity.....which ended up manifesting as full-blown SEID before I finished college. I started seeing a counselor in the fall, and it has been eye-opening. Not because of anything she has said or done, but because I am allowing myself to feel things I didn't know I had been keeping locked up for years. At first, it was rotten. The fall was so hard. Every time I remembered an abusive memory, it would make me sick. I'd feel nauseous and exhausted for days. But after each mini-illness flare, I would feel both healthier physically and calmer mentally. I could tell I was on the right track. What got my attention for good was an experiment I did back in January. My abuser had been around in some capacity or other for most of my life. When I avoided my abuser for a few weeks this past winter, I was able to function physically (and mentally) fairly well (not 100% but 70-80% healthy, which is huge). When I connected with my abuser again, just for a day, I was immediately sent into a flare. It took me four weeks to regain the health I lost after that encounter. i avoided my abuser for a couple months after that, so it wouldn't affect my health so badly during performance season. But each time I am thrown into a situation where my abuser is present, I get stronger, and my body doesn't respond so violently, since I am viewing both my past and present experiences accurately. I am not afraid anymore. I've established boundaries and I stick to them. I stand up for myself, when necessary, without losing my cool. I'm learning not to be afraid of being embarrassed, looking awkward, appearing vulnerable in front of others, or trusting people. And the more my mind relaxes, the more my brain sends signals throughout my body that I am safe, that I don't need to have a panic attack, that I don't need to be in fight and flight mode and unnecessarily push my adrenals and hormones out of whack.
Does this mean all I needed to do these years was see a counselor and get cured? Uh, nope. I could be the happiest, well-balanced person in the world, and if I eat a piece of glutenous bread, it will still make me want to jump off a bridge. Learning which foods trigger inflammation and mood disturbance in me has been KEY, as has switching to overall clean eating, rest, and other lifestyle exercises. And if push myself too hard physically, it can still trigger sensory overload, which usually leads to an anxiety attack. But it takes more exertion to trigger that than it used to. And thanks to counseling, I've learned strategies to help combat anxiety attacks in the moment, which have definitely made me more confident whenever I have to drive somewhere but I feel like my brain is fried. I'm very grateful for ALL the healthy lessons I've learned in nutrition, lifestyle, and counseling. The combination is working wonders in my life, and I'm very excited to operate not from a position of fear and guilt, but of love and mercy.
I have started my next phase of treatment with my functional doctor as well! I'll write a post on that next.