Treating the brain as a muscle

It’s been a while since my last blog, and I know how much you’ve all missed me peppering every one of your social media channels simultaneously about a new topic, so here I am.

My last post spoke about finding freedom in discipline and I’ve been increasingly able to enjoy aspects of life by following that approach. However, I’m now beginning to see my recovery in two separate ways – the body and the brain, as they throw up separate challenges. So, I thought I’d try and articulate this and how with the help of Kings I’m trying to re-frame how I’m thinking about the brain bit!

I’m feeling confident about making physical progress. Its relatively simple to plan, to measure and to implement and over the last two months I’ve increased my main daily walk to 32 minutes, and have now begun to increase the intensity, a few minutes at a time, whist sticking within some heart rate boundaries. I’ve also been hitting a daily step count and building up some simple bodyweight exercises, adding in a couple of reps each week. I can feel myself gradually getting physically fitter and stronger as I do this, and can see the route to further progress which is great for positivity around recovery and the dream of a 2019 beach bod! If you want more detail about my graded exercise routine, get in touch.

However, I’m struggling with my brain. Mental stimulation, particularly conversing with people, whether 1 on 1, group meetings, or social situations with friends I’m finding increasingly difficult and exhausting – my brain just says no after an hour or so. It’s something I talked through at my recent session at Kings and was encouraged to think about the brain as a muscle, which resonated with me. So, in the same way that I’m having to mix the intensity of my walking, I shouldn’t expect my brain to operate at full capacity for long periods either. In reality that means being much more disciplined about taking breaks in the middle of work meetings, picking and choosing times to contribute, stepping out of social situations for 5/10 minutes at a time and not going straight from one meeting or interaction to another, as well as putting a time limit to overall activity.

Perhaps most interestingly though, we spoke about how challenging this is for my personality type. Having a love for social interaction as well as being conscientious, eager to impress and determined to do more are all great attributes and extremely positive in everyday life. However, they can be detrimental to M.E recovery, if it means you can’t say no, feel too awkward leaving a meeting, want to stay that bit longer to contribute, can’t step away from dinner with your friends – all things I hate doing! Incidentally research has been done to suggest that people with M.E tend to be high achievers, perfectionists & athletes, so it’s likely many find this equally challenging, grappling with the contrast in their normal life and approach needed for recovery.

It’s worth saying that it’s not about changing your personality, but rather using it in positive ways where you can (like sticking to discipline, using people around you to help etc.), but also recognising when going against your natural tendencies is the right approach and you need to go and take questionably long toilet breaks. I’m going to be experimenting with/implementing this over the coming weeks and will give an update in my next post!

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