Rather like the conundrum of the chicken and the egg, it is difficult to know which comes first in the case of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – depression, which develops as a result of having a chronic, debilitating illness, or is it a somatic disorder, masquerading as an organic disease?
When I was diagnosed with M.E. in April 1999, my initial response was a mixture of relief and denial. Relief that, at last, there was an explanation to that confusing jumble of symptoms. Denial because, as a therapist, I saw clients with M.E. and I really didn’t want to go down that road!
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is an epidemic disease of unknown etiology marked by influenza-like symptoms, severe pain, and muscular weakness.
I had already developed a belief — totally unsubstantiated — of what M.E. was all about. The sufferers I saw appeared to run the gamut of symptoms: Some were obviously worn out/burnt out and displayed an extensive array of problems, often including irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual disorders, food intolerances and insomnia. And yet others appeared relatively healthy. They held down stressful jobs and seemed to lead a normal life. Many of them slotted neatly in to the “Type A” personality profile. (A term coined by two cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenman, in the ’70s.) Type A people are more prone to heart disease and stress-related illnesses. They usually are presented as ambitious, impatient individuals, who move and talk quickly and are often restless and inattentive to others.)
Going to therapy was often a “last resort,” and followed a long line of healers, dieticians, homeopaths and aromatherapist. Few clients had considered psychotherapy, despite being prescribed anti-depressants and/or sleeping tablets. Many seemed, not exactly depressed, but resigned . ALL had suffered some kind of earlier trauma, resulting in feelings of insecurity, loss and frustration and often linked to relationships — but then many of my clients shared that same history!
The perception that underpins my approach to therapy is that beliefs affect outcome. Our own personal belief structures — what we should do and say, how we should react, what is right or wrong, how we see the world — are often formed in childhood. They may become distorted by other’s beliefs. For instance, if ones primary care giver believes that the world is a dangerous place and others are “out to get you,” you, as a child, may respond by either agreeing with that belief or by reacting to it, maybe by becoming hyper-vigilant or reclusive.
We constantly translate mood into physical sensation — heartache, burning with desire (or rage), eaten up with jealousy. We scratch and stutter our way around feelings and fear confronting our emotions.
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