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Renegotiating your relationship with chronic illness and pain

My approach to dealing with an “unexpected visitor”

By Anne-Marie Taylor, Counsellor/ Narrative Therapist

Finding yourself with a chronic illness or disease or condition can be like finding yourself with an unwanted and “unexpected visitor” as it is referred to by Narrative Therapist’s Lúcia Helena Abdalla and Ana Luiza Novis. My experience of post-viral chronic fatigue was certainly both unexpected and unwanted.

I always remember the day that I “crashed” so to speak. I just could not get myself off the couch. This was almost a year after an initial malaria infection which had left with me a set of unwanted and disturbing symptoms that I had been pushing through in order to work and have some semblance of a life.

When the crash finally came, I was left feeling confused, distressed, and wondering when will the fatigue end? When will I be able to get up and get on with my life? I also felt scared and the what if’s crept in. What if I never felt better? (My heart races a little bit just revisiting that moment).

For me, I presented to the GP wanting answers and help but my blood tests were normal and all that was on offer was a trial of antidepressants to see if they could improve my energy. I felt deflated and discouraged. When I turned to Dr Google there was so much conflicting information about how to treat chronic fatigue and questions of whether recovery was possible and how long it could take. But what was clear was that there was not really a treatment or prescriptive way forward and I felt extremely alone in the experience of feeling exhausted and ill.

I went on to try everything and anything that I thought may help with limited success. But it wasn’t until I found Breathworks Mindfulness that my understanding of myself and my experience of illness started to shift. For the first time rather than wishing I wasn’t ill and pushing the uncomfortable experience of being exhausted away, mindfulness helped me to get curious about it. To bring it closer and develop a deeper connection to my felt experience.

I was also lucky to be supported by a narrative therapy peer as we did our master’s degree together in 2014 and over the course of a year had many informal therapy sessions exploring and reframing my experience of illness and its impacts. These conversations helped me gain invaluable insight into my experience of chronic fatigue. One of the most precious insights included exploring my health and wellbeing as multi-storied as well as working to challenge dominant discourses around recovery and health and wellness.

Other practices that supported my recovery from 2010 to 2017 included but are not limited to: naturopathy – herbs and vitamins, acupuncture, using food as medicine and detoxing, going to a Chronic Fatigue Clinic and seeing an Integrative Practitioner. Ari Whitten’s Energy Blueprint Program, developing a self-compassion and self-care process and doing art therapy also all helped me inch towards recovery and full health.

Above are some images from art therapy sessions about chronic fatigue

Learning about ACEs and the impact of trauma on health also helped me understand how I found myself extremely unwell and unable to function normally by the age of 30.

Chronic fatigue taught me how lonely and debilitating experiencing ill health and chronic conditions can be. It also exposed me to how much conflicting information is out there about health and wellbeing and how to attain and maintain it. When one is unwell, health feels illusive and unattainable and this experience in itself can be its own mountain to climb, recovery its own full-time job.

My current work in counselling private practice now aims to support people who are experiencing chronic pain and ill health. My approach to working with chronic illness and pain is informed by my studies in Narrative Therapy and mindfulness and how to renegotiate and reframe our experience with illness. I draw from the research and evidence-base about working with the nervous system and the body. And I refer to my own experience of post-viral chronic fatigue and my recovery from it and the tools that I used to support myself.

I find myself in the unique position having had the lived experience navigating the landscape of chronic illness and developing insider knowledge as a result. This is then complimented and enhanced by my credentials and clinical experience over the last 8 years. It is my hope that I may support people in periods of dis-ease come home to themselves and connect to a version of health and wellbeing that is self-determined and embodied.

To find out more information about my approach to pain and chronic illness contact me for a 15-minute obligation free consultation to find out how counselling can help.

For further reading and resources check out:

Uh Oh! I have received an Unexpected Visitor: The visitor’s name is Chronic Disease a Brazilian narrative family therapy approach— Lúcia Helena Abdalla and Ana Luiza Novis

Link here

Living Well With Pain and Illness Using mindfulness to free yourself from suffering by Vidyamala Burch

Link here

Ari Whitten’s The Energy Blueprint


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