I’m ready, ready to be brave, ready to say out loud the reason behind the improvement in my health. You’re assuming I am flirting with hyperbole but don’t. This may not be medal worthy, but I am stepping into zone uncomfortable. Voluntarily. I am scared of conflict, yet I am about to say something controversial, on the internet, where the scary-highly-opinionated-can’t-get-enough-of-conflict people hang out. (You’ve seen the Daily Mail comments section, right? Exactly.) See. Brave. As I say it many of you will know exactly why I didn’t mention it last time, why I hid behind vagueness. You see, it wasn’t ‘somewhere in the mix of treatments’ I was trying that things started to improve for me, it was very much one thing: I did the Lightning Process. There, I said it. It’s possibly one of the most controversial Chronic Fatigue Syndrome treatments out there (and possibly one of the most misunderstood). And I understand the controversy, I really do. CFS patients often have to fight to be taken seriously by the medical profession. They are given limited and often unsatisfactory support with some medical professionals even trying to ‘psychologise’ this very real physical illness. So it’s no wonder that an alternative treatment that uses the mind-body connection triggers such strong emotions. I think the Lightning Process is sometimes misrepresented too, often being described as a positive thinking tool. And to be told thinking positively can fix you is enough to infuriate any patient with a serious physical illness. But this is not what the Lightning Process is – the process is very clear on the physical nature of CFS, and it uses a series of techniques and strategies to influence physical changes in the body. As someone said to me, describing the Lightning Process as positive thinking is like putting a candle on a fish and calling it a birthday cake.
The Lightning Process harnesses the mind-body connection to influence changes in the body. A connection which is most definitely in existence. Just think of the placebo effect, something we are all familiar with, and there you have a very powerful example of the mind-body connection. The placebo effect is so well established that it is standard practice in all drug trials for medication to have to perform better than a placebo to be approved. Or think of other examples: most of us have experienced a time when we’ve felt anxious about an upcoming event, maybe an interview or an exam, and it showed itself in an upset tummy or a feeling of nausea. The mind-body connection is very much alive in all of us.
The Lightning Process also uses the latest research in neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity put simply, is the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Neural pathways that are used the most frequently become stronger and more ingrained, but it is possible to build new pathways. With regards to health, what does this mean? Well, think about a time when you’ve been really unwell and think about how your brain responded. Your brain becomes preoccupied with how you are feeling. If you translate this to a chronic health condition, you can imagine those pathways getting more and more use: you become used to checking in on how you are feeling; you learn to expect to wake up feeling unwell; you learn to plan around your illness, and so on and so on. You are not doing anything wrong. You are simply trying to manage a difficult situation, but inadvertently you are strengthening all those ‘illness’ pathways.
And then if you factor in the stress that comes with living with a chronic health condition, particularly one that doesn’t have a straightforward diagnosis or treatment approach, you have even more unhelpful pathways running in overdrive: What’s wrong with me? Will I ever get better? What treatments should I try? How am I going to get through today? And on it goes. All of these pathways are hanging out with all the other unhelpful pathways described above. And so we have one big messy – and very unhelpful – neural pathway party. And, of course, this is all pretty stressful which means the chances are your system is in high alert, with the physical emergency response (stress response) switched on. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on all areas of the nervous system, stimulating more stress. And round and round the cycle goes.
In my case, I knew I was stuck – physically, psychologically and emotionally. It’s not that I’d made myself ill, or that I wasn’t experiencing real physical health challenges, or that it was all in my head. It’s just that after being ill for so long I knew I was contributing, unwittingly, to the cycle of illness. I started learning about neuroplasticity looking at the work of Dr Joe Dispenza and Norman Doidge and the evidence on the power of neuroplasticity intrigued me. After getting nowhere with my CFS specialist, despite following an extensive treatment protocol over a number of years (there is no bad feeling on my part towards this doctor, she helps thousands of people, but for whatever reason her protocol did not work for me), I knew I needed to do something different, and that different for me was the Lightning Process.
So here I am, a year or so after doing the course and it has quite simply been life-changing. (I know, I sound like one of those over-enthusiastic and very annoying YouTube testimonials. Sorry about that.) I didn’t have the overnight from-wheelchair-to marathon-runner some people experience with the Lightning Process but I did have significant improvement in my energy levels immediately. And then I continued to build on that over the following months. I’ve gone from being mainly housebound – having to manage my energy carefully, lying down with my eyes closed for hours each day – to being out in the world again. Since I was last here I’ve continued to spread my wellness wings. We’ve been to Tenby, Palafrugell, Torino, Cadiz, the Lake District, Slovenia, London, Malta, Luxembourg, Düsseldorf, the Pyrenees, Amsterdam, Andalucía. (Yes, I agree – spoilt cow.) I am doing lots of walking – eleven miles on Sunday! – and back to yoga. I’m back in people’s lives. I’m back in my husband’s life – yes, we leave the apartment together, go places, even have conversations. I’m not completely well (whatever that means) – I still sleep a little more than most people and go at a slightly slower pace. But hey, I’ve still got my wellness stabilisers on and who knows what another six or twelve months will bring. And this whatever this is, is so so much better than lying my life away.
I know this type of approach is not for everyone, but for me, doing the Lightning Process has turned out to be a really good decision. I won’t lie, it’s not been easy. It’s not like taking a pill and waking up well, you have to put the work in; you have to use all the techniques and strategies that you have learned. But it’s not as hard as CFS. And the hard work is worth it because unlike CFS who just takes-takes-takes and is a total bastard to be in a relationship with, the Lightning Process gives back, spoiling me with good things like energy, freedom and new experiences. My relationship with the Lightning Process feels good and I’m sorry, CFS, but I don’t miss you in the slightest. Unfortunately, I am still in a very demanding relationship with OCD, but that’s a story for another day. Today, today I’m celebrating how lucky I am to have spent so much of this year NOT ON THE SOFA.
For more information about the Lightning Process go to https://lightningprocess.com/
If you are interested in understanding more about neuroplasticity check out The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, or You Are the Placebo by Dr Joe Dispenza.