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The Roots of My Compassion

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I have been asked where I learned how to

become a compassionate therapist..from

my graduate training, great supervisors,

or other life experiences?  All of the above.

But, the greatest teacher of all has also been

my greatest nemesis.  It goes by an acronym

called ME/CFS or “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

It Began With Mono

After suffering an extremely severe bout of

mononucleosis as an undergraduate, so severe

I was sent home from my University with an

enlarged spleen and a constant fever, I have

(so far) had 3 major reactivations of the

Epstein-Barr and Cytomegaloviruses in my

lifetime.  Each time this happens, I go from

being someone who can keep 15 plates spinning

at once to someone who can barely lift one,

much less get it spinning or keep it spinning.

I am experiencing a reactivation currently,

although it is not as severe this time as the

last two I have experienced.

More Than Fatigue

The first sign of a bout of chronic fatigue is

that I need to nap when I get home from work.

Not in the “Oh, I’d love to grab a quick cat nap”

sense, but in the “I will only have the slightest

chance of being able to get dinner ready if I

lie down and sleep for 2 hours RIGHT NOW!”

sense. And sometimes dinner doesn’t happen.

(Thank goodness Wendy’s has great salads.)

The fatigue is unrelenting and no matter how

much sleep I get, I never wake up refreshed or

with any energy.

There is a litany of “aches and pains” that go

along with the disorder: muscle aches and cramps,

the sudden inability to exercise, sore throat, lymph

glands swell, joints ache, and my brain suddenly goes

into “brain fog” mode, where I can’t seem to put two

words together back to back. For a writer and poet,

this is one of the more frustrating symptoms,

but it at least isn’t painful. (A positive!)

Although many people experience mood swings

and depression with ME/CFS, I usually go through

a week of “Why me, why this again?” when it hits,

but have been spared long bouts of severe depression.

I credit knowing cognitive therapy for this.

An Invisible Illness

ME/CFS is one example of what is called an

Invisible Illness,” which I have written about

before on my blog.

On the outside, I look fine.

On the inside, I am so tired I can hardly function.

Some days it takes everything in me to get showered,

dressed, and off to work. I am grateful to have work

that is not physically demanding, and the ability to

spend my workday focusing on others actually

helps me on tough days to not focus on what I am

not able to do myself.

The vast majority of my clients do not know I suffer

from this, because it is not relevant to them.

It is not a part of our therapeutic relationship and

doesn’t need to be.  Occasionally, I may share that I

understand something of what they are struggling

with by relating some of my own experience with this

disorder.

Compassion’s Roots

While most of the clients I work with do not know

I struggle with chronic fatigue, both I and they

benefit from what I have had to learn from CFS.

I have had to learn (am still learning) how to be

compassionate and gentle with myself, when what

I want to be able to do is no longer possible.

I have had to embrace this imperfection in my

physical self and learn incredible amounts of

patience to sit with pain, fatigue, and the never

knowing how long it will be before I feel better.

I have to learn to forgive myself for not being able

to be my “best self” for my husband, my daughter,

my friends, my family, and my community when

I simply do not have the energy to do all that I

would like to.

I am able to understand from a place of chronic

fatigue some of what it must feel like to wake up

with depression each day. I wake up tired and

must still face the day and what it demands,

regardless of how much energy I have. That

is depressing and tiring.  I have learned how

to break down everything into baby steps, not

only because it helps my clients who are over-

whelmed with anxiety or depression, but also

because it is the only way I can get anything

accomplished when I have to rest between

every step.

I know what it is like for people to not

understand why you can’t just “snap out of it”

and think that your symptoms must just be

“all in your head.”

I know how hard it is to have to depend

on others to get even basic things done,

like getting your child home from school,

getting groceries or dinner, and how good

it is to know you don’t have to struggle with

anything alone.

In The Same Ocean

Many people have written to me and told me

how much my blog posts or therapy with me

has helped them and I am always so happy

that this is the case.

I just want to be sure that people know that

my ability to be helpful comes as much from

a place of needing help, and discovering how

to help myself, as much as it does from my

being an “expert” on how to help others.

I always stress that we may not all be in the

same boat, but we are definitely all in the same

ocean. And sometimes it is a very angry, choppy

ocean that’s going to take a lot of skill to

navigate. Maybe even an ocean rescue if it

comes to that. There’s no shame…it’s much

better than drowning.

It Takes A Village

I’ll get through this most immediate bout,

because I have learned to reach out for help.

I have a team of professionals who are caring

and compassionate and do their absolute best

to help me to recover quickly.

I follow their advice and treatment protocols,

take time to take care of myself, doing less for

others, and conserving precious energy.

I have a partner who suffered a bout of CFS

decades ago, and knows what it feels like

to try to manage feeling this way.

I have friends who I am not ashamed to tell

“I’m sick again” and  may need extra help with

getting things done.

I have the advantage of knowing this won’t

last forever, even if it sometimes feels like

it will.

And I know that I will get better faster if I push

myself less and love myself more, just as I am,

sick and tired and all.

 

 

 

 

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