I've had more and more clients coming to me with chronic fatigue syndrome so I decided to undertake some post-graduate training with Viola Sampson recently in London. It was an extraordinary day and I've pulled together this blog with the key things that I brought away with me.
First off, there's a huge list of illnesses that can give you the same symptoms as chronic fatigue (such as coeliacs or diabetes) so it's a great idea to get the relevant tests done with your GP. The range of symptoms that you can have with chronic fatigue (also known as ME or fibromyalgia) is vast:
Chronic fatigue can come on suddenly or be gradual but what causes it? Usually there is a trigger such as an illness (glandular fever is common) or a traumatic incident. There is also research to show that some people have predisposing factors - those that are perfectionists or that have a history of childhood trauma. But there is still much to understand about this illness because it's not known exactly what causes it!
With an estimated 250,000 people in the UK with chronic fatigue (and I personally believe this is a low estimate), it is important that we begin to understand more how to help people through this very debilitating illness, that has huge ramifications on the quality of life of self and family.
From a craniosacral practitioner's perspective, what is very apparent in clients with chronic fatigue is that they have a greatly reduced ability to respond to any stress; their system is easily overwhelmed. In fact, their systems feel very similar to those of clients who have PTSD. There can be a level of disassociation, very low potency with a depleted system, or conversely a sense of trapped energy that cannot express itself through the normal movements of the breath of life.
Craniosacral therapy by its very nature takes away the excess adrenalin in a system, which can have a very therapeutic effect on those with chronic fatigue. Settling the nervous system is the top priority so that there is chance for the overactivation of the NS to come back into equilibrium. It is also important to support people through relapses, which are a normal part of this illness and not a failure.
The area that most intrigued me about this day was something that Viola called the 'boom or bust cycle'. People with chronic fatigue often do not have the ability to only do activity within the energy that they have available. It is like they cannot regulate their output - so the body gets pushed, has to use sympathetic nervous system energy to meet that push, then rest is not actually rest; it is collapse and overwhelm. This leads to the wired and tired stage.
Part of working with someone with chronic fatigue is teaching them about body awareness and how to spot when they're heading to bust (emergency energy). Being aware of ones basic needs (am i thirsty, hungry, warm enough?) is something that most of us take for granted. Not so for someone with chronic fatigue. So the phrase 'active rest' is really important here. We all need energy to rest which sounds ridiculous but is very very true (if you doubt this, spend some time with an overtired toddler who cannot get to sleep!).
There are many resources out there for further reading on chronic fatigue. I'm going to add some links on my links page if you'd like to learn more or if aspects of this blog resonate with you.
Viola practices in London - for more information, visit her website here.