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My Story:
A journey of discovery and recovery

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler, Evano Community (https://evano.community)

My Diagnosis and the start of my recovery journey

“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.”

This quote - along with many others, helped me through the first phase of my diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The Consultant Rheumatologist I was seeing had suggested that I would not get any better, that I would likely find myself in a wheelchair before long, and that things could and probably would get a lot worse.

 

Alongside this diagnosis, it was also suggested that I was suffering from depression. If you have had depression, then you will know what it feels like - I had depression a long time ago, and I knew in my heart that this wasn’t the same. I didn’t know how to categorise how I was feeling, I just knew that I didn’t recognise who I was anymore.

I was scared, lonely, and everything I thought I knew about myself had fallen away, sinking down into the deepest pit of despair.

A mother to four teenagers, a wife, and a manager of a GP practice, I had considered myself to be someone who set goals, got things done, someone who was determined that her family would have more in life than she had as a child. I had prided myself on being an advocate of Kindness and support for so many.

 

All of the qualities about myself and my personality that I had relied on for so many years, had now failed me. I considered myself:

  • Overly Responsible

  • Driven

  • A Perfectionist

  • Conscientious

  • Reliable

  • A People Pleaser

  • Setting a High Expectation of Self

These traits had all got me to where I was at that point, and on their own they are not an issue. What I now know, is that when taken to an extreme, when you don’t have a cut-off switch, they become your Achilles heel. I used to acknowledge myself through the following labels:

  • A daughter

  • A wife

  • A mum

  • A daughter in law

  • A homemaker

  • A manager of a GP practice

But the one label that was missing was:

  • This is me

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This was me in 2007, when I was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia.

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This is me in 2022, after my journey to recovery

Putting a Plan Together for Recovery

With no direction or plan in mind, I started to research my recovery options – because of course I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me 'I couldn’t!'

 

I will admit I spent a lot - and I mean a lot of money on my recovery. I started with Nutrition, Supplements, Holistic Therapies, and courses that promised recovery, I was desperate for any chance I could get my hands on to improve my situation. Sadly, none of these worked in isolation - but what I did start to discover, was that if I focused on several areas in tandem, then things did start to slowly shift.

 

Reviewing conflicts, triggers, past traumas, old wounds from my childhood, and doing numerous online questionnaires on personality all helped me to slowly understand more about myself. I also discovered that I possessed strengths that I didn’t previously appreciate, and this culminated in me finding a recovery process called The Chrysalis Effect. This process focused on the following areas:

 

8 Elements to Wellbeing and finding my ‘Why’

  • Emotion

  • Nutrition

  • Lifestyle and Pace

  • Environment

  • Relationships

  • Movement

  • Life Purpose

  • Thyroid and Adrenals

Finding My Power

I read prodigiously and devoured so many books on psychology, coaching, emotions, spirituality, The Inner Child, Anatomy, Physiology, Metaphysical, PTSD, Trauma, Adrenals, Thyroid, Nutrition, Sleep, the world within, the world without, Polyvagal Theory, Internal family systems and on and on and on.

 

The latest books that I am reading are:

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The Untethered Soul

-Michael Singer

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The Practice of Embodying Emotions

- Raja Shelvam PHD

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If you could see my bookshelf, it is like a road map of my recovery journey!

My Beliefs and Childhood

I didn’t know about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or the term Dysfunctional Family Environment – but it turns out it is exactly the environment I grew up in. I have come to realise that what I considered ‘normal’, was actually far from it. Growing up, we were complicit in hiding what was going on - the secrets that we kept, both from each other and from the outside world caused us to move around a lot. Family was hugely important to me, but both of my parents were career orientated so we probably didn’t get the level of nurture and attachment that we might have received in a different environment. As children, we also witnessed physical and emotional abuse, and we believed what we were told:

  • I’m a disappointment

  • I’m a bad person

  • There is something wrong with me

  • I’m not good enough

  • I’m not worthy of love

 

I feared conflict, abandonment - I certainly didn’t feel good enough. I thought that if I put everyone else first then I couldn’t be found wanting, but of course it didn’t work. As a teenager I ended up isolated, not confident, and had very low self-esteem, to the point where I hid the fact that I was a girl in case boys looked at me and had my eyes constantly fixed to the floor. I didn’t feel as if I deserved to be happy as I was such a ‘bad’ person - after all, who would want anything to do with me?

 

I met my now husband at 16, left home and school at 17, and by the age of 19 I was pregnant with my oldest son - still a child myself in so many ways. Life was hard financially, but we were happy – I still had little confidence, but being a mum was my world. We went on to have three more children - all boys! It was very busy and although we didn’t have much, we had each other.

 

We still faced many challenges from my parents, which was still impacting on my mental health. I covered up how I was feeling by cutting off my emotions, being very practical, keeping busy, always having a project on the go, or looking after my in-laws or grandparent(s). It was around this time that my health challenges started. After being diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells I ended up having a hysterectomy at age 30 – and plunged straight into menopause with a vengeance. Then I was diagnosed with Thyroid issues and had my gall bladder removed.

 

I can remember feeling so enraged that I had these health issues, after all I was the health conscious one - the one who ate healthily, took exercise, and was careful with our family consumption of anything processed. The problem was, as usual I stuffed my feelings away, I took on more and more responsibilities, and then my mum was diagnosed with a life limiting illness. It is fair to say that during this time, and for the first time in my life, I got to know a mum that I didn’t know and couldn’t recognise - we got to know each other in a very different way, and for that I am very grateful.

 

After my mum passed away, I got a part time role as a receptionist in our doctor’s surgery – he knew all about our family and the challenges that we had faced, and within 6 months he suggested that I consider studying for a business degree in strategic management. When I started the degree, I couldn’t put 500 words together for an essay that I was asked to submit about what was different about me, and why I deserved a place on this course. I am not sure to this day what it was that made me go for this - I was the one who would go for an interview and sit in the car paralysed with anxiety. But something must have lit a torch in me, as I went on to do a post graduate diploma in strategic management and then went into practice management for GP’s.

 

By this time I was in my early forties, life changed exponentially for us and for me – but something in me felt I didn’t deserve to be where I was, I most definitely didn’t feel good enough. I kept on striving and learning, studying now for a psychology counselling degree as well as working full time, looking after my in-laws, four teenage boys, a large house and garden, and with a grandmother who was very reliant on me.

How did I do all of this? – your guess is as good as mine! When I look back on it now, it feels as if I disassociated from my body and my mind just took over – I hardly slept or ate well, exercise went out of the window, and self-care – what was that?

I burnt the candle at both ends, working 7:00am – 7:00pm, studying evenings and weekends, never having a break, even taking study on holiday with me. I had chronic headaches, aches and pains, I was an insomniac, and I lost so much weight that everyone was worried about me and thought I had an eating disorder. If anyone said anything to me about this, I worked all the harder so that I wasn’t found wanting.

 

Of course, this life was unsustainable, and one day at work I just sat in my chair with tears running down my face - I had lost the ability to speak, move or ask for help. I am forever grateful for a lovely person who got me home that day, and home is where I lay for the next couple of years. Without the ability to read, work, eat or sleep, I was in a heap of pain. Countless GP appointments and Consultant appointments didn’t find anything, until finally it was suggested that I had Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia.

Things I dragged around with me

I have since come to learn that along with the punishing schedule I had worked myself into, it was the weight of the emotional baggage that I was carrying with me every day that caused me to finally shut down completely. Thoughts like ‘I wasn’t good enough’, ‘I didn’t deserve nice things or people in my life’, ‘I had to keep on striving in case people found out that I was a fraud, a fake’ were fuelling this unsustainable drive to take care of everything but myself. I overcommitted to people with my time, resources, and finances, and although I had sort of found a way through the recovery minefield I was still dragging a lot of adverse childhood experiences, perceived responsibilities from childhood to run a smooth household (so that people couldn’t criticise my role as a mother/wife) and old beliefs that weren’t mine. Worst of all, I was also seeing that I was continuing the cycle and handing this baggage to the next generation.

 

I still continued to care and overcommit, and often became overwhelmed, which then brought up all my symptoms. It wasn’t until I found boundaries and put my health at the heart of any decisions that I made, that things finally started to turn around and fall into place. This is something that I have to be aware of every single day; asking myself ‘what do I want, what do I need’ and guarding myself against jumping headfirst into asking people what I can do to help.

What works for me – and can for you too

I was still researching and pursuing many forms of recovery, and then found SIRPA - an online recovery programme that looks at the work of Dr Sarno and his mind body connection, and how over time all the stressors manifest as medically unexplained symptoms in later life. I trained as a SIRPA practitioner and found the last missing pieces to my wellness puzzle - it is all about me after all, and I should not feel shame or selfishness in giving priority to my own needs and wellbeing.

Armed with this newfound knowledge and passion for recovery, I created an online programme of all the techniques that worked for me and started using this with my clients – and we have had some amazing results.

 

The first thing we do is to get you to check in with yourself. Turn inwards instead of going on that outward journey – you do have all the answers inside of you, we have just lost the ability to connect, to check in with ourselves and access the solutions. As soon as I put one hand on my heart and one on my belly I feel my presence, and by breathing into this heart space and saying to myself ‘I am’, it centres me. It stops that relentless voice in my head that tells me all the things that I am not and instead reminds me of who I am – Someone who tries her best, is kind and compassionate and is always willing to listen and help where she can. I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea, and I am alright with that - now.

 

In this journey we look what is unique to you - this may include Adverse Childhood Experiences, self-induced pressures, or environmental triggers, and use this to identify the symptoms that are stress induced. These may include past traumas, bullying, over commitment, and beliefs that aren’t ours but were handed down to us.

We then go on to look at the different areas of life:

  • Emotion

  • Nutrition

  • Lifestyle and Pace

  • Environment

  • Relationships

  • Movement

  • Life Purpose

 

This is the start of peeling away the layers of our own onion:

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We then take a deeper dive to consider those Adverse Childhood Experiences and their impact, we identify and reframe your beliefs from childhood, assess your Values and how important they are to your decision making, and see how your Inner Child reacted to the Trauma(s), in order to re-engage with the beautiful person that is you. We also identify and readdress your fears, see how the internal family system has been working to protect you, and find tools and techniques to work with these in order to release you, to be who you really are.

So that is a little of my story, which has been all about re-engaging with myself, and asking the question ‘who am I?’ - I would urge you to always, always ask yourself that question.

If you would like to hear more about my journey, the work that I do, and my thoughts behind it all, please check out this episode of the ‘Crushing Doubt’ podcast, where I discuss all of this in my interview with Dr. Dan Ratner:

I also recount my journey to recovery in this interview with Georgie Oldfield from SIRPA:

If my story has struck a chord with you, and you are interested in finding out how we can help you, or just need to reach out, please book a FREE 30-minute Discovery Call, and find out what the clinic can do to help you.