In this blog post, I share ten ideas on how to keep hope alive when you are feeling a little defeated with where you are or frustrated with your healing timeline. Please take what feels helpful or resonates for you and leave the rest.
So much of recovery is about finding new ways to be. Brain retraining, nervous system support, nourishment, boundaries and tuning into our true selves are not band aids for symptoms. They are tools for life. Ones that help us navigate the many challenges of what it is to be human. They also help us connect to ourselves and others and open to so much of the good stuff life has to offer – the beauty, the joy, the hope.
Tip 1: Find healing practices that resonate.
I won’t sugar coat it; recovery is incredibly tough at points, but our healing tools should not feel like punishments.
Find healing practices that resonate and feel enjoyable. This is key to you actually doing these things.
Repetition is what builds new habits/neural pathways and responses, so finding things that feel good or something that you can grow to appreciate, helps us put in the hours to build these new states of being.
Get curious about what works for you
and learn what you enjoy to
make the practices sustainable.
This is also a beautiful way of getting to know yourself. Over time, these practices will become less of ‘something to do’ but more of ‘ways to be’.
Whilst it is helpful to remain consistent for some time, do not be afraid to change things if you find that something that did work for you, no longer does or vice versa. Different things work for different people, at different times.
Tip 2: Practise equanimity: be with what is.
When we feel frustrated and like we want to throw the towel in, it can be helpful to practise equanimity. This is the act of being with what is.
Whilst we cannot control where we currently are and what led to this, we can actively choose to take the next best step towards where we want to be. Whether the desired outcome happens in 1 month, 5 or 10 years from now, is out of our hands. The daily actions towards that goal are all we do have control of.
This principle is a universally human one. For example, someone trying to build a business cannot guarantee outcomes or how long it will take, they solely take it one step at a time. Likewise, we don’t know how long it will take to learn to swim, speak a new language, heal a heartbreak, or understand a new concept. Putting steps in will help us work towards our goal.
We can be open to life and allow ourselves to live in whatever way is available to us.
This is life in its essence – to live it
and allow it to live through us.
This teaching is profound and is a key learning from ME/CFS recovery but also a fundamental life lesson.
Tip 3: Let go of healing deadlines, embrace the journey.
It is common (and completely understandable) to get caught up on healing timeframes.
When I was first unwell, I found myself making internal barters with how long it would take me to get better. This started at 3 weeks, moving to 3 months, 2 years etc.
Whilst I completely recognise that this was a self-protective mechanism (my brain attempting to navigate the trauma of the debilitating symptoms I was experiencing), it also created pressure. Something my overachieving part did not need any more of. I often felt like I was ‘failing’ at recovery or recovering quickly enough, despite all my work in this area.
Learning to become less outcome focussed
and gently letting go of timelines,
helped my ‘over doer’ part and,
in turn, my whole system to relax.
When I embodied this new way of being, my symptoms began to ease and eventually go.
Tip 4: Take breaks from doing the deeper work if you need to.
When working with the nervous system, we need to approach it with gentleness.
Trying to rush or push is counterintuitive. It can lead to overwhelm and a further clamping down into a fight/flight or freeze response. True healing requires kindness, patience, slowness, titration (taking things little bit, by little bit) and digestion (space to process and integrate).
This means that it is healthy to take breaks from doing deep work.
It also helps us live amid challenge and balance our inner work with our outer lives. It helps us let go of patterns of perfectionism and ‘achieving’ or ‘overdoing’, which can keep us stuck in unhelpful habits and states.
In my own journey, I have taken breaks in between working with different practitioners and in aspects of my own self guided work.
These things all take energy, which we need to balance and recharge as part of our healing journey. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
Give yourself time to process and space to
really practise and embody the learnings,
so that they are integrated.
At times, I have solely taken breaks due to low energy or financial constraints. A pragmatic choice – knowing that the stress of trying to ‘push through’ these obstacles, would likely outweigh the benefits.
Taking things slowly is also the antithesis of overdoing. It gives me ample opportunity to sit with the discomfort and hear out the part of me that wants to default to this pattern. I can show it kindness and look to new, healthier options.
This makes the work that much more sustainable.
Tip 5: Let yourself be angry/sad/frustrated etc. when this arises.
To quote the cliché, life is not always fair. Things really suck at times. It is ok to feel this and far healthier than bypassing.
When experiencing anger, the trick is to let yourself feel this in your body and allow it to move through you, rather than getting caught up in your thoughts on the matter and ruminating on these narratives.
Your anger is valid. It helps you
identify your needs and boundaries.
It can be a powerful catalyst
for action and change.
You can be angry and kind. Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and confrontational feelings is not the same as acting out on these unskillfully. When we learn how to build and hold a safe container for our challenging feelings, we can explore these with less fear and shame.
Early in my recovery, I learnt about the role of repressed anger and chronic symptoms from the work of physicians such as Gabor Mate, John Sarno and Howard Schubiner. I sighed as I identified with so many of the traits they stated as common amongst chronic pain and fatigue patients.
I could see that I had cut myself off from feeling so much of my anger, years prior. I over worked and over helped as protective mechanisms. Relaxation was a struggle.
Reconnecting to my anger was deeply healing.
I journalled, stomped my feet,
punched and screamed into pillows, all whilst connecting to the
sensations of anger I felt in my body.
I visualised this when I was too unwell to physically do so.
I worked with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner to help me find and express a firm ‘no’. I connected to and moved some deeply repressed anger from my early teens, with her support.
Tip 6: Be your own friend.
I know that this may seem ‘fluffy’ or like an alien concept at first, particularly if you have a harsh inner critic and a history of self-punishing behaviour.
Ultimately, self-compassion is the root
of our internal feeling of safety.
Developing self-compassion, softens the blows of whatever life throws our way. It gives us ongoing support. Our body and internal world can become a refuge. We can soothe and console ourselves through challenges.
Thankfully, self-compassion is a very practical skill that can be learnt incrementally. It doesn’t require perfection. There is no one way to do it and no end point. It also does not require us to become arrogant, obnoxious, selfish or any other negative connotations we may have associated with the idea of self-compassion.
Bubble baths and mantras of ‘I love myself’ are also not necessary (unless you enjoy them).
Tip 7: Look for your support.
Whilst this is your hero/ines journey you do not need to hold it all alone.
Prior to developing chronic pain and fatigue, I was incredibly independent. I ‘did it all’ myself and tried to keep everyone around me happy at all times. I hated feeling like I was a bother to anyone and struggled to ask for help.I told myself these were positive qualities, yet everyday life often felt hard.
Chronic pain and fatigue were deeply humbling. Heartbreakingly so at times. There were stretches of time, where I was reliant upon family and friends to wash my hair, clean my house and go grocery shopping for me.
I had to learn how to ask for help
and accept it, without being able
to offer much back.
I was unable to fund living by myself when I could not work, so lodged with a good friend and then moved back in with my parents.
The loss of independence really stung.
This lesson did however show me how human beings are not meant to do everything alone. Support is invaluable. It is more than ok to be vulnerable. Alongside reducing the load, this is ultimately where true intimacy lies (both with yourself and with another).
I can honestly say, my relationships have blossomed over the past 5 years as part of this journey. Existing ones have deepened and I have welcomed authentic, respectful and loving new relationships into my life.
I have reached out to professionals and found this incredibly helpful when I have felt stuck or in need of impartial support. I have learnt so much from their expertise.
The act of being seen,
can also be deeply healing in itself.
Tip 8: Celebrate your wins and look for everyday pleasures.
The brain is automatically geared towards a negativity bias but it is also plastic. We can train ourselves to find and savour pleasure and acknowledge all the little steps that accumulate to feeling well.
Remember that shorter dips/recovery times and decreased severity of symptoms are also ‘wins’ too. Celebrate ‘em!
Everyday life feels so much richer to me,
through celebrating small wins and
embracing everyday pleasures.
Carrying a small bag of groceries back from the supermarket after being unable to do so for 18 months was one of my proudest achievements (it beat so many of the promotions and awards I had valued prior). Noticing the rich shades of nature in autumn and the vibrancy of the first spring flowers brought so much colour to my world. Savouring the pleasant sensations of my body gently breathing or feeling the reassuring weight of the duvet against my skin feels deeply soothing.
There is so much at my disposal to help me regulate my nervous system and connect to joy, even on days that feel tough.
Tip 9: Reflect on what you actually want back from your old life (and what you don’t).
When we first become unwell, it can be natural to want to get back to ‘our old life’ as quickly as possible.
Whilst this is understandable, the onset of symptoms can be a real invitation to go inwards and reflect on what does and does not work for you at this stage in your life.
What are your core needs and values?
What do you want from life? Is this the same
as what you think/thought you should want?
Which parts of your old life do you miss?
What would serve you best to leave behind?
This process of self-inquiry can be both scary and empowering. Rather than viewing our circumstances as purely loss, there is opportunity for growth. (Read more about Post traumatic growth, here.)
Whilst I won’t diminish the difficulty and discomfort in symptoms and circumstances, asking these questions and reflecting upon our experiences at the right time, can ultimately be incredibly enriching.
Challenge puts things into perspective. We connect to what we truly want and identify what does not work for us. We can create space to grieve the past and build a rich, joyful, supportive future.
Tip 10: Look for the lightness.
You can hold both heavy and light, hard and soft. Humour (even gallows) can be greatly soothing.
It is more than ok to both laugh and cry.
Sing, write poetry, curse and scream. There is space for it all and all aspects of you.
Thank you for reading. I hope some of this was helpful to you. If you would like 1:1 support in your personal journey, do reach out for a chat to see if working together is the right fit. Please note that my work is not intended to replace medical advice. Holistic health is very much a compliment to the medical model.
Chowdhury, M R, What is Post- Traumatic Growth (+ Inventory & Scale), Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory & Scale (positivepsychology.com), Positive Psychology.com, 31 Aug 2019.
Hanson, R (PHD), Overcoming the Negativity Bias, Overcoming the Negativity Bias – Dr. Rick Hanson