Blog posts

The Lightning Process and a career change!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post and a lot has happened so I’ll summarise the best I can!

At the start of April in 2019, I was feeling very stuck and in a particularly negative state about my recovery and life in general! However, that acted as a catalyst for change and off the back of a couple of personal recommendations, I looked into something called the Lightning Process – a training course that focuses on how the brain and the body interact, or the ‘mind-body connection’.

It’s based on the science of neuroplasticity – that being the brains ability to change, adapt and be re-moulded. In simple language, we all have neuropathways that lead to experiences such as happiness/sadness, energy/fatigue, pain/comfort, anxiety/calm etc. The more you use certain pathways, the stronger they become and the easier they are to trigger, just like muscles. So, if you’ve been working your fatigue or pain pathways really hard for a year or two, it’s no surprise that these become the default.

The course is delivered over three days and teaches you the science behind this mind-body connection before taking you through the process itself – which is a set of steps to interrupt pathways and re-direct them to more positive ones using a mix of movement, coaching and visualisation. The concept is that by consistently applying the process you can change the way your nervous system works, as your brain learns to use positive pathways that then become the automatic for you.

It was an amazing three days, shared with 5 brilliant people, who were there for different reasons including M.E, Anxiety and Fibro. I definitely saw improvements by day three and within a week of finishing the Lightning Process, through applying the process relentlessly when needed, I had played several rounds of golf, attended a couple of vinyasa yoga classes, been out socialising with friends all weekend and just generally felt amazing compared to 7 days before. I was just like the magical success stories that I’d read about before attending!

That is not quite how it has panned out – it’s been a journey since and I’m still working on a number of aspects of my health, through the Lightning Process and many other avenues. However, the overall theme has been very positive and what it absolutely did do was open my world to the power of the mind and the mind body connection. I found it all so interesting and impactful that I decided to train as a Clinical NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Practitioner, Hypnotherapist and Life Coach so that I could help others feeling stuck in their lives and create powerful change.

I have now fully qualified and set up my business Mind Switch which is very exciting. I’ll be working primarily in two areas:

One to One Sessions – with people on issues such as anxiety, depression, relationships, confidence, smoking, work-life balance, performance, phobias and more.

Mental Health Workshops – within organisations I will deliver workshops that teach attendees a diverse array of tools that they can apply in both their work and home life to reduce stress and burnout, manage their mental health, enhance relationships, improve communication, increase productivity and enable goal attainment.

If you, or anyone you know would like to work with me, please do feel free to email me – james@mind-switch.co.uk, or visit my website, Instagram, Facebook, or Linkedin. Due to the current climate, I’ll be operating over skype and phone for the time being and offering slightly reduced rates as a result!

Or, if you’re interested to hear more about the Lightning process, please do feel free to ask any questions – I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.

Moving forward I’m going to switch over and begin blogging from my new site – where I’ll be sharing my perspective as well as hints, tips and tools! If you’d like to opt out of this, please get in touch.

Hope everyone is well and finding the best in this unusual situation!

James

www.mind-switch.co.uk

james@mind-switch.co.uk

 

 

 

The toughest parts

I’ve deliberately tried to keep my blog posts positive in order to provide some contrast to the vast majority of content or forums out there, but having been through probably my toughest period over the last month, I though it only right to shine a brighter light on three of the things that I’m finding most challenging and the lowest moments too, as I know they’re experienced by many. Most of these focus on my emotions or thoughts, which is probably the most difficult part for me, and something I am working to address in my recovery.

The unknown future    

Due to the nature of the illness, the lack of universally agreed recovery method, the absence of positive stories, the relentless nature of the symptoms & how difficult progress seems to be – it does often feel like you’re never going to get better. The future feels unknown as a result, I wonder if I’ll ever get back to my normal life, if I’ll ever be able to socialise for significant periods, if I’ll ever be able to work and play sport like I used to, if I’ll ever feel freedom in what I do and if the relentless pain and discomfort will ever go away.

Despite feeling like you’re doing everything you can to recover – sustainable progress always seems difficult to find and everyday life factors whether work stress, relationship problems or other illness only seem to add to that struggle.

Even though I know and believe that recovery is achievable because I’ve done it before, and seen others do it – it still remains incredibly hard to keep faith and not visualize my life as it is today, never improving and all the implications of that for me, and my future. But I also know that trying to maintain belief and having a positive mindset is also key to recovery.

A lost identity

18 months ago, if someone asked me to describe myself – I’d likely include the following words – sport, exercise, socialising, consultant, travel etc. These are now all things that I’m hugely limited in my ability to do, and that leaves you feeling an identity crisis, because you can’t express yourself in the way you want to and the way that makes you happy and feel fulfilled. When you meet new people, your identity almost becomes the illness because you can’t talk to all the things you would really like to be doing, and so you talk to the cause of that loss instead.

Alone time

As someone who has never enjoyed spending time on my own and has at times invasive thoughts, I’ve previously counteracted it with always keeping myself busy, surrounding myself with people, playing sport, working and doing things I enjoy.

M.E has stripped me of this ability and due to finding my cognitive functioning for socialising, working, watching tv and reading greatly reduced, I’m left with large chunks of empty time, where boredom and more importantly negative/invasive thoughts are left to work overtime! It is a pretty lonely and difficult place, and I say that from an extremely lucky position of having amazingly supportive friends and family around me.

 

My next post will be back to some more positive vibes, for my own benefit and others with a recovery story from a friend of mine, which is really inspiring. I’m also going to be trying out a few new things over the coming week so will report back on those too.

Living with the invisible

Firstly, thank you to everyone who got in touch off the back of my Metro Online article (still milking the photography as you can see) that was released last month. It largely had a great reaction from readers, both those suffering from M.E/CFS and those who were learning about it for the first time.

I was reflecting on why I found it so helpful to share in a very public way the challenges of the condition and I think it comes down to trying to reverse the feeling of living with an often-invisible condition. Of course, M.E/CFS is not invisible for those who are suffering severely – perhaps bed, wheelchair or house bound. But for those who are more active and still able to carry out some aspects of their ‘normal’ day to day life – it very much can be.

Work colleagues, friends and extended family only tend to see you at your best. For the time you’re with them, whether for a meeting or for dinner you look normal, act as you always have and appear bright and maybe even energetic! You don’t have a bandage to signify a broken leg, or a badge that signals you might need a seat. In reality, it’s only those you live with and/or your partner (if relevant) that see the limitation on your life, the ups and downs, the mental struggle, the relentless nature.

This leads you to question if others understand or believe what you’re going through and respect the boundaries you need to have, which although no one’s fault, can be an isolating. I’ve found it hugely helpful to counter this by being as open about the condition as possible. Of course, writing blogs/articles is a very public way of doing this, but more low-key things such as giving a short presentation to work colleagues to explain the day to day challenges and what you need for recovery has been incredibly helpful. I find I often get stuck in own head thinking that no-one understands, but in reality, through being open I have actually found nearly everyone to be hugely supportive and empathetic.

So, if you’re feeling isolated, and find yourself avoiding situations or activities due to fear of what people think, perhaps opening up to, and educating those around you is worth a shot – you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised and if you’re not, they’re likely not worth your time anyway!

I’m hoping to get a couple of recovery stories from friends uploaded in the coming weeks – sharing how they returned to full health, so keep a look out for that.

Explaining M.E through your Iphone

This is the first challenge – unless someone has had direct experience, or knows someone who has suffered, you get blank faces. And when that time comes, how do you explain something you don’t truly understand yourself, that has no formal diagnosis method or universally agreed way of treatment or recovery?

I’ve put together a short summary below to try and help with that process – whether describing to family, friends, colleagues, partners etc.

How can you describe it in a couple of sentences?

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) is a long-term (chronic), fluctuating, neurological condition that causes symptoms affecting many body systems, more commonly the nervous and immune systems. It affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK, and around 17 million people worldwide.

How do you get it?

There is no common, consistent cause for M.E however it seems you can broadly bucket them into two, or a combination of both:

  • Infection – viral infections such as glandular fever/flu or bacterial ones such as pneumonia are common triggers
  • Emotional/physical overexertion/stress – it’s common in athletes, overachievers & people that have encountered a particularly exhausting or stressful period

How’s it diagnosed?

Often it isn’t – it’s generally a process of elimination over a long period of time as at present there are no direct tests which identify it. This, I believe is a major contributing factor to the severity of M.E among people – they end up doing the wrong things for 6/12/18 months before identifying what’s wrong with them – doctors are not well equipped or knowledgeable enough to diagnose.

What’s it like? What are the symptoms?

When you tell most people you have M.E or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), most people say ah so you’re just tired? Well yes, but probably not tired as you know it and that’s likely just one part of what you’re feeling. It’s hard to generalise as everyone has slightly different symptoms and this part will be your own story but they generally include three of four of the following:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • muscle or joint pain
  • headaches
  • brain fog (problems thinking, remembering or concentrating)
  • a sore throat or sore glands
  • flu-like symptoms
  • feeling dizzy or sick
  • fast or irregular heartbeats
  • sleep problems

How can you explain all that in a way that doesn’t send them to sleep? 

In normal life, if you’re feeling really tired, you’ll sit on the sofa and watch tv as a bit of a rest period. Sadly, that doesn’t work with M.E. Everything you do comes from the same pot. Whilst you may be physically stationary, having to concentrate your brain on television or work can be just as taxing as physical exertion, as can being out socialising with friends. But that’s rather difficult to articulate.

The way I like to explain it to people is to imagine you wake up, look at your phone and go, fuck, it’s not been charging (everyone hates that!). You then have to last the day on what charge you have (depending on how severely you’re suffering). You could choose to spend all of that battery on your ‘friends’ app, or your ‘work app’ or your ‘physical activity app’ or a combination of the three. But they all affect your battery life!

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!

Finding freedom in discipline

Firstly, thank you for all the amazing and supportive messages since launching the blog page last week. It’s been incredible to see how it’s resonated with people, whether they’ve suffered and recovered, are currently suffering, know someone who is, or are simply hearing about M.E for the first time. From a personal perspective, it’s also been so lovely to receive such kind messages of encouragement from so many, so big thanks – you know who you are.

Since launching the blog, I’ve had my second graded exercise therapy (GET) session at Kings. Initial focus has been to establish my ‘baseline’ of activity, i.e. what I can do on a daily basis across a week, that doesn’t cause a worsening of symptoms.

My initial observation was that GET is too narrowly focused on your physical energy output i.e. walking or exercising. What I felt I needed and have pushed for in my sessions is a much more holistic view over everything I might do in a day – walking, screen work, TV, podcast, meeting time, socialising, stretching, sleeping etc. After all, they’re all interdependent, taking energy from the same pot! What I now have is a plan for the next couple of weeks that includes strict parameters for all activities on a daily basis. If I consistently achieve that daily plan, without worsening symptoms, then I’ll add a little more and go again, if not, I’ll either reduce slightly or stick with it for a bit longer, until I do achieve it and am ready to increase. Simple :).

The primary take away has been around the level of discipline required. I would have said for the last 6 months I’ve been incredibly measured in my activities to avoid a boom/bust cycle – colleagues, friends and family would probably recognise what a boring man I’ve become (even more so than normal). But having logged every single hour of my day for the three weeks, I’ve realised I can do more and appreciated how understanding the details can really give you confidence and freedom. Here’s why.

Having such a measured and accurate routine of activity may sound like it would stifle the life out of you. While you wouldn’t be totally wrong, it is also the way to live the most care free and relaxed M.E life I’d say. For me, as soon as my routine is broken and I’m doing something out of the ordinary, that’s when you worry, you wonder if you can do it, if you’ll pay for it and you simply can’t enjoy it. This can be the smallest thing – getting stuck in a meeting for 30 more minutes or walking 10 more minutes to the market for lunch. However, if you’re doing something as part of your planned routine, that you know you are meant to be doing, that you know you can do, that you’ve done before, consistently, and it’s not caused a worsening of symptoms, then you can actually relax and enjoy it in a care free manner – as you would in normal life. And that’s really great and liberating, even if its considerably less than you’d have done normally. And, of course it will enable you to recognise what success looks like as you move forward.

So, if someone who has M.E just turns up to a social occasion for 30 minutes, or will only watch half of bake off, support them do that and don’t feel sorry for them that they’re missing the second half, because chances are the first half was way more fun anyway! And next time they might be able to stay long enough to watch Paul Hollywood give a stomach churning handshake.

P.s. As a side note, in getting down to the details of my life, I found out something quite shocking. I went into my iPhone and I have spent over FIVE HOURS scrolling Instagram in the last week. That is absolutely shocking for any self-respecting human being, not least one who’s got limited screen time. That’s all.

(If you’re curious you about your phone time you can find out in settings – battery – battery usage – time).

Dealing with the cycle of hope and despair

If you’re suffering from M.E, you’ll know that you have good days and bad days, it’s part of the nature of it, but also a result of the boom/bust cycle that it’s so easy for us to fall into.

This is for me mentally the hardest thing and I know others who feel the same. When you’re feeling better, your outlook is positive, you have hope – you can see the route to recovery, you can imagine for short periods what it might feel like to be back to yourself and you’re positive. However, this is more often than not followed by a period of feeling bad/worse, where you feel despair, helplessness and frustration. And then it happens all over again!

Sometimes there might be a reason for it – something you did a day, two days, three days before, but often there is no reason. That keeps you guessing and questioning everything you’re doing! However, there is no doubt that the boom/bust cycle is the major contributor to this – that being where you do too much on days where you’re feeling good, and therefore encounter a period after when your symptoms increase and you need to rest. I find identifying these boom/bust patters more difficult the more active or able you still are, where as it’s simpler when your limitations are greater.

For example, if you’re still working, having a form of social life and engaging in mild exercise, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint what has caused a bust – it could be a number of things or a combination. However, if you’re bed bound and your activities are minimal if at all, it’s a little easier to see where you’ve gone overboard! That said, the principle is the same – you should find a level of activity that you can do every day, without making your symptoms any worse, and not impacting on your ability to do the same the next week. This is your baseline that you then work from, and over time, build from and increase.

I’m currently in the process of trying to find mine and am finding it really difficult, particular as I’m still relatively active compared to some, and how I was as a child. However, I’m being guided to reduce what I’m doing, even if I feel it’s too little, so that I minimise those ups and downs. Let’s see how that goes!

Oh, and something it’s always important to remember throughout this process is you can get better and many people have using this process. I even have to remind myself that, and I’ve done it before – such is the challenge!

What makes M.E better, and worse?

I guess this is the ultimate question and if I had the perfect answer, I’d probably be rich and famous, but the below is the closest I can get based on my previous experience of recovery and the process and format I’m about to undertake for the second time at Kings, which is graded activity therapy.

What makes it worse?

Lets start with the negative. There are two main ways that people deteriorate:

The boom/bust cycle

  • One of the signatory features of ME is ‘post exercise malaise’ – in simple words the body is intolerant of exercise/physical exertion and pushing beyond your new limits. Doing so causes a ‘crash’ – i.e. severe worsening of symptoms and a reduction in what you’re able to do. The result is an extended period of rest/recovery, until you might be feeling a bit better, then inevitably you try increasing your activity considerably, with the same, if not worse crash. This series of boom/bust is not only physically damaging but psychologically too, you become demoralised and fearful of anything and everything you’re doing.

The vicious cycle of fatigue

  • You feel awful, fatigued, muscle pain, headaches etc. So you naturally rest and reduce your activity in an attempt to get better. This can result in deconditioning, loss of fitness and muscle strength, which in turn results in a further reduction of activity – which increases symptoms when you try to be active – which means further reduction of activity = feeling of frustrating – you get the picture!

So, what makes it better?

This is what causes the most debate – you hear all sorts about what might help – diets, medicine, CBT, rest, GET etc. I can only go by what worked for me as a child and has worked for all people I know that have recovered in the past:

  • Find a baseline – that is discover a routine you can do every day that doesn’t cause your symptoms to deteriorate, or is manageable without feeling too bad.
  • Stick with that routine – be very disciplined with sticking with that exact amount of activity over a period of time (might be a few weeks for example).
  • Once that feels comfortable, add in a tiny extra amount of activity – depending on how badly you’re suffering that might mean sitting up in bed for an extra 5 mins each day, walking an extra 10 minutes or working for another half hour.
  • Back to number 2 – stick with your new, marginally adapted for a period of time, until it becomes comfortably manageable
  • Continue to repeat 2-3!

This approach seeks to address both the boom/bust approach and the vicious cycle of fatigue described above. You stop the direct correlation between how you’re feeling and what you’re doing – taking more control of the illness yourself, rather than letting it control you.

Of course, it’s not quite as straightforward as I’ve painted it – flexibility is required and you’ll end up making mistakes along the way – but over a prolonged period, it should bring success. I’m certainly hoping so!