Liz: I am so grateful you’re sharing your ME/CFS recovery story. How did it all begin?
Raelan: I’m happy to!
At 30 years old, a viral onset of ME/CFS almost instantly had me housebound. For those first couple roughest years, this illness stripped away my social life, hobbies, savings, career, and marriage.
Though my symptoms somewhat eased up as the years passed, this illness maintained its grip on me for over a decade.
Liz: Can you give our readers an overview on how you got “out”?
Raelan: It wasn’t a pill, a special supplement combination, or brain retraining protocol that got me well in the end. And seeing as how I virtually tried it all, I’m fairly confident that there was no magical illness fighting weapon that was going to cure me.
With the medical community not yet equipped to deal with this illness, I ― like most of you reading this ― had to find my own way.
I fought like hell my first couple of years with this illness, then became somewhat resigned and switched my focus from surviving the rest of my life to surviving the rest of my day.
Keeping up the rigorous healing regimen of appointments with wellness professionals, supplement popping, hormone replacement therapy, antibiotics, antivirals, B-12 injections, time spent on rebounding trampolines and in infrared saunas, tongue scraping, oil swishing, skin brushing, laugh therapy, light therapy, hydrotherapy, special diets, juice fasts, detox cleanses… it was exhausting, expensive, and just wasn’t sustainable.
But as the years passed, I found I could no longer keep living a life where every single day was a struggle to endure.
In one final concentrated effort to get well, I spent another two years completely devoted to a simple yet rigorous recovery program that I devised for myself that focused on nutrition, exercise, emotional well-being, and overall body healing support.
Liz: Exercise is probably *the* biggest challenge for people with ME/CFS, since the condition impairs the body’s ability to recover from exertion. Can you explain what worked for you?
Raelan: For sure. Despite the constant resulting health crashes I’d seen over the years from my attempts to exercise, some small successes left me confident that this would be one of the keys to my eventual recovery.
The exercise program that finally worked for me was one that started with zero cardio and only one to two minutes of light strength training per day. I gradually upped this each week and after about one year of this I was doing hour long medium intensity workouts. After two years, I was working out vigorously six days per week.
Today, I can do any intensity of workout that I want, but I had to start small, listen to my body, go at my own pace, and build strength in a way that my body was able to recover from.
I would not have seen any success with exercise had I not supported my mind and body throughout that process through nutrition and working on my emotional health.
Raelan put together after this video about her very gradual movement regimen and how she supported her body’s ability to recover:
Liz: Having ME/CFS can make one feel powerless. How were you able to deal with this on an emotional level, and can you explain how doing so helped your recovery?
Raelan: Although focus on my mental health was something that I initially overlooked, in time it became clear that without learning some skills to enable some mental toughness, nothing else was going to matter.
With so much of my life stripped away from me while facing such a grueling battle, depression often hit me hard. Despite my strong desire to recover, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness continued to creep in.
To manage this, in addition to the meditation and journaling practices I incorporated into my daily routine, seeking professional counselling was an absolute game changer that supported the essential healing mindset that kept me on track.
Raelan shares how she supported her mental and emotional health during the ‘ultra-marathon’ of her recovery:
Liz: What diet did you find worked best for your body to heal from ME/CFS?
Raelan: I believed strongly that every bite of food I consumed was either a step towards or a step away from health, and I knew I had to get this right.
I’d come to appreciate that when it came to diet, to a certain degree this was something that each of us would have to find our own path on. Diets that had worked well for others so often seemed to make me feel worse.
For quite some time, I finally settled on something resembling a Paleo diet, which provided some relief. However, this lean meat and vegetable based diet didn’t seem to be giving my body the fuel it needed as my capacity grew.
My switch to a whole food plant-based diet thankfully changed my recovery trajectory dramatically.
I immediately started seeing my body start to thrive in new and exciting ways. I’d thought that a plant-based diet would be a challenging and tough route to go but it ended up being effortless. After years of experimenting with diets that just did not work for me, I was euphoric to finally find one that I enjoyed so much and my body responded so well to.
When I then supplemented this with some daily food-based probiotics from fermented foods to build back up my gut, daily intermittent fasting, and periodic green juice cleanses to give my organs breaks to heal, my health really started to take off.
Raelan goes into more detail of the diet that supported her personal recovery from ME/CFS (clarifying we all must find our own path):
Liz: You mentioned earlier about supporting your body’s ability to heal. Can you explain what you did?
Raelan: Yes. In addition to the exercise, diet, fasting, and gut health work, getting adequate and good quality sleep was another essential key for my escape from ME/CFS as good sleep supports our body’s innate ability to heal.
In fact, “Sleep at any cost!” became one of my mantras that served me incredibly well.
On top of this, I made sure to as much as possible get daily doses of sunshine and support my lymphatic system through things like hot/cold showers, massages, stretching, and gentle movement.
Liz: Love that mantra – I’m going to use it. What is the most important factor that helped your recovery you’d like to share with others?
Raelan: The absolute most important key to my ultimate recovery was my attitude. Without my focus on supporting my mental and emotional health I never would have made it to the finish line.
Finding ways to hold onto hope and find inspiration were the vital fuel that made this all possible.
This healing journey was an ultra marathon with endless opportunities to give up, and had I not worked hard to manage stress, deal with depression, release anger, and cultivate motivation I would never have made it.
Check out Raelan’s YouTube channel for ME/CFS recovery, which contains many helpful, actionable videos. (I’m a big fan!) You can also read more about her journey from housebound to vibrant health on her blog.