Rebecca Tolin was a TV news reporter in the prime of her life. She won an Emmy for science reporting. Then after a series of events, CFS knocked her down.
For 12 years she tried countless protocols, antivirals, 30 supplements per day, and more, but remained ill (24/7 flu-like symptoms, pain, insomnia, extreme fatigue – full list of symptoms in the video and transcript). When she wasn’t trying to fight her body anymore, a chance encounter led her to a new paradigm.
My YouTube Interview with Rebecca:
Her recovery was based on the work of Dr. John Sarno, who coined the term Tension Myositis Syndrome (or TMS), and discovered a particular mind-body approach for treating chronic pain and illness. Sarno explains how real, and often severely debilitating, symptoms can originate from the way the brain processes stress and emotions.
Rebecca breaks down the TMS approach she applied to heal, including the process of somatic tracking. She also talks about things that supported her on her journey including what diet and meditation type ended up working best for her.
Written Transcript Below:
[0:00] Liz: I’m so glad to interview you today Rebecca. And just to tell my audience, so Rebecca, she was a healthy Bay Area TV reporter until CFS knocked her down in her tracks in the prime of her life for 13 very long years. Like a good journalist, she tried everything under the sun, saw the best Eastern and Western practitioners and she tried countless treatments.
But she continued to struggle – until she found a new approach. And she’s going to share what she ultimately did to fully heal with us today. And Rebecca, I’m just so grateful to have you here to share your powerful story with my audience.
[1:09] Rebecca: I’m so grateful to be here.
You really encapsulated that. Just like a news headline. So I get that. And just how much preparation and care you put into these interviews.
Liz: Thank you for that, Rebecca.
[1:23] Rebecca: So I just want to dive into things and hear more about your life leading up to before you got CFS.
Can you tell our audience about your life before this happened?
[1:38] Rebecca: I was a really healthy, active TV news reporter in my early 30s. I traveled the world quite a bit. I was always on the go. I had a full social life, and I felt really good in my body. Then I went through a really traumatic experience when I was overseas.
And after that point, I just was really tired. I was tired for about a year to where I would just have to kind of push through the day in order to get my story posted, but I was still able to function. I went to see different doctors and, of course, they didn’t know what was going on.
But then strangely, I had to go back to Asia the next year, which was where this traumatic event happened.
And then on the way back, I got these three colds in a row, just like so many people get like a really bad cold.
My whole system crashed after that.
Rebecca: I mean, I just went to being bed-bound essentially. I was in a tired and wired state perpetually I couldn’t sleep, which was really horrible.
Just such weakness that it was hard to even walk to the next room.
Lots of body pain, headaches, tired, and wired feelings, dizziness when standing. Everything really just went haywire for quite a few months in that beginning stage.
[3:06] Liz: Yeah.
So can you just run down just some of the top symptoms you had because people tend to be curious about those key symptoms.
[3:15] Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. Oh goodness. Well, the fatigue and exhaustion was just really onerous, especially in the first couple of years to where I could hardly leave the house, but then it would ebb and flow over the years.
But I never could go back to work or anything like that.
Just basic self-care was all I could really do in terms of my energy level.
The brain fog was really bad. I remember being in my thirties feeling like I was getting dementia. You know, I couldn’t remember the name of a close friend or even a colleague. And it’s really disturbing, really difficult to concentrate and remember.
Bloating and digestive issues. It seemed like almost anything I would eat would really bloat me, but especially raw vegetables and things like that.
Post-exertional malaise, where I would do anything and then get that throwback and maybe, be back in bed for a while.
I’m probably missing things.
I had this very strange burning all through my limbs. I recently had a client who said, “I feel like I have a sunburn on the inside.” I was like, “Yes, I felt like that for 12 years it was like my brain and my limbs were burning.”
[4:45] Liz: I’m sure you probably saw some doctors early on. And did they have any answers for you?
[4:52] Rebecca: Yes. I saw many doctors as I’m sure you and your viewers can relate to.
So it would really take all my strength just to get to a doctor, but my mom was driving me around and I saw allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic, integrative doctors specialists from endocrinologists, neurologists, rheumatologists.
I ended up going to some CFS specialists, and the diagnosis was always pretty much CFS/ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
[5:26] Liz: So you were diagnosed with that pretty early.
[5:29] Rebecca: Pretty early on. I think it was the first doctor I went to, and sometimes they would say, “Well, it’s post viral syndrome or Epstein-Barr syndrome.”
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism along the way, and I even tried thyroid hormones, but they revved up my heartbeat and they didn’t help the symptoms. And so I went off them.
There was fibromyalgia like elements. Cause I had a lot of pain, but yeah, I was diagnosed with CFS again and again.
And I even went across the country to Pennsylvania to a naturopathic doctor who specialized in CFS, and did a lot of things for my adrenals, like different tinctures and, Bovine, adrenal hormones, things like that.
[6:15] Liz: I’ve been there, too.
[6:15] Rebecca Yup. From all kinds of different animals. Um, that didn’t really help much.
Went to see everyone from energy healers to a rheumatologist who gave me intravenous antiviral medications.
Totally crashed my system. I mean, I was just back in bed for months.
[6:39] Liz: Interesting. So that was something I myself had the EBV reactivate after my initial virus. And that’s very common for people with CFS to have reactivated viruses that we just naturally have latent in our body. But you try the antivirals, and that didn’t help.
[7:00] Rebecca: No. And I think it was just way too much stress on my system to have all this medication going into me. It really crashed my system. And later I’m sure we’ll talk about this, but I’ve come to believe the high levels of Epstein-Barr weren’t the root cause.
So trying to treat that with medications or with herbs didn’t really help.
I should say that this journey went on for 13 years.
Rebecca: So I know we only have about an hour, so I slowly moved into more holistic things.
I got really into Ayurveda and meditation. And gentle yoga and, over time, just started realizing that the things I was doing myself was more helpful than taking the 30 supplements and all the really restricted diets and things that I did.
[7:55] Liz: Yeah. I saw on your blog that meditation and things like that, those were what sustained you and nature as well.
[8:03] Rebecca: Absolutely because Liz, you know how it is, where you’re just trying to preserve your body on a daily basis.
And taking 30 supplements a day and all these little plastic baggies with supplements.
Liz: The supplement baggies, yes!
Rebecca You know! The supplement baggies. And then I had like those day of the week plastic little square containers that typically senior citizens use.
So it became really depressing.
And I was just like, “What is my reason for being?” You know, I’m just trying to get better.
But I had lost my career after about a year of my employer holding that job open for me.
I couldn’t go back for more than about an hour. I would get such intense symptoms.
So I couldn’t work. I couldn’t really interact with people much and do the things I enjoy doing. so I did just turn much more within and I would go in nature, like stare at the trees.
I would just feel so much more peaceful looking at the leaves, blowing in the breeze or just listening to the trickle of water.
And I started a meditation practice. I started Transcendental Meditation, which is actually really good for people who say they have scattered mind. I actually had a neurologist who recommended it. And so I was practicing Transcendental Meditation.
Rebecca: And then at some point, I would say about 12 years in, because I’m really just stubborn, and I kept kind of going in these circles doing the same things.
But finally, I really just gave up the rollercoaster of going to doctors, going to healers to try to fix me because it was so exasperating.
Frankly, all the diagnoses just made things worse. Typically, you know, I would get another diagnosis or another restrictive diet, or now you have leaky gut and candida and all these things.
And I should say brain fog was a really big issue for me.
So I had one doctor that said the viruses have crossed the blood brain barrier into your brain. And it was so terrifying. I got so much worse after that.
[10:19] Liz: I’m so glad you shared that with me. I know that the doctors, they mean well, because a lot of time, people with CFS are not even believed.
They’re just told, “Oh you’re making this up for attention,” or they’re just like “Try CBT and talk to a shrink.” And that’s what they’re written off as.
But on the other hand, when you see a specialist, there is science to support, oh yes, there are these pathogens in our body. But the focus on what they’re doing to us – that’s not very helpful for recovery.
[10:57] Rebecca: It’s such a good point, because I know on the one hand we feel so disenfranchised that people don’t believe us and we know these symptoms are real, but on the other hand, you know, it can actually scare people.
And now looking back, if I make the link, my symptoms would always get worse after that. And I felt like I could feel the virus in my brain after he told me that I was like, my brain’s swollen, they’re swimming around, you know.
It’s amazing the power of suggestion.
Even if there is some validity to that, it didn’t help. And that’s not how I healed.
[11:37] Liz: Exactly.
I actually have done lots of research onto it myself, as I’m sure you have. And when they test people, there are people who have the same pathogens and are totally fine.
It’s that inflammatory response to it. And so what you were feeling was probably your brain, just having an inflammatory response. And of course that’s stress response, which is the last thing we want.
[12:02] Rebecca: That’s exactly it. And just realizing that it has so much to do with our state of our nervous system —
And our emotions drive the state of our nervous system.
When we’re scared by a doctor’s words or diagnosis, it really can impact the nervous system, which then generates more symptoms.
And so I do think it’s important that doctors are careful what they say.
There’s people with high levels of Epstein-Barr or even Lyme who are asymptomatic. So there’s something else at play beyond pathogens that they can find on lab work.
[12:41] Liz: I’m so glad we talked about this. So now it’s been 12 years. You’ve tried everything. But then you decide to take a new approach and stop chasing the healers, the treatments, the natural naturopath, the specialists.
I think it’s one of those things when people say, oh, just surrender and it’s so annoying because you’re like, what do you mean?
You know, am surrendered on the one hand, but on the other hand, I don’t want to give up, but I feel like some sort of surrender happened to me.
And I think for all of us suffering is a great teacher. So I was suffering over and over.
I was seeing this pattern that I kept giving my power away, and I felt like my healing was in someone else’s hands and that alone was really retraumatizing.
I actually will add before I get into this sort of turning, I saw this one incredible medical doctor over zoom. He was in Chicago, and he said to me, he stopped and he paused. And he had asked me about the trauma that happened before the symptoms came on, which was actually a sexual assault. And no one else had really asked about that.
And he said,
You know what? I could give you tinctures and a bunch of supplements.
But I have a feeling by me telling you what to do with your body, it’s perpetuating the trauma and the sense of disempowerment you feel that’s sending you into flight or fight.
Liz, I started weeping.
Somebody pointed something out what I kind of knew below the level of awareness.
And so he said, so tell me what you want. Let’s kind of turn the tables here. Like, what do you feel in your body? What do you feel in your intuition? What gives you a little bit more energy?
And I think, although that was maybe a year or so before, I really had a turning point, it did plant a seed that someone saw me that way and kind of was saying, take your own power back here.
[14:44] Liz: Wow. That is so powerful. I appreciate you sharing that with us because sexual assault it’s not the thing. It’s, it’s that feeling of powerlessness and by going to see all these doctors for giving away your power to someone else and that this doctor recognized that. That’s just so powerful and thank you for sharing that with me.
[15:12] Rebecca: Absolutely. And one thing I love about what you’re doing is highlighting different people’s stories because I do feel it’s so important. We find our own healing path, you know, we can be exposed to other people and suggestions, but then we really find it for ourselves and find that sense of self-empowerment.
So, interestingly, I think it was sort of a combination of surrendering that vicious cycle of trying to be fixed and realizing, although it’s not that I was giving up, I really just decided I choose peace.
Like I can’t really work. I can’t do a whole lot. I couldn’t even hike or I could just kind of go sit in nature, but I can find some peace of mind even right here.
And so there is this turning point of, “I don’t need to fix myself. I actually don’t even need to be healthy to be happy.”
Which I know is kind of shocking, you know, a paradigm shift.
But I started moving into that reality, I think, through meditations and just a lot of reflection and I was listening to Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth.
[16:25] Liz: And The Power of Now. Such a great book!
[16:28] Rebecca: I love The Power of Now, and I would listen to his voice over and over. And so I got to this point where I was just doing those things. Not a whole lot, but I felt at peace.
Rebecca: And I signed up for those online poetry class.
It was actually a writing class called write into light with Martha Beck and Elizabeth Gilbert. And I ended up just really loving writing poetry, and it was this creative outlet that took my mind off the symptoms.
So I now see looking back, like in a way it was one of medicines. because I was just in creative language and self-exploration. And it just so happens through that class I met a woman, and she said, I healed from CFS through this particular kind of mind-body work. Do you want to hear my story?
And I was like, “Well, I’d love to, but I can only talk on the phone for 10 minutes at a time.” I mean, I get these terrible migraines, and this was already about 12 years in and I still was that limited in my socialization.
So, anyway, we talked on the phone 10 minutes pass. Three hours later, I’m still on the phone with her.
And I literally had a spontaneous remission by the end of that conversation.
[17:54] Liz: You could just go basically sit in the park. And that was it. And now you’re running around the block!
[18:01] Rebecca: Yeah, it was so wild. All this energy started filling my body. And so what I think really shifted it is that first of all, she had had all the same symptoms as me.
,So, you know, with CFS me, like you really have to get that somebody’s been there. yeah. Yeah, I had that whole journey, all the same symptoms, but she healed through this particular mind body work. It was coined Tension Myositis syndrome or TMS by Dr. John Sarno.
[18:32] Liz: Yeah, it so synchronous because I keep hearing his name.
Dr. Sarno and his work has been around for a pretty long time now, but it seems like I keep hearing it more and more of these days.
[18:46] Rebecca: And once you hear it, it’s so funny. You’ll notice there’s almost like a cult following, but I find a lot of people into DNRS [Liz note: this is the program I did] often, kind of cross over into TMS and sort of vice versa.
So I think there’s some similarities there. Although funny enough, I never had found DNRS, but I found TMS, which is also called mind-body syndrome or, some people just call it neural pathway symptoms because it’s basically an understanding that these symptoms are perpetuated by the way the brain is processing.
And repressing emotion.
So [according to Dr. Sarno’s theory], they are a hundred percent real, but it’s more the process happening in the brain and nervous system than it is due to pathogens.
Those are seen as more, kind of secondary in terms of the cause.
[19:38] Rebecca: She told me how she healed and she explained the brain science.
So I had been a science journalist, so I love neuroscience. I really loved understanding. And it Liz, it just like a light bulb went off. I got it. And I think I was ready because I had been really at peace with where I was, I wasn’t fighting my body anymore.
[19:57] Rebecca: And so that’s when I really got it.
And she said:
Rebecca, I know your symptoms are 100% real, but you’re not sick. You’re not broken. These are temporary, you can heal from them.
And I literally said:
I’m not sick. It’s not the viruses. It’s not the bacteria. I’m not broken. It’s this stress process in my brain and nervous system. And I can work with that.
And that’s when my whole body, like when you believe something in your mind, your body will respond because I just saw it sort of instantly, it was really powerful.
So I knew I was on the right path, but I will say that was not the end of the story because you know, let’s face it. Most of us don’t just have this spontaneous remission and then we’re just feel great and go run a marathon. Some people do.
[20:48] Rebecca: But the symptoms started coming back over the next week. Not as bad though, but from the work I do and healing modalities I’ve worked with, we really see that as the brain sort of learns these neuropathways and becomes very sensitized to pain, fatigue, and other symptoms.
And it essentially is sort of. Reading a threat in your world and in your environment when there isn’t one. So it’s hypervigilant and it’s over-reactive. And so, I needed to learn more than knowledge and really start shifting my thoughts around my body and around what was happening.
And then part of it is, learning to feel emotions because I used to just exist basically from the neck up, you know, I would just drive my body all overturned nation and I just didn’t stop and feel emotions deal with the traumas that had happened.
But even stressors are important to process. So I spent time, myself and working with a therapist in this approach.
And then also just found different ways to really calm the nervous system.
And I would say the fifth piece was then challenging the triggers, really using graded exposure and going back out and reclaiming my life. Doing things I wanted to do, even though there were still symptoms, because I knew they weren’t going to harm me and in retraining my brain that way as well.
[22:15] Rebecca: So once I got this knowledge and was really working with the thoughts and emotions, I wanted to start meeting friends again.
It would trigger the symptoms because there were all these learned neural pathways in the brain.
And so say I would go meet a friend for coffee. It would cause insomnia all night, even though I was drinking decaf, and it would cause flu like symptoms the next day.
But once I really got what was happening in my brain and nervous system, I just kept doing it anyway: “I’m safe. I’m okay.” Slowly and surely.
It’s like a form of graded exposure where people, learn not to be afraid of something like Heights or spiders is actually a similar, technique where you just do micro doses while reassuring yourself. You’re okay.
And one of the key principles of the work I do is outcome independence, which is indifference to the symptoms. So the symptoms may get worse when you do something you want to do, but if you keep doing it in baby steps with affirmations, it subsides the symptoms.
[23:31] Liz: How do you say you’re microdosing and baby steps?
Because, as you know, there’s a big controversy in CFS, like the graded exercise, for some people, it was like sheeps being sent to the slaughter because they were just told like “walk a mile,” but you’re advising baby steps, go for your friend for like 45 minutes cup of coffee, if it’s in their zone.
[23:57] Rebecca: Yes, completely.
No, that could be so overwhelming if you try to walk a mile and then if you retraumatize yourself and your nervous system, that creates even more of an imprint not to do that thing.
So you do want to go really in baby steps. But the big pivot for me was realizing the symptoms were very real and very uncomfortable, but they weren’t dangerous.
And I wasn’t going to hurt myself by slowly expanding my window of activity. In fact, that’s how we retrain our brain. That’s how we create new neural connections.
[24:33] Liz: Thank you for clarifying.
That’s so helpful. I’d love to dive a little bit more into feeling your emotions fully and even ones like anger and more difficult emotions and sadness. And how does one do that? And then still keep the nervous system calm.
[4:57] Rebecca: Oh, that’s such a good question. Because most of us associate anger with, fear or with danger.
In my own family of origin, there was some examples of anger, which were really scary to me.
And then we also weren’t encouraged to express our emotions, but to hold it in, in the presence of anger. So it was kind of scary, you know, anger scared me.
But generally, what Dr. Sarno’s theory is, is that we do have repressed emotions. I mean, just from being chronically ill, there’s a lot of reasons to be really frustrated, really angry.
And there’s internal conflicts that may have led to the symptoms, not that they are psychological symptoms, but that there’s some psychological origin that’s causing physical symptoms.
And so what I did that was so powerful for me was a type of somatic meditation. We often call somatic tracking, which is basically learning to feel the sensation of say, anger in the bodies.
We can talk about anger, and I had done psychotherapy, and I had done talk therapy even during this journey.
[26:05] Liz: Yeah. I was going to actually ask you about that. So can you explain how this is different than just talking about your problems with a therapist?
[26:14] Rebecca: Exactly. Yeah, because I forgot to mention that in the whole litany of things that I did, I had gone to psychotherapy and I started talking about the trauma and I do think that was an important piece.
But for me, talk therapy is still in that rational mind, it’s still in the conscious mind, which is like 5% of our mind.
95% of what’s driving chronic symptoms is unconscious thoughts and emotions [Rebecca’s perspective from her TMS work]. So with the somatic work, you’re going into that 95%, which is bigger and more impactful.
The way we do that is by feeling it in the body.
So I would be speaking with my mind, body coach, or doing, just a somatic meditation and feeling anger has certain sensations in the body, like it’s hot or it’s Bernier, it’s fiery, it’s usually intense and kind of upward moving. And then I would track the sensations and he would say, so, you know, what are you noticing?
What are you feeling? And it might be like, oh, well there’s heat. And then a memory would often come up like, oh, sometimes it was trauma, but sometimes it wasn’t different memories would come up. And I think they come up as you’re ready to process that. When you’re being with your body in a gentle way. And then often what would happen?
The intensity of the anger would shift and then dissipate. And I literally felt I was working with the raw energy of both the emotions and the symptoms.
And so I became obsessed with these somatic meditations. I still do them every night and I make recordings and I give them to clients and things, because they are just kind of like really getting into the body and the nervous system.
And the interesting thing is. It’s not scary or stressful to the nervous system because our mind and body will only let us process what it’s ready for. so it’s not, like you’re forcing things to come up. You just organically see what happens when you hold space so I also did that with the symptoms, like the fatigue.
What is fatigue, right? It’s sort of like heavy or dull or dense or, um, for me, I actually got a lot of kind of buzzing and burning through my limbs and my brain. And I just started being with those sensations. Through this lens of safety with affirmation, like I’m safe.
My brain is just generating these sensations, but I know my body safe.
You know, I know the stressors of past and by being present in the nervous system and reassuring yourself with messages, it actually grows new neural pathways in the brain, and it increases the capacity to feel sensations and emotions without reactivity.
So your brain is not interpreting them as dangerous anymore.
And even fatigue. And these other symptoms are warning signals of danger, but you sort of have to retrain that amygdala and the emotional brain that:
You’re safe in this moment.
[29:22] Liz: Okay. So yeah, you had sent me a great list in your email. [I collect myself and shake it off.]
[29:26] Rebecca: Shake it off, shake it off.
[29:30] Liz: So another thing that you and I talked about via email was about realizing the role of personality traits when it comes to chronic illness.
And this is not, of course meant to be self-blamey, like it’s our fault we got chronically ill. But can you dive into those and what are more helpful ones for healing?
I’m so glad you brought that up. I mean, Dr. Sarno wrote these 4 books and he describes the personality traits of people that have what he calls TMS.
But, for me, that was CFS, and a lot of us who read his books are like, “Oh, that’s my biography.”
Self pressuring, self-critical, hard-driving, perfectionistic, really conscientious people, often people who want to do good in the world, but hold in our emotions.
Maybe try to please other people before ourself.
Just in recognizing those personality traits, you become aware of when they’re at play.
And I actually started seeing connections to when I was really pushing myself, like “I’ve got to get better, and I’ve got to just find this next supplement and this next thing,” it would flare up symptoms or because that internal pressure or criticism, does activate the flight fight – freeze response.
And in turn that sends out adrenaline and cortisol and all these stress hormones that literally cause symptoms. So, I just learned to recognize them and bring in more self-compassion. I mean, it’s not an easy road, right. It’s so challenging.
And I started just [puts hand over her heart]
I’d put my hands on my heart and just breathe into my chest and just send loving kindness to myself.
I tried to start treating myself more like I would treat someone else I loved.
[00:31:28] Liz: You know, your best friend.
[00:31:30] Rebecca: Exactly, who you would never, you know, mistreat or just pressure or criticize.
And I do find with myself and clients, I work with that. The personality traits can actually be a big factor and people don’t really realize they can drive symptoms.
But again, it’s not to blame ourself at all whatsoever, it’s just to notice that when we put a lot of pressure or generate a lot of stress internally and it doesn’t have an outlet to feel or express the emotions, whether that’s through writing or through the somatic meditations or through speaking with someone, those symptoms that, that emotional stress energy can manifest physically.
So it’s really just recognizing that and yeah, bringing in more acceptance and compassion.
[32:20] Liz: That’s so powerfully stated having that self-compassion like you would for your best friend, because when we’re criticizing ourselves or putting pressure on ourselves to do more, be a better partner, family members, contributing members of society.
Just that level of stress is more than any virus or anything because if it’s constant, day in and day out – that’s not helpful for healing, especially in the beginning when you lose everything and you just want to be back to that old self, that old life, and “give me something so I can get back there.”
[32:59] Rebecca: I just appreciate all the points you brought up, because I think a lot of people can relate to just wanting to get well and get our old life back.
And it’s such a natural thing to think and to feel. Maybe some people can and just go back to their old life.
But what I found with myself and find with most people who recover from CFS is there is a deeper invitation. There’s a deeper calling.
And it might be just learning, “I used to live totally disconnected from my body and my intuition, my self-compassion, and these symptoms helped bring me back to that.”
Or it might be that a certain relationship or work was out of alignment and sucking your energy.
Not to say that’s the main cause, but I mean, those can be pieces that you can come into more authenticity with.
So I think for me, I mean, you described it perfectly for the first, oh, probably eight years, I was frantic like seven, eight years. Just get my old life back. I’ve got to go back to being a broadcast journalist. You know, I just wanted to go back.
I wasn’t that open to what’s being, called into being here.
When something’s lost, I’ve now come to see something else is gained. So interestingly, when I started embracing that, and as I described to sort of letting go of needing to go back to my old life or even really needing to fix myself and just open to., “Okay, what is available to me today? What kind of peace or relief or enjoyment can I find?”
Interestingly, that’s what led to really this healing and this whole new sense of purpose.
So often it is when we let go, whatever has been there in the ethers can come in.
Cause we don’t have all this resistance or this block to it energetically.
Rebecca: So after I recovered. It’s so astounding.
I was just laid up for 13 years. And now I’m well again.
I should say it did take me some months. Even though I had that remission.
[35:13] Liz: How long did it take people usually want to know that. They’re like, “How long does it take?
[35:18] Rebecca: It’s important.
Because sometimes if people hear, “Oh, there was just a sudden healing,” and they don’t have that, they can feel kind of hopeless.
I would say it took a good 8, 9 months of really working with retraining my brain, feeling emotions, calming the nervous system, steeping myself in this kind of knowledge we call TMS, listening to the recovery stories.
That’s what led to my light bulb moment – is a recovery story. So it’s medicine, it’s medicinal.
So there were those eight months, and then I was like, “I love this.”
This is such a new sense of purpose. I love the somatic meditations and the knowledge is really about just accepting life as it is even the discomfort of what we call fatigue or pain. We learn to be with it in a mindful way. And this whole way of thinking and living just lit me up. It still does.
I love it so much. I was like, “This is what I want to do.”
For years, I had done meditations and prayers saying, heal me and use me as a channel of healing in this world.
I will help others if I heal.
And so I was always open to that. I never really knew if it would happen. But once I did recover, I really wanted to share it.
But I am the type of person I like to really study things and do a deep dive. So I did a whole bunch of trainings for two or three years. I did mind-body coach trainings, one with Abigail Morgan, who was really great. I did a life coach training.
And then I did, these incredible trainings with a man named Howard Schubiner, who’s a physician who wrote the book, Unlearn Your Pain, which I highly recommend, even though it says pain, it’s interchangeable with fatigue.
I would say his book and his work, it was totally pivotal, just as much as John Sarno, but Howard Schubiner is a living contemporary medical doctor, Dr. Sarno has passed.
So I did three or four trainings with him and just really learned how to help people grasp this knowledge, because it’s a new paradigm, right? I mean, it’s a total shift.
[37:30] Liz: We’re talking about neuroscience, we’re talking about the quantum of emotional fields.
[37:36] Rebecca: Yeah. It is. It’s very quantum and emotional, and we’re so trained to think everything that we feel physically in our body has a physical cause that it is kind of 180 degree flip-flop to think, oh, there can be an energetic and emotional cause.
Not just the cause like to blame ourselves, but this is way out of it.
[38:03] Liz: Yeah. And I still do keep a pulse on biomedical research and there continues to be findings of what’s wrong.
But in those same research papers, they do mention the sympathetic activation deriving the dysfunction down to the cellular level.
So, things are going wrong. It’s not just like we’re making it up. No. The root of it is the sympathetic over-activation and things what we discussed can cause that [Liz note: just a hypothesis, not meant to be prescriptive].
[38:39] Rebecca: Absolutely. And I think Howard Schubiner is brilliant at writing and explaining about this, that even some prestigious medical centers are now calling it like centralization.
When symptoms are caused by that brain and nervous system, it does create real physiological processes in the body. The symptoms are as real and often more severe than when there is like a broken arm or some physical injury.
What I’ve come to believe is whatever makes you feel safe is going to help your symptoms.
So for some people certain protocols make them feel safe, make them feel supported. That’s actually going to be really helpful to the brain and the nervous system.
So, I would never say to anybody not to do something, I think it’s really, um, how you feel about it. Like when I was feeling. 30 supplements and basically eating meat and three vegetables was drudgery,
[39:35] Liz: I do want to touch on – You did say you ended up trying many diets, many protocols, but you did find one that worked for you knowing we’re all different. and you did eat based on the Ayurvedic principles of your body type.
So I do like to share different often. To basically show people that there’s different options out there. We’re not all the same. We’re not all going to be eating the same, but just curious on , what you found to be supportive of your body in terms of diet.
[40:06] Rebecca: Yeah, it is important what we put in our bodies and that it feels good to us.
So the first D.O. I went to was really big on more of a Paleo diet back then, they didn’t really call it that, but it was pretty much meat and vegetables, not even carrots or, anything.
Rebecca: Low-glycemic. So that was about three years and Liz, I was so bloated on that diet. I was eating a lot of salads and things, raw vegetables.
I felt like I was in my first trimester, and I was like, “This is not working. This is really depressing.”
[40:44] Rebecca: So over time I sort of gravitated to Ayurveda and found that I did better with cooked foods and cooked vegetables, and I could actually eat a lot more plant foods, and it just felt better to me.
I could eat grains, but not so much rice, as like quinoa and things like that. And just a lot of nuts and avocado and healthy fats and that kind of thing.
And I noticed over time, it evolved, and I felt like I came into what I would call intuition nutrition.
I would really follow low-glycemic or even a Candida diet. Then I’d really follow the diet for Vata, Vata-Pita, which I think you’re a Vata, probably Vata-Pita as well.
Rebecca: But then I sort of found, it just became what feels good to me. And it does tend to be fairly Ayurvedic.
I eat my bigger meal at lunch and drink warm water in the morning and sort of live with the seasons and the cycles of nature.
[41:47] Liz: Yeah. I do that, too. And I also found that the cooked foods are better for me, um, for a while, but now I’m more eating with nature.
So in the summer I have some smoothies and having more raw and now that I’m back in balance and my body and my nervous system, which controls our digestion and a large part.
[42:13] Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. I love that.
I know in the summer I find I can eat more raw foods and smoothies too, because there’s all the heat of the sun. And so the heated, the sun digests food, just like the heat in our belly.
And also I think as we recover sometimes we have a little more latitude in what we can eat.
Rebecca: But I also love what you said that.
What I sort of learned from Dr. Sarno and others is the brain and the nervous system do control the digestive system, the endocrine system. They’re kind of given directions.
And generally, when you’re more regulated, you’re feeling safer. It’s going to trickle downstream to all these different organ systems.
And I didn’t have to chase after all the different symptoms anymore as I had for so many years.
Cause I also had a lot of hormone issues. I basically suddenly went into premenopausal symptoms at age 34 overnight. That was really rough with hot flashes and insomnia and things like that.
[43:20] Rebecca: So what I found is once I became more regulated in my nervous system and just understood what was happening, those things started normalizing on their own.
[43:29] Liz: Yeah. I found that too. I had hot flashes too, more like night sweats. I’m like, what’s going on? Yeah.
But I also want to reassure people that if they have a symptom or they don’t have a symptom that you have, it doesn’t mean that you can’t heal.
Because sometimes I’ll get, “Oh, well, I have this weird symptom. Does that mean I can’t heal?”
And what do you tell people who want reassurance? About their crazy symptoms.
[44:02] Rebecca: I have. Absolutely. I know it’s so important to hear someone who has your symptoms, but what I’ve really learned is the brain and the nervous system can generate any symptom under the sun when they perceive some sort of a threat.
And this can be a psychological threat, which certainly happens with chronic illness or a physical threat, so the brain will send signals through the nervous system that can produce burning, tingling, heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, insomnia, which was a big one.
Really almost any symptom. And they can shift a lot. There was a period of time I got super severe headaches and migraines and then that kind of passed.
So they go in phases, but it’s not so important.
You don’t have to have the exact same symptoms as someone else who recovered, because it’s sort of this constellation that is all interrelated in how it’s being generated.
[44:57] Liz: Rebecca people ask me, for myself and among other people who’ve recovered. Are there any rituals or recovery behaviors that we still do in our daily life? Whether it’s like a morning routine, a nightly routine or recovery practices that have carried on. Into your life now?
[45:19] Rebecca: Yes. So many, you know, I would say a really important shift so Dr. Sarno would say, shift your attention from the physical symptoms to the underlying emotions
Not to say they’re not real physical symptoms, but what’s happening emotionally?
So when I do get symptoms, now they’re much more mild. And it’s rare that I get them.
But if I do, instead of going down the rabbit holes that I used to, I’ll ask what’s happening emotionally.
I’m stressed out. I’m feeling scared about something. I’m feeling angry about something. And I’ll either do some expressive writing where I just let my emotions vent out onto the page and get them out. Especially if I’m angry, that’s a really safe and relationship friendly way to get out emotions.
It’s just like, let all your, you know, ugliest thoughts spill onto the page. You rip it up or delete the document. So no one will ever find it. Um, so I’ll really turn that attention to, I know there’s something going on an underlying, psychological level. And so, and I’ll even do that throughout the day.
Like, how am I feeling emotionally? And I’ll just check in with body sensations. Almost every evening. I still do a somatic meditation because I just love it so much. I mean, all day I’m working with other people, I’m working with clients or students and mind, body healing.
And I try to keep some energy in my body and some grounding, like in my feet, even as I’m speaking with you, I’m feeling some energy in my feet and my seat, and that’s helpful to sort of keep the energy contained and more steady.
Rebecca’s daily rituals
- [Night] But at the end of the day, I still feel like I was in my mind. So I just do somatic tracking meditation, which is sort of tracking sensations in the body.
- [Morning] I usually start the day with some kind of yoga practice and meditation practice, more like Transcendental Meditation.
- [Morning] I’ve been doing some breath work in the morning, like some Wim Hoff style breath work lately, which wasn’t something I was doing on my healing journey, but I love it now. It just gives me more energy.
It’s sort of like, how much better can you feel?
Yeah, and I think it’s really talking to myself all the time, so it’s really reassuring my brain, I’m safe and okay.
If symptoms or even anxiety or fear arises, just to sort of remember, this is being generated by my brain.
My body is safe. Emotions are welcome here. I love and accept myself just as I am in this moment.
So there’s a whole different internal dialogue going on all the time. Just sort of, I affectionately say I’m always talking to my amygdala, but it’s the whole, you know, it’s the whole self really.
[48:06] Liz: Yeah. I love that. The positive conversations that you’re having and you continue to have those.
Liz: It’s just so interesting. Um, I was in marketing, you were a TV journalist as science reporter, and now here we’re on the other side.
I don’t want to say we’ve gone all woo-woo, but we’re both very in tune with, you know, the emotional side of things.
And how was that like for you with your friends and family, seeing this transition?
[48:37] Rebecca: Oh, that’s a great point. You know, I do like to think it’s sort of coming home to ourself, and I’m curious with you, if you think you’re sort of in a way more authentic and more yourself than you were in your marketing phase.
[48:52] Liz: I definitely, have to agree with that. I do not think my social media job was not my soul’s purpose.
[49:03] Rebecca: I’m so grateful. You’re taking all those skills that you got in your social media job, and you’re applying them to your soul’s purpose, so beautifully.
And that’s the thing you find is like your past experiences combined with the illness and then the recovery will lead you somewhere else.
Because I was the TV reporter and I remember getting a lot of, accolades for that.
People were always so fascinated by it, and it kind of strokes your ego. And then I went to being on disability for over a decade. That’s not that great for the ego.
I had to learn to unplug from that ego validation and find something that is deeper.
This is what, in yoga, we call being rooted in being, And so I think, because I came more into contact with this part of myself, what people thought of me became a lot less important.
So I will say, sadly I lost some friends over the years, but a lot of it was because Liz, I couldn’t even have a conversation with someone.
You know, if I would try to meet a friend, even for coffee, it would often set me back days or weeks. So I did lose a lot of friends, but I did keep a couple like really beautiful friendships.
And I made a couple more friends that were really not necessarily on the CFS healing path, but a like-minded path in, you know, yoga and Ayurveda, in mind-body healing and spirituality.
And so I feel like my circle is smaller, but it’s more true to who I am. And I’m also lucky that I didn’t have family members that were particularly judgmental.
[50:45] Rebecca: I mean, I don’t think my extended family ever really got it, you know, and they wouldn’t necessarily even know or mentioned. “Oh, you’re sick. And you’ve lost your career. Like how is that for you?” I mean, people would kind of just ignore it. I think they didn’t know how to talk to me about it. But that’s okay.
But I did feel like with my closer family members, they were supportive, even if they didn’t really understand it, they were supportive. So that was really lucky.
And the relationships that weren’t supportive, you know, I just had to let go because you probably know it’s so draining, anything that drains your energy, you can’t, sustain that.
And that’s another gift I really take with me every day now from CFS.
If couldn’t sustain a relationship with somebody because they were draining my energy when I had active CFS, why would I want to do that now?
Like, yeah, I could, but I wouldn’t want to, because it doesn’t really feel nourishing.
And I don’t think it’s even a favor to the other person. So I’m a lot more intentional with how I spend my time and you know who I’m with. I would say.
[51:47] Liz: Yeah, it makes you reevaluate things. And what brings you joy and I also loved what you said earlier about,
having to put aside the ego well, because you have no other choice when you lose everything and then you get to rebuild, your life, to something that is your purpose and as an alignment with yourself.
Yes. That is one invitation when you’re going through CFS or any really disabling chronic illness, is we can find something beyond all these in yoga, they call it these passing forms and phenomena. Whether it’s the job or the relationship or even your health, there is a ground of being inside of you.
And I went through this really interesting year where I fell into this state of surrender, but I still had super intense physical symptoms. I mean, my symptoms felt like I had the flu 24/7. And because I had insomnia, often it did feel like 24/7.
But it was so interesting. I had this year where the symptoms were still really intense, but I was peaceful in my mind, and it was such an aha. Like, wow, we can be at peace even when we don’t have our health the way we’d want or any outer condition.
So that awareness couldn’t have happened unless I went through it 13 years.
For me, it took that because I was still fighting it up until that point.
I think I have more of that perspective now – life doesn’t always give us everything we want, and there’s still something in us that can be at peace with what is.
[53:30] Liz: That is so powerfully stated, Rebecca.
Liz: And was there any final message you wanted to share with people watching this today?
[53:41] Rebecca: Well, first I just want to thank you. I so appreciate what you’re doing. I mean, it is such a gracious offering to share these healing stories and it’s clear that it just comes from your own love and compassion to help others.
So thank you.
And I would say, I really want to encourage people to find their own sense of inner power and resilience.
And so you know, you’ll know what the path is for you, because it will make you feel a little more peace, a little more relief, maybe even a little lit up and a little more energy.
And the things that just feel like stressful and drudgery, and you feel like you’re doing that protocol as a means to an end, that’s not actually setting up a healing state.
And in my experience, that’s not where healing comes from.
So do what lights you up. What makes you feel a little bit safer and a little bit more at peace?
And the amazing thing is those things typically have other positive side effects, right?
[54:48] Liz:. That’s so powerful Rebecca I’m sure you get asked a lot. And I get asked a lot, “What coach should I see? What program should I do? Am I doing the right thing?”
And to find your own peace and resilience and consider what lights you up. And doesn’t feel like a chore because I know some people DNRS feels like a chore for them, but some others, it was the answer. It has to resonate with you. And that’s so powerful.
I know you’re helping so many people, Rebecca. How can people contact you?
[55:28] Rebecca: My website is RebeccaTolin.com. Everything’s sort of housed there. You can sign up for a free somatic meditation. So the kind of body-based meditations I was talking about to feel emotions and sensations in a safe.
You can sign up for a free one if you just subscribed to the blog. I have lots of free resources, cause I just want to get this information out there.
And then I do work with clients. One-on-one, it’s pretty much all mind-body coaching.
I used to do some life coaching, but I’m just so passionate about this work. And I do teach group classes as well. So right now I’m retooling the class [Liz note: our interview was filmed in August so her updated course may be ready]. But if you’re on my email list, you’ll learn more about that because I’ve found the group classes are really powerful for one thing.
There’s community support. And also Sarno called this “knowledge therapy.” So there’s a certain amount of knowledge that’s really helpful before you go into one-on-one coaching. And then in the coaching, we can do sort of deeper, emotional and somatic work and see where you’re stuck.
So that’s, all through my website. And then I have a YouTube channel as well under my name, Rebecca Tolin.
[56:42] Liz: Beyond the wonderful work you’re doing to help people, can you just describe your life now and your activities and what it’s like to be on the other side?
[56:57] Rebecca: I genuinely feel so much compassion for people who are still in it.
And I would say I feel better now, at 50 than I did in my early thirties.
[57:09] Rebecca: Maybe I shouldn’t be dating myself here, but I only say that because, we can sometimes just feel like we’re so much older than we are when you’re going through CFS.
And I really do feel better now.
I would just say more vibrant and as good as I felt before the CFS physically.
Just a lot more compassion and self-awareness.
And not pushing myself to do stuff, whether it’s work-related or being with people, just because I think I should.
Life just feels lighter and freer.
My business is thriving. It kind of exploded during the pandemic, but I work with people from all around the world coaching and teaching mind-body healing. So I really love it.
And I love hiking out here in Southern California, where I am like at the beach, the mountains, the canyons we have here and yeah, just grateful be here, doing what I love.
[58:16] Liz: That’s so great to hear.
I was watching one interview right before all your interviews are so great but I was just hoping my approach wasn’t going to seem like…
I want to be respectful of people who do heal from diets or physical things. Cause that does work for a lot of people, but it just wasn’t a big game changer for me.
So I hope that came out okay. Cause I wanted to kind of walk that line of like being respectful to different people, but also being clear that didn’t really move the needle for me.
And I tried all those things for like 13 years.
[58:50] Liz: We all have to be authentic to our own stories. and I do not think that me sharing my story or you sharing your story because it’s a little bit different takes away from anyone else. And I think there’s a lot of black and white thinking, especially in, like health forums or Twitter, but I think there’s a new tide coming in and it’s changing and.
It’s showing that there is nuance to this just appreciating our uniqueness. is
[59:20] Rebecca: So well said, that’s why, when I met you and looked at your website and started watching some of your videos, I’m like, it’s so amazing because there’s not that many people just open to lots of different stories.
And every story is valid because that’s what worked for that person. So it doesn’t diminish someone else’s, how could it?
Liz: I love that.
Rebecca: And just finding kind of a gray area.
Rebecca: The common ground.
[59:45] Liz: This was so great Rebecca.
Rebecca: Thanks Liz!
New related scientific research
After our chat, Rebecca shared with me some links to exciting new research showing how modern science supports Dr. Sarno’s hypothesis for the brain-based origins of chronic pain and the efficacy of mind-body treatment.
September 29, 2021: Cornell study, Effect of Pain Reprocessing Therapy vs Placebo and Usual Care for People with Chronic Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
October 2021: Washington Post article, Chronic pain is surprisingly treatable — when patients focus on the brain.
November 8, 2021: CBS News special (see below)
Rebecca breaks down a new Harvard research study and provides a thorough summary of other research papers in her recent blog article.
Though the mind body research Rebecca shared focuses on chronic pain, not Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (for which chronic pain can be one of many symptoms – the most notable being post-exertional crashes), Rebecca applied a mind body approach to heal from the entirety of her debilitating symptoms.
Note: I am open to all types of research, and like Rebecca echoed at the end of our chat, don’t believe any field of research or healing modality negates another.
Sending you my support and encouragement to chose what path is right for you.