Three Important Directions of Self-help for ME/CFS

I like to consider my efforts at self-help as falling into 3 broad categories, each of which needs daily attention.
·         Avoiding making things worse
·        Giving my immune system the best chance possible through a healthy lifestyle
·        Cultivating happiness and fulfilment and dealing with the emotional impact of the illness
The first is all about recognising the things that make this condition worse and avoiding them. Most importantly this means not doing too much or too little. This is a very difficult balance to find because of how our daily ability level seems to change so unpredictably. Each morning and regularly throughout the day I pay attention to my energy levels and the little warning signs I’ve have learned that I need to watch out for, such as a sore throat and puffy jowls. Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s writing, resting or gardening etc., I aim to take regular breaks spending at least 5 minutes every hour doing something completely different. I also aim to take a relaxed effortless approach to all that I do. Avoiding exertion, be it mental or physical, has proven to be one of the most useful guiding principles for managing this illness.
I’ve also had to learn to recognise and avoid other factors that can put extra stress on my imbalanced sympathetic nervous system e.g. caffeine, excessive heat/cold/noise/light/stimulating entertainment, paints and other chemical smells etc. I’ve also learned that there are some things that might make me worse that I can’t always avoid, so instead I take extra special care of myself at those times: premenstrual hormones, new infection, season change, injury, stressful life events etc. What sorts of things are guaranteed to make you feel worse? I would love to hear from you, so if you’d like to comment just click on comments below.
The second focus for my self-help is about giving my immune system the best chances possible of tackling this illness. Primarily this means paying attention to healthy sleep, diet and exercise. Sleep disturbance is a regular feature of this illness for me but I find I can manage it to a certain extent, particularly by aiming to get up at the same time every day. Skills learned through practising meditation are also very useful when struggling to get to sleep, or get back to sleep in the middle of the night. I always prioritise investing some of my limited energy on preparing myself fresh healthy meals. I have found eating regularly and aiming to eat mindfully are also really important.
Exercise is also a must. I find T’ai chi a wonderful, gentle, energy giving exercise and practise is without fail as soon as I get up in the morning. You might think that I’m a really disciplined person but I was never that disciplined with my sit ups as a body obsessed teenager. I practise every day because I really notice the benefits every day! I also meditate every morning with about half of my practise focused on self-healing. I’d love to meditate twice a day but haven’t yet managed to introduce this as a regular feature of my life. I’m very happy with how much I do achieve though so I don’t give myself a hard time for goals not yet reached.  I also aim to go for a walk every day. As I’m quite well, I usually manage 30-40 minutes, but on my not so good days I do 2 x 10 to 15 minute walks instead. I also practise yoga.
The final focus for my self-help involves cultivating happiness and fulfilment. I’m not sure how to sum this up in a paragraph as it’s such an important part of my everyday life and so much has gone into me getting here. It involves aiming to live in the here and now, attention to giving and receiving, valuing small achievements, appreciating nature, spending time in silence, attention to gratitude, cultivating laughter, appreciating an imperfect situation as an opportunity for learning, cultivating my relationships with family and friends, compassionate acceptance of difficult emotions, attending to and expressing my unique self…. And much, much more. All potential topics of future blogs! Tell me what you’d like to hear about the most, click on comments below!

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