Chris Jamieson shares his inspiring CFS/ME recovery story
I am grateful to interview Chris about his 4-year recovery journey from moderate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. After falling ill, Chris often struggled going on 5 minute walks on his street and crashes would leave him couch-bound.
Today, after multiple setbacks and years of trial and error, he is in peak health playing Aussie rules football and training for a marathon, can work 5 days a week, and feels more aligned with his true self than he ever was.
Chris shares his challenges, his experience with Western medicine, his foray into alternative medicine, the dozens of things he tried, and what actually worked to make it to the other side.
Four key pillars of Chris’ healing involved:
- Focusing on his mindset through observing his thoughts, daily meditation, and daily journaling
- Eating based on Ayurvedic principles for his body type
- Creating optimal conditions for sleep
- Restorative movement + cold-water therapy
I encourage you to take a dive into the specific of what worked for him (keeping in mind we’re all unique) to inspire you on your journey.
Chris also shares powerful and encouraging words of wisdom at the end of our interview.
Happy Update April 16, 2021: Chris completed the marathon he was training for (in under 4 hours). After the recent school term ended, he began helping others as a CFS recovery coach. You can reach him on Instagram here or through his new coaching website.
Liz: What is your purpose for sharing your recovery story?
There were three main reasons why I decided to blog and share my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E healing story.
First, it was very therapeutic during the second COVID lockdown in Australia from August to October for me to start blogging about my journey. I wanted to use all the notes I had journaled over the last 4 years while in recovery.
Another reason for sharing my story is to raise awareness about CFS/ME and give inspiration that recovery is possible.
And third, I want to raise awareness about Mental Health in remembrance of my best mate Paul Brennan and the importance of checking in on our loved ones who are going through a tough time.
Unfortunately, when Paul had his mental health battles there was still a bit of a stigma around the illness. It also wasn’t really known to the full extent how bad he was suffering as he was keeping a lot of it to himself.
Paul passed away 7 months before I came down with CFS/ME. One thing the last 4 years have made me realise was the amount of pain he was actually in and that he was mostly doing it alone. He was a top fella. Missed by all. R.I.P. Mate xo.
During my dark days of CFS/M.E recovery and its links with mental health, at times I didn’t necessarily answer my phone all the time, but I did appreciate it when mates where calling to check in.
Anyone who reads this post, try and check in with your mates with a phone call or visit as much as you can, especially for your mates who are doing it tough.
Liz: What was your life like before CFS/ME?
Prior to CFS/M.E, I was constantly on the move. I loved my life which was filled with running and training to run marathons, traveling, playing Australian Rules football, cricket, going to a job I loved as a special needs teacher, and socialising with my mates. But I also partied hard all weekend and had been in toxic relationships.
Looking back it’s best to listen to the body before the crisis point arises.
In 2012 (age 31), I developed pancreatitis, but I was able to heal it by eating and sticking to a plant-based diet and having a 6-month dry spell from drinking. Though I didn’t drink as hard when I began drinking again, I continued to live life full on.
Before I was sick with CFS/ME, I was oblivious and ignored any symptoms which might have indicated I was unwell, but looking back my digestive system wasn’t smooth, I had brain fog, and my lower back was always stiff. Yet I continued to live at full speed.
At age 35, I had been living this lifestyle since my later teenage years, so looking back, it really wasn’t a surprise that I caught CFS/ME; this and also 2016 had been a difficult year. My best mate had passed away due to suicide, and I came up against a few other challenges.
Just a few months before getting ill, I ran the 60 km Great Ocean Road Ultra Marathon. It was a walk in the park compared to the illness I would soon be up against.
Nothing could prepare myself for the last four years battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME and Chronic Pancreatitis (which came back in late 2018 despite no alcohol since CFS/ME started) and the flow on effect to my mental health.
Liz: Can you describe how your journey with CFS/ME began?
I caught a virus and my body couldn’t fight it off.
However, the virus was likely just the catalyst for the CFS/ME. I suspect being in Sympathetic “Flight-or Fight” mode for many years (running marathons, traveling overseas and living rough, boozing hard on weekends, working hard, dealing with grief, with no balance in between) which had made me sick.
My immune system was probably flattened.
Nov 4th 2016, is a day I clearly remember. I woke up with a head which was pounding like it was being hit by a baseball bat, a body that was aching sore and I was so fatigued. I ultimately sensed something wasn’t right, but hoping it was just a flu/virus. I spent that whole weekend in bed asleep.
Liz: What is your theory of CFS/ME?
I don’t have a clear answer what caused my CFS/ME.
All I have is my own theory that my body was most likely in Fight-or-Flight mode for a prolonged period of time.
When I had CFS/ME I was definitely in Flight-or-Fight 24/7, which is Sympathetic mode and its physiological responses.
It was ultimately meditation and mindfulness which allowed me to slowly but surely move from Flight-or-Fight mode to Parasympathetic healing mode, which is about rest, digestion, reproduction, and repair.
Liz: What were your key health challenges?
When CFS/ME came, my body collapsed.
My symptoms were not just extreme fatigue, I also had headaches which felt like I’d done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, I was dizzy and couldn’t process thoughts, my digestion was off, my body was stiff, I experienced heart palpitations, I had panic attacks, and my nervous system and immune system were absolutely rattled.
The flow on effects were mental health struggles and pancreatitis coming back in 2018.
Liz: What were your functionality levels throughout your journey?
My baseline was about 30% overall in health, during the first year or so of recovery.
Regular days would be roughly spent going on four 5 min walks in my street, a dip in the bay, light stretches, sleeping, and resting up.
Sometimes I felt better, but during the first 1.5 years of recovery I was definitely in the ‘push and crash’ cycle of recovery of feeling okay for one day, then over doing it and being crashed out for the next few days.
Looking back it was absolute hell, but slowly progressing to the finish line has been so worth it.
Liz: After the virus knocked you down, what did you do?
Being the type A person who I was, I went to work as a special needs school teacher the following Monday and Tuesday and felt like absolute rubbish.
I got off work early, and went to my local GP on both days.
Liz: What was your experience seeking medical answers?
My local GP said I had a virus, rest up, and go buy some sinus spray.
Rest up! That wasn’t something I was used to.
Things weren’t getting much better the following week, so I was recommended to a new doctor of Integrative medicine who apparently had expertise with my symptoms.
This doctor knew by my symptoms, background and blood tests that I had Post Viral-Fatigue / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but he assured me that I would be back feeling myself and recovered in a year’s time.
Part of my recovery would be visiting this doctor every 1-2 weeks to get Vitamin C infusions and B12 shots (up my bum!). The doctor said both worked well for fatigue. This doctor was very positive, which I took on board as I was so desperate to get better.
The doctor’s orders were ‘rest up’ and go on 1-2 small walks around the block. He didn’t mention anything about diet or dealing with emotional stress.
To begin with, I took on my doctor’s advice. After all, the doctor gave me hope by saying I’d be better within a year. (It was only natural to listen and to take on our medical professionals advice, right?)
I was still feeling like death after resting up for 3 months.
The Doctor advised me to attend 3 days of work as a school teacher starting in February during the 2017 school year. I understood he wanted to keep me busy, as I had been resting up at home in between school years 2016-17 for 3 months, but looking back this was downright ridiculous.
I wasn’t too confident about this, but I went along with it.
My health deteriorated even more by going back to work part-time. Every night I’d come home from work and crash hard.
I reported this to the Dr, who said “don’t worry and assured me this is part of the process and eventually my body will get stronger.”
This was still assuring me that I was on the right track.
Since I was mostly housebound and on the couch when I wasn’t pushing myself through work, I purchased a smart TV and watched the English comedy series ‘The Inbetweeners’ on repeat, to keep my spirits up amongst all the confusion.
Liz: Can you explain how you tried to get by at work in the beginning?
As a special needs school teacher, I was lucky enough to have a teacher assistant who understood about CFS and what I was going through. She told me just to sit down and rest all day, and she will do the majority of the teaching.
I felt similar to the Mondays I’d come into work in years past with a hangover after a massive weekend partying, but much worse.
At this stage, my health was centered around resting up at home on the couch and making it to work 3 days a week, there was no socialising, no fun, with my parents helping me at home with cooking and cleaning. Term 2 was much the same.
I stayed in survival mode, feeling around 30% consistently overall with my health and energy each day at work.
By the end of school Term 3, I basically collapsed and had a severe crash / relapse. By this time I had the illness for nearly one year, and I lost faith in western medicine having all the answers for recovery for CFS/ME.
With support from my parents, I would stop working and go soul searching for answers with alternative medicine.
Liz: What are the limitations of Western medicine in your experience?
When it comes to treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E, Western Medicine doctors know very little about healing/recovery, most likely because there’s no magic pill or quick fix for the illness.
It’s the 21st century and doctors really need to be educated about this illness.
During my first year of recovery I learnt this the hard way, and I’m sure most people who have experienced CFS/ME have probably found themselves in the same position.
Western doctors, in particular, are not informed much about diet, the impact of emotional stress and how to deal with it, and proper physio methods for people with CFS (even specialist ‘integrative’ doctors in my case).
I had to process anger and frustration about the bad advice doctors gave me at the start of the illness that made me worse.
Liz: Did Western medicine help you in any way along your journey?
In western countries like Australia and the U.K., we have the best medical systems in the world, when it comes to things that can be treated with drugs or a knife.
During my CFS/ME recovery I developed chronic pancreatitis and pancreas stones.
Getting these stones surgically removed was key for my overall health recovery.
I suppose in the end, even though Western Medicine needs to be educated about CFS/ME, it contributed 30% to my recovery with the pancreas stone removal surgery (20%) and mood medication (10%) that helped take the edge off after the surgery knocked me down. Recently, I split my jaw playing cricket and required 8 stiches. The doctors in these cases were fantastic.
The rest of my recovery, I can attributed 70% to Eastern Philosophy (e.g. Ayurveda / diet, sleep, meditation and mindfulness, restorative movement, and getting into nature.)
Liz: Can you describe your experience with chronic pancreatitis?
Two years into my CFS/ME recovery journey, pancreatitis (which I had and recovered from in 2012 by taking a break from drinking) came back. It was a bit of a shock, since I had been sober since November 2016.
Adding pancreatitis on top of CFS/ME was rough both physically and mentally.
I started off by having a few emergency trips to the hospital for upper abdominal pain/inflammation in late 2018. Eventually I went to St Vincent’s in Fitzroy to get scans and a camera down my throat which confirmed that I had Pancreas stones. These are very uncommon in the pancreas (you normally find stones in the gall bladder or kidneys). Pretty soon this pain would be intense, and I would be in and out of hospital throughout 2019.
Doctors and Nurses will say that chronic pancreatitis is worse than going into labour for pregnancy. It soon became the new normal for me.
Just to tell you how much pain I was in during 2019, my pancreas enzyme blood levels where constantly in the 5000-10,000 thousand range when they should have only been between 50-100.
The process to eliminate the pancreas stones would begin with lithotripsy blasts to zap, break up, and fracture the stones. I followed up in the next week with the doctor aiming to scrape the stones out of the pancreas duct. Most of the time the stones were too stubborn and wouldn’t move or they would come back.
This went on for roughly 8 attempts over the course of 2019, as well there was numerous stents put into the pancreas duct to open it up, as the stones had blocked the duct. Along with the 8 surgeries, I also went into hospital for another 10 times into St Vincent’s Fitzroy emergency room because I had pancreas inflammations whilst at home. The staff got to know me quite well (thanks mum and dad for driving me there every time!).
Eventually, at the end of 2019, it was agreed that the methods of lithotripsy and scrapping of the stones weren’t working, and the specialist would have to do a full invasive procedure where he would have to go into the pancreas, cut and remove part of the pancreas where the stone was forming and then cover the cut with bile (a 6-hour surgery).
I was in hospital for bit over a week on a diet of liquids and in a world of pain; then had to rest and recover at home for a month after.
I lost a lot of weight from chronic pancreatitis due to the pain in my gut, as it would be too sore to eat, and when doctors told me to have 24-48 hour breaks from food to give my gut a full rest.
My arms and legs looked like bread sticks and my body was deconditioned; I’d definitely dropped to under 65 Kilos (~140 lbs).
While I was basically living in the hospital, I was very lucky to have 2 caring parents and a best mate who was daily constantly checking in on my wellbeing (which he did on his accord).
Liz: How does the pancreas affect CFS/ME in your opinion?
Having good gut health is extremely important for recovery.
The whole body is like a circuit and the pancreas is linked to CFS in that the pancreas is right next to the adrenal glands.
When the adrenals don’t get the rest they need, they will tire out, cortisol will not be produced, and you will get fatigued.
The function of the pancreas is that it breaks down sugar/insulin. Amazingly, the specialists were shocked my insulin levels were okay, because with most cases without the pancreas properly functioning, I would have been a diabetic.
I suspect my high-fiber Ayurvedic diet (which also helped me with digestion and elimination) and being sober since November 2016 had helped kept my blood sugar levels stable and prevented me from diabetes.
At the moment, the final surgery has been a success (no more stones!), with heaps less gut pain. In conjunction with now being able to manage my wandering mind (having a calmer nervous system has definitely helped my digestion), I am now able to eat a bit more variety of foods like pizza, fish, chocolate and corn chips (as occasional treats) which I hadn’t eaten in years.
Liz: Can you describe the effect to your mental health of extreme pain and being in and out of the hospital countless times?
As I mentioned above, I spent most of 2019 in and out of hospital with Chronic Pancreatitis (with lots of surgery’s and emergency visits).
I had major surgery to remove pancreas stones from my pancreas on December 30th 2019, so the first week of 2020 was spent recovering from the surgery in hospital. After a few days at home resting up post-surgery, my mental health was probably at its all-time low, and I was admitted to a Psychiatric ward to trail some medication for my mood which wasn’t stable.
At this time, I probably rated my overall health at 2/10 (however by the end of 2020 it would be 9/10!).
I was optimistic about going to the Psychiatric ward because I was desperate to get better. There were two reasons I believe why my mental health was at such at all time low:
- I had at the time now battled a demon known as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / M.E.’ for over 3 years, unable to work, unable to do any of the things which I had previously loved and it had sucked the life out of me.
- It had also been noted that the 10 surgeries I had in 2019 for Chronic Pancreatitis and all the anesthetics that I had along with the surgeries might have had an effect on my mental wellbeing. (But who knows? It’s definitely something I don’t dwell over now.)
I was still using all the tools I had learnt at meditation class and they were working, but my unconscious mind was spiraling out of control. It seemed like I had to be on watch 24/7 for my thoughts, it was very tiring.
Time went very slowly inside the Psych ward, there were set meal times, set medication times and you were only allowed 2 hours leave per day for your own recreation, like going for a walk or grabbing a coffee. It was probably best to keep to yourself in the ward as some of the stories other patients told me why they were there could be quite disturbing.
Initially the first lot of medication I got on, although I felt a little better after a 3 week stay in the hospital, very soon after my release from the hospital at the start of Feb 2020, I started to feel really bad side effects from the medication. I experienced panic attacks (which were triggered out of nowhere) and heart palpations which I had 24/7.
I was really in a bad space, but at this time, I had now been in a really bad space mentally and physically for over 3 years, so I really didn’t know any different.
I battled these medication side effects on top of my CFS/ME daily from Feb to late March 2020. My mum noted that I didn’t laugh or smile at all during this period, I just had this really serious face. I went back in the Psychiatric ward 2 months later when it was agreed that I needed to change this medication.
I did another 3 week stay in the psychiatric ward during March/April 2020, The second lot of medication I got on (you can P.M. me if you would like to know more), apart from some slight side effects to begin with (which I no longer have) was much better.
Getting on the correct medication for my mood was a good choice, along with all the other hard work I done through meditation and mindfulness.
The correct mood medication made me calmer by 10-15% (just enough to help take an edge of things).
Along with using mindfulness, my migraines and anxiety slowly subsided; less anxiety gave me more energy, which helped me build myself up to be able to work and run again in 2020.
Liz: Wow. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability for sharing this dark time. It’s SO inspiring that just 9 months ago, you were in the hospital and today you’re in fantastic health. It really shows the body’s ability to heal when the pieces come together (and doing the hard work).
Liz: What are some things you tried?
There is no clear text book on how to recover from ME/CFS or magic pill, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
With Western medicine not giving me much of any support to battle CFS/ME, I was constantly researching online and listening to podcasts trying to find a ‘silver bullet.’
I was so desperate to get better.
At the start of CFS, if someone told me drinking your own urine will help you recover, I would have done it.
There were many things I tried during 2017-2018 which didn’t bring me luck, some of which included (keep in mind everyone’s CFS/ME healing journey is unique, and it’s not a one size fixed all approach):
– 3 Day Bone Broth Fast or Juice Fast (to let my gut rest from eating, but by day2 I was wiped out!!)
– Vitamin C infusions and B12 shots
– Two psychologists: I wasn’t in the head pace to work out what happened early growing up and how it might be responsible for my illness; I wanted to stay present.
– Chiropractor: To readjust my body
– 15-20 various supplements per day
– Drinking filtered water and eating only organic food
– FODMAPs elimination diet / Soup Diet
– Colonics and Coffee Enemas
– Healers: After watching the Netflix documentary Heal, I’d thought I would give it a go.
– Free Health Coaches / Physios through my Health Fund: They just didn’t have any idea about the illness.
All this research was over doing it; mentally and physically, it was making me feel even more drained and confused.
I ultimately had to carve my own path forward, which involved many setbacks and years of trial and error.
Liz: How did you stay hopeful that full recovery was possible, despite setbacks?
I remember about 18 months into my recovery I was able to consistently get my baseline up to 40-50% consistently for around a month, but then I had a massive crash which lasted about 3 months and my baseline went back to 30%.
I remember feeling so devastated, and I believed that I had sabotaged my recovery.
Looking back, getting angry with yourself gets you nowhere during recovery or life.
An overall post for me is recovery from CFS/M.E was the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy (not that we should have enemies!).
At my worst I was housebound or beachbound for periods of time on and off. There were sometimes like the dark ones when I had insomnia (another CFS symptom) and I didn’t sleep for 2-3 nights; I was zombie like, my mind was doing 360 degree kart-wheels, and I did question if I was ever able to recover and do things again which I loved.
However, I can always say that I always believed in my healing recovery.
Deep down, most of the time I knew that my good old Aussie battling traits (I’ve always gave 110% with everything in life) would somehow get me through.
I just needed to find the right tools and strategies to individually help me heal!
Liz: How did mental health play a role in CFS/ME and your recovery?
My mental health was definitely holding me back; not by choice, it was because anxiety seemed to be quite new to me, and I didn’t know the tools or strategies to battle it.
Previously before I got unwell, I had been keeping myself so busy that I probably didn’t notice that I may have had some underlying anxiety.
Naturally I’ve always been a positive person, however, in the depths of having the CFS/ME illness, I’m not going to lie that it was bloody hard to stay positive 24/7.
Part of having the illness is that your body has basically collapsed on all fronts, this included my nervous system and mind/brain (hence why sufferers experience extreme brain fog and often have trouble processing thoughts or communicating).
CFS/ME rattled my nervous system, and the struggles and symptoms that came with it piled onto my anxiety.
I began telling myself statements like “just let it go”, “stay positive” or “stay present,” but as I was to work out later, in the end these are just cliches. If you’re not best mates with your mind and mindfully watching your thoughts and its triggers (inside and out), statements like these won’t work, they will just be words.
I did chip away with improving my mindset day by day during my 4 year recovery.
Once I was eventually able to manage my mental health, it helped unlock and improve all the physical aspects I had to endure with CFS/ME, such as migraines, body pain, and my digestion.
Liz: Did you have any turning points in your journey around mental health?
The Toby Morrison @CFSHealth recovery program most importantly covered mindset. When I discovered the program at the end of 2017, after 1 year of being ill, it helped me realize that my persistent killer headaches were internal stress-related and the only way they would subside was when I was super calm and at peace with myself.
This was quite rare at the moment (given everything I was experiencing), but I had experienced a few times the headaches being mild and this was because I was at ease with myself.
Although the CFS Health course didn’t provide me personally with the silver bullet to manage my mindset, it did get the ball going and was able to provide great awareness to mindset and mental health and its relationship with CFS/ME.
Another turning point was discovering meditation.
Liz: What role did meditation play in your healing recovery?
Over 4 years ago, before I got sick, I would have thought meditation was a load of crap! However, it played a massive part in my ongoing healing recovery of CFS/ME.
With the frustrations of my killer headaches and knowing their relationship with mental health, by late 2018 it was only time to join my best mate Tim and go along with him to meditation and mindfulness classes every week and sometimes weekends.
I was very lucky to have Tim during the 4 years of being sick. He just about checked in with me every day with a phone call. He was my personal Psychologist, health coach, counselor, visited me in hospital throughout 2019, and go-to person whenever I needed a helping hand or someone to talk to. I definitely wouldn’t have got to where I am currently without Tim’s help along the way.
As with learning about Ayurveda (for diet), meditation was something I could relate to and it resonated with me as something which could help heal my mental health.
I also enjoyed the social aspects of the meditation classes and meeting other people who had similar health journeys to me. (Most people at class had some sort of health crisis in their lifetime.)
Meditation essentially trains our mind to stay in the moment instead of running forward and back (or on autopilot) and helps us develops a relationship with ourselves.
It definitely didn’t happen overnight. Currently I still have a little bit of difficulty switching off my wandering mind from day to day to calm it down (most people do!), although it’s now 10 times better than it was before. This came from lots of meditation practice!
For me meditation and mindfulness allowed me to get to know myself better, especially my thoughts, which I now had to become best mates with. It allowed me to train my mind and to manage my anxiety, as well as see how off-course it was (and still can be at times).
From learning about the wandering mind at meditation class, over time I was eventually able to heal my headaches.
This allowed me to have more energy and eventually go back to work, run, and socialise.
Liz: Can you describe more about the process of how you managed your thoughts?
Understanding how to be an observer of my thoughts was a game changer for me.
Again, it didn’t happen overnight, but it helped me understand and heal the mental health confusion I was experiencing.
These words below (takeaways from meditation class I wrote down in my journal) became my own bible for my mindset recovery. I’m happy to share them with you.
Words Chris lives by for mental health recovery:
Most of the time we don’t choose what we think, it’s normal for our minds to have a tornado of thoughts especially about the self.
(Try meditating, and you will realise you’re not really in control of your mind!)
The mind has two components the conscious and unconscious mind.
The conscious mind thinks about an action and uses will-power to fulfill it like choosing lunch or phoning a mate.
The unconscious mind houses the default programming of your emotions and belief; up to 95% of thoughts are unconscious, they are either supporting or sabotaging your outcomes.
Unless your unconscious mind has instructions for preferable outcomes, it will be likely running negative thoughts/instructions.
Watch your thoughts from the unconscious mind carefully. The thoughts are okay – they’re natural, it’s what you do with them.
With an unpleasant thought, if it comes up, know it’s a delusion created by our own version of events, this thought has no end.
Recognise and accept the unpleasant feeling, sit with it, don’t fight or feed it, as it will spread like a wild-fire.
By sitting with and observing the bad thought this might take time (it could take hours, or if it’s habitual, it could be days), but eventually the storm will pass once the thought has run its course.
By staying present and letting go, you will be rewarded with the feeling of successfully being able to get through the rough period and move on clear-minded (and more importantly, with no more migraines!). That feeling is breath taking! This result will only come by lots of practice.
^I read these words daily to myself until it sunk in!
I definitely haven’t perfected this practice, but it has guided me out of the dark spaces of mental health and its impact on CFS/ME recovery.
Liz: Did you find any lifestyle changes helpful?
Yes there where a few:
1. Daily Yoga/Stretching & Posture Correction
With CFS /M.E many things within the body get much much weaker, or less efficient, i.e. muscles, digestive system, immune system, nervous system, just to name a few. With this, the struggle to do day-to-day tasks can become immense. With CFS/M.E your body is under stress and it is trying to do it’s best to protect you.
A lot of CFS sufferers like myself when I had the illness, suffered immense pain, some of the pain can come from your muscles being tired and sore, because they are unable to heal themselves. This is where stretching/yoga comes in, as the blood flow via stretching takes oxygen to the muscles, and therefore helps the muscles repair its muscular endurance.
Stretching/yoga loosens the muscles and tendons; with having CFS/M.E and being so fatigued and possibly housebound, we get less flexible and our muscles fatigue easier. By stretching we warm up the sleepy areas of the body, and remind them it’s time to move. It improves concentration when you promote blood flow; it also assists your concentration level as your brain gets some blood flow going, which also helps in decreasing brain fog.
I have found both yoga and pilates to be very helpful during recovery.
One thing I also learnt from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E is the body is one big circuit in which everything is linked. One thing affects another which then affects something else. It’s all connected.
By rounding the shoulders and dropping the head forward, normally indicates something within the body is off. Ideally, we should be standing tall, like there is a hook in the middle of our chest pulling us up and out. It should cause our chest to open up and our buttocks to tuck in.
For every center meter the head moves forward beyond lateral posture line, there is an extra 4 kilograms of load on the upper back area, which can be a lot of weight. In dropping the head forward can also lead to back pain, headaches and having shoulders which feel like concrete.
Posture correction is essential to ensure that nerve impulses can flow freely from the brain through to the upper chest/back and out to the nerves and muscles. Good posture allows for greater oxygenation and nerve flow.
When the posture is wrong, a feedback loop opens up, telling the brain that we are tensed and hunched up – something must be wrong.
Some helpful things to help improve your posture:
- Go to a good physio (who knows what they’re talking about) for body / posture alignment. Ben Logan @chelsealongbeachphysio in Melbourne Australia is fantastic, hands down!
- Set up a computer desk ergonomically. Sitting at a computer desk all day leads to a slouched posture. Split 50/50 between sitting and standing to promote healthy up right posture (as seen in pics)
- Get a ‘posture rehab’ device. I use this foam roller placed along the length of my spine and up behind my head. All I have to do is lie on it. The device helps open up my chest area, reduce wind-up in the upper chest back area and align my head in a neutral position. I use it for 15 minutes a day to help loosen the tension in my body. (I often meditate while using it.)
- Daily Stretching / Yoga / Pilates exercises as mentioned above can also help correct posture.
2. Good sleep routine
Sleep is one of the 4 main pillars in CFS/ ME recovery (along with mindset, nutrition and restorative movement).
Sleep is a vital part in aiding CFS /M.E recovery. Without sufficient sleep, it is very hard to progress your recovery.
Sleep is essential for the body to recharge its batteries, rest, digest and repair.
Quality sleep is vital as it helps to build and to grow muscle tissue, increase appetite, increase energy levels, decrease brain fog, decrease mood swings, decrease irritability, and will improve your overall quality of life.
Whilst dealing with CFS/M.E, sleep is usually disturbed. At one stage during the illness I suffered from Insomnia (a common CFS/ME symptom of being wired and tired). I was in a wound up – stressed out hyper-vigilant state with a million things on my mind.
To address this, I set up a structured sleep routine and sticking to it over a long period of time.
Before bed, I did deep breathing and muscle relaxation, as well as writing down worries and letting them go in my journal. Relaxing music, turning off my phone and screens 1 hour before bed, also helped overcome this.
If Insomnia with CFS/ME gets really bad for you as it did for me at one stage, you might need to use sleeping tablets for a period of time. It’s better to get some sleep than no sleep!
Some other things I used to help my sleep included:
- If I was really tired during the day with CFS/ME I would only nap for 15 minutes during the early afternoon, sleeping for longer would disrupt my night-time sleep.
- Sleep between 10pm – 7am
- The white noise machine generates soothing white noise and masks unwanted sounds to create a sense of calm and relaxation. The white noise works by masking other noises such as traffic, noisy neighbors or people so that your brain doesn’t focus on them and is able to relax and go to sleep.
- Likewise, quality ear plugs from ‘Alpine hearing protection’ work in tandem with the white noise machine, blocking any outside noise.
- Blue blocker glasses: Which help block out blue light which is artificially found in devices such as your smart phone, computer screen or even light bulbs. The glasses filter down blue light and eliminate its glare which reduces digital eyestrain, headaches and stress levels, helps you sleep better, as well as keeping your mind and eyes feeling refreshed.
- Sleeping Masks: to block out any interfering distracting light when you go to sleep.
- Using Magnesium or Valerine Forte as a sleeping aid supplement
3. Daily Journaling
During the illness I documented and wrote in a journal most days. In my daily journal I was forever writing about my mood during recovery and what personal course of action was best for me to approach my mental health.
I did lots of drafts in my journal during my CFS/ME recovery and the best approach to my mental health kept on changing.
It was a trial and error approach of learning the best method which suited me to calming my mind especially when I wasn’t meditating. I’d read it back to myself everyday because it was only going to be lots of Practice until I turned the words into my actions.
In my journal even on the worse of days, I would always write positive affirmations that I would get better and also tell myself what I was grateful for at the end of my daily journal briefing.
[Chris shares how he used his journal to help him with increasing movement in an upcoming section.]
Liz: That’s awesome. I went through over a dozen journals and also noticed that the best approaches to things sometimes changed. I, too, wrote positive affirmations about my health and wrote what I was grateful for every day (even on the worst of days). It helped me get through. Very cool.
4. Cold water / Salt-water therapy
I remembered when I played at St. Bedes Mentone Australian Rules Football club our coach at the time Australian Rules Football legend ‘Luke Beveridge’ once said, “Salt water is magical, there’s just something about it!” in reference to swimming in the chilly waters of Port Phillip Bay after a football match for physical recovery.
I think he was definitely right …. it’s also great mentally!
When I started back running for the first time in 3 years and 10 months in August 2020, (after being unwell with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / ME), although my aerobic capacity still felt good, my physical body took a hit.
I probably progressed too fast and my body was also deconditioned, and so did my pocket take a hit with Physio bills for muscle inflammation / swelling.
By the end of August (end of Melbourne winter), I braved the waters of Port Phillip Bay each day for a swim and my physical body as a result felt so much better.
Currently, I have continued this daily and attribute this in being able to physically recover and heal faster each time I have done a hard physical activity, like a 30 km run or football training.
Here’s some more benefits of cold exposure training / daily salt-water beach swims, and what it has done for me:
- Decreased stress
- Decreased anxiety
- More energy
- Decreased pain
- Boost immune system
- Increases circulation
- Strengthened will power
- Fights Inflammation / swelling of muscles
- Strengthens nervous system
- My Physio bills have halved!
Swimming in the Bay twelve months of the year like Whim Hoff has definitely worked for me, though it can be so bloody cold!
Liz: Did diet play a role in your recovery?
Before I saw an Ayurvedic doctor, I was eating a general healthy diet commonly recommended for people with CFS/ME.
This resembled a Mediterranean diet of good fats and vegetables along with 15-20 supplements a day; clearly this wasn’t working for me. I was experiencing lots of gut pain and digestion issues.
I then read about Ayurveda and found Dr. Mahesh Kalira @jaima_wellbeing_centre in Melbourne.
It was good bye Western Medicine Integrative Doctor, hello Ayurvedic Doctor.
For me, Ayurveda was a sense of optimism to a fresh start in recovery. It was something that worked in the right direction, but it was no quick fix.
Liz: Can you explain what Ayurveda is and the diet changes you found helpful?
Ayurveda is like India’s version of Chinese Medicine.
The practice was something that I could relate to; I think what resonated with me the most was my alignment with my Dosha ‘Kapha’ and its diet. There are 3 dosha’s: Vata, Pitta and Kapha; each are associated with psychological and physical characteristics that influence how we look, think, feel and function.
Ayurveda stresses the importance of following the correct diet and lifestyle for your dosha.
My new diet changed to 2-3 supplements per day, my digestion improved and my gut pain subsided, which resulted in me now having a bit more energy.
The Kapha diet mainly included eating cooked beans, lentils, cooked veggies, fruits and no diary. It also allowed for the 80/20 rule, so I was allowed to have a treat every so often.
My Ayurvedic doctor had so much wisdom. Each consultation included a 15 minute debrief / counselling session.
Liz: That’s wonderful. What were some main lessons your Ayurvedic doctor taught you about diet and lifestyle that were helpful for your recovery?
Some main points I got out of Ayurvedic Medicine included:
- Try eat between an 8 hour time period (e.g 9 am – 5 pm) and let your body rest from food for the remaining 16 hours. (Basically like intermitting fasting.)
- Small Breakfast, Large Lunch, and Smaller Dinner (before I had larger dinners).
- Always try and eat warm foods as this helps with digestion as the body doesn’t have to heat up the food during the digestion process.
- Always try and go for a walk after eating to help with digestion (of course, don’t overexert yourself).
- Always drink warm water (but not too hot), which helps with digestion. Especially drink warm water on wake up with an empty stomach which gets the digestion moving first thing.
- Sleep from 10pm-6am. Its okay to have a 15 min power nap in the afternoon before 3pm if you need to.
- The importance of connecting with nature, mindset, and meditation.
- Use a tongue scrapper every morning and night to scrape of toxins on your tongue.
I currently still stick to my Ayurvedic diet, and I love it because it allows for an 80/20 rule so your allowed treats like chocolate or pizza every now and then.
Like most people with CFS/ME, I tried lots of supplements. The best and only supplement I found which work for my healing was an Ayuverdic supplement called ‘Triphala Guggulu.’ I took this supplement 3 times a day every time I had a large meal. This helped me with digestion and reducing inflammation in my gut.
Liz: Can you share some details about how you increased movement?
Graded Exercise Therapy (G.E.T.) is a controversial topic amongst CFS/ME patients. I believe this is because its is being prescribed by western doctors, dietitians, exercise psychologists, personal trainers + even naturopaths who don’t have a clue about the complexity of having CFS/ME, unless they have gone through the experience themselves.
I learnt this the hard way when my so-called doctor of integrative medicine was telling me during the first year of my illness that I would be fitter, stronger and recovered by attending work 3 days a week and he told me don’t worry about relapsing each day. (I was also paying him big $ for each consultation as well).
When G.E.T. is wrongly prescribed by these uninformed practitioners, it should be banned, as its making CFS/ME patients feel worse.
However, I believe programs like Toby Morrisons @cfshealth program (or anyone who has successfully healed from CFS/ME like Liz!!) can safely prescribe restorative movement /G.E.T. as they have a program with thorough understanding about the illness, and prescribe Restorative movement/ G.E.T. with careful + safe progressive work, working closely with the patients and their individual specific needs.
The best thing I learnt from Toby Morrison’s @cfshealth program was learning about restorative movement / G.E.T. This was one of the 4 main pillars in CFS/M.E recovery (along with sleep, mindset, and nutrition, all of which have to be addressed and considered when someone is building one’s movement, strength and stamina over time).
Liz: So true. When it comes to increasing movement (and the ability to recover from it), there are other factors at play that need to be addressed. And it needs to be tailored to the individual.
Can you share what strategies were helpful for you to increase movement?
Every day I recorded in my journal how much physical activity I was doing to make sure that I had structure and consistency each day, and when I felt okay, I could progress with small increments. This gave me some structure instead of just going with the flow. I also noted the times I went under my baseline because I needed to rest.
The main factors I learnt from restorative movement / G.E.T. include:
1. Finding your energy baseline during CFS/ME. This is for avoiding the boom and bust cycle of crashing/relapsing. The only way to find your baseline is by trial and error. To progress, you want to prevent the boom and bust cycle of crashing.
2. Break it up. I remember when I had CFS/ME during the early stages I would crash after walking 300 meters, so I changed this up by walking only 100 meters, having half an hour rest, then I would walk again for 100 meters.
3. Rest in between exercises. This was something I wasn’t used to doing in the past.
4. Knowing the difference between general CFS/ME tired and being totally wiped out.
When I was ‘CFS tired’ with everyday symptoms (e.g body pain, headaches, general fatigue) I learned it was safe to push 75% of my baseline. When I felt absolutely wiped out, I learned I needed to rest.
5. Start small – with something that is safe and effective. It may be adding 1 min of gentle stretching for your arms and legs each day, or even just deep breathing to start off.
6. Less is more. For me, it was always good to play it safe and not to go over my baseline, so I didn’t relapse. You don’t want to over do the amount of exercise and then you crash and experience setback after setback. I think this is especially important for Type A people who tend to push through.
7. Setbacks are okay as long as you learn from them. Setbacks are sending messages where you are at, and it’s a sign to adjust and adapt accordingly. You need to listen to your body.
8. If you feel good, only go over your baseline with small increments. I learned to resist the temptation to go hard on my ‘good’ days. E.g increasing your baseline which might be a 20min walk to 22mins etc… (+ hopefully while you slowly increase exercise there’s no crashes so u can progress more). It’s a lot of trail and error but it definitely resonated with my recovery.
My Slow Movements during CFS/M.E recovery looked like:
- Stretching on my bed
- Sat down rolling my ankles and wrists
- Simple yoga on the floor
- Walking around my house
Which progressed to my Medium Movements during CFS/M.E recovery:
- A walk outside for 30 mins – 1 hour
- Walking on a Beach
- A dip in the Bay
- A simple Workout Video on YouTube
Which progressed to Big Movements during my CFS/M.E recovery:
- A more intense YouTube workout
- A jog
- High intensity yoga
- Two longer walks in a day
- Light gym work, beach swims, pilates (and slowly increasing length and intensity)
Small steps create BIG results.
Currently, at 85% consistently recovered from CFS/ME, I still use the principles I learnt from Restorative movement / G.E.T. to increase my running distances which is now up to 30 km. (At the start of CFS/ME I was relapsing when I walked 300 meters down my street.)
How Chris is training for the Marathon:
When I started back running in August 2020 my first run was just 50 meters, my second was 100 meters my 3rd was 100 meter run, walk 5 minutes, then run 100 meters, my 4th was 250 meters run etc.
I used the same principles from restorative movement in my running comeback.
Currently, one thing I’ve learnt from my CFS/M.E recovery is to read and understand my body and what its telling me.
Even though I felt great at the time, I probably peaked just a little too early by running 12 km after only 6-7 weeks of built-up training (and not running at all for just over 3.5 years during my CFS/ME recovery). As a result, I’ve had a couple of niggly injuries, which pre-CFS/ME I would have just neglected and kept running or pushing through.
However, this time around in late Sept/Oct 2020, I’ve attended to what’s sore and strengthen my body back up by seeing a physio, only going on light smaller runs, getting massages, constantly strengthen the sore spots with stretching, as well as daily walks in the bay to help with the swelling and inflammation. After pulling back a little instead of pushing through, I have since made steady progress and am up to 30 kilometers (18 miles).
In the overall scheme of things, I’m just grateful to be running again!
Liz: When did your upward trajectory out of CFS begin?
For me, when the 2nd COVID lockdown hit in August 2020 in Melbourne Australia, I knew that it was going to be make or break for me. I was a casual school teacher, so I was stuck at home the whole time.
However, it was a time were all the positive tools and strategies I had learnt over the last 4 years in recovery and the small wins gelled together and become aligned and got me into healing mode.
It was a time where I didn’t have to worry about going to work 3 times a week and while I stayed in strict quarantine at home, I didn’t have to really worry about contracting the virus. (In Melbourne, Australia we stayed in strict quarantine for 3 months only able to move around a 5 km radius).
During this time, I just focused on priortising my health, got out into nature everyday, did lots of swimming in the cold bay, meditated and did yoga by the beach, and I just blocked everything else out like TV, news, work, or any fears I had (such as contracting COVID).
During this lockdown time, I pulled out all my old journals from the last few years, and I did Instagram blogs on my CFS/ME healing recovery. I also started running for the first time in over 3.5 years, (very slow to start up!).
I really loved doing both. Blogging, was very therapeutic; my mental health felt better with having a routine and structure each day of reading old notes, drafting and finalising blogs as well as most importantly getting back into training!
What I found that when the body is aligned/synced positively both physically, emotionally, and mentally it heals. And it can heal quick!
I was feeling so much better in such a short time around August and September.
With starting back running again, I continued with the principles I had learnt in restorative movement.
[Chris shares these principles in the previous section.]
Liz: Was there a time you knew you were recovered? Do you still stick to the things that helped you recover?
Some days for a split second I think recovery was a miracle, then I remember I didn’t get there overnight; this was years of safe progressive work, both physically and emotionally.
From about the start of December 2020, I consider myself fully recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / M.E.
I can work 5 days a week as a school teacher, attend social outings, run over 30 kilometers, and play sports (Aussie Rules football and cricket) without feeling fatigued. My pancreas / gut health is smooth and my mental health is ten times better than before.
I no longer live in fear of CFS/ME.
However, I like to say I’m ‘85% recovered’ to stay humble because I still treat every day as ongoing healing. I only need to eat the wrong foods, hold on to negative thoughts, not get enough sleep, fall back into old habits, run too far if I’m fatigued, have no balance with my lifestyle, and I can have a mini relapse / crash.
I know what it takes to stay healthy and that I have the right tools.
The healthy habits I’ve learnt work for me during my 4-year recovery journey are now engrained into my everyday lifestyle.
I’m still getting over some deep emotional wounds from the trauma of being really sick for last 4 years (a bit like PTSD), which will heal in time.
Liz: How do you make sense of it all looking back?
From November 4, 2016 – November 4, 2020 marks 4 years living with CFS/ME, 4 years without dates / Tinder, 4 years stuck in Melbourne with no overseas travel, and 4 years being sober.
I’ve often be asked “was giving up alcohol the hardest part of CFS/M.E”? My reply was it was the easiest, the hardest part was discovering the right tools and strategies to heal from an illness with no known cure.
Four years may have seemed lost in a journey of self-discovery, but I have but I have gained much more.
Although CFS/M.E. was absolutely fucked, it was the best thing to ever happened to me and was a blessing in disguise.
It made me learn about my body and how to look after it; to know my strengths and weaknesses, it created an opportunity to build a relationship with myself and have better relationships with my family and friends.
I think I’m a much better person coming out of CFS/M.E than I was before.
A recent photo of Chris and his dog
Liz: I’m so happy for you Chris. What are your goals and your mission now?
I’m not as big on goals as I used to be.
During the first few years of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / M.E. recovery, I would have many goals, most of which most wouldn’t come true due to myself being misguided by health professionals and myself not understanding the complexity of the illness and which tools and strategies would help me heal.
These days I would rather stay present. However, I do have a couple I’m working towards in early 2021, which will be my 42 km (26 mile) marathon running comeback in early March as well as my Australian Rules Football comeback.
Applying everything I’ve learned about increasing exercise, I’m already up to 30 kilometer runs, and I made it to AFL preseason. Here’s a picture of me after a long run this Christmas.
Prior to CFS/ME, I ran 13 marathons and ultramarathons.
I feel that I’ll be better prepared for marathon number 14 both mentally and physically. I’m living a lot more balanced and healthier lifestyle than before.
My other goal for 2021, once I’ve completed marathon number 14, will be be to help people struggling to overcome CFS/M.E. or mental health challenges.
Liz: What is your dream for your future?
I love my current job as a special needs school teacher, however my dream job for the future would also be working with clients overcoming CFS/ME as a health coach.
I believe through my own recovery journey, with the many complexities of the illness, it’s best to work with a health coach who has previously experienced it.
*Update April 16, 2021*: Chris completed the marathon he was training for (in under 4 hours). After the school term ended in Australia, he began helping clients all over the world as a CFS recovery coach. You can reach him on Instagram here or through his new coaching website.
After overcoming the illness, all I want to do, from the bottom of my heart, is to give back and help other sufferers be able to achieve their best life.
What I’ve Learnt During Recovery:
– Healing takes time.
– There’s no ‘quick fix.’
– Patience is key.
– Recovery needs to be priority.
– Sacrifice is essential
– Hard work, motivation & determination is the only way.
– Boundaries are necessary.
– Not everyone will ‘get CFS /ME.’ That’s okay.
– There will be judgements, cruelty & tears.
– You will lose friends along the way, but gain new ones.
– You may feel isolated.
– There is a world of people out there just like you.
– Everyone needs something different to heal.
– What you require to recover will continuously change.
– Limiting beliefs will hold you back.
– Positivity keeps you going.
– There is light at the end of the tunnel.
– Recovery is possible.
– Your life CAN change.
– You will find true alignment with yourself along the way .
– You will find more meaning in life than you ever could have imagined
– Understand the two minds: The conscious/unconscious mind.
– The mind is very powerful + can be your best friend or worst enemy.
– You will have to do all the hard work yourself. If you are to heal/recover, nothing will do it for you!