I always hated reading patients’ stories when I was ill. Especially the ones where the patients recovered. Those lucky, happy, helpful bastards. So now I don’t have a clue as to why in 2012 I read the book called “Recovery from CFS” that consisted of nothing but recovery stories. Maybe it was a ME/CFS-induced masochism spell. You know the one that makes you keep taking that horrible-tasting Japanese herb that you secretly suspect is causing the zits on your groin. Whatever the reason was, however, for this one time I’m glad I read the book because it contained Alex Howard’s story that led me to the discovery of the Optimum Health Clinic.
I became ill in 2001 when I was 37 years old working full-time in the USA. The illness was diagnosed as CFS. In 2004 when I moved to Japan, my home country, my condition nose dived and stayed there. I became bedbound and I felt like I had lost everything: my health, my job, an expat life that I had loved. I was still bedbound in 2009 when I accidentally found that I was sensitive to practically all the foods that I had been eating. I started an elimination diet, which worked like a magic and I began to feel better. By 2012, however, the magic turned to dust and my condition hit a plateau again. I didn’t know what to do until I met OHC.
At that time I was housebound suffering from my same old conditions: a period of severe flu-like head symptoms (No!-No!-No! phase) alternating with a period of mania (Go!-Go!-Go! phase). The name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was particularly misleading for my case because I didn’t have fatigue.
I was also sensitive / allergic to everything: foods, dust, molds, chemicals, noise, heat, sunlight… I couldn’t eat any “normal” foods sold at regular stores and restaurants. I slept directly on the floor because any kind of mattresses gave me troubles. I cropped my hair to a few millimeters in length (I am a female, by the way) so I could keep my head cool. I reacted badly to not only medications and supplements but other forms of treatments such as biofeedback.
In January, 2013, after I confirmed that I could take all the sessions through Skype from Tokyo, I signed up for the both Nutrition and Psychology programs of OHC. I was a little skeptical for the Psychology side, though. While I understood their theory –letting the body have enough energy for healing by calming down the nervous system– I wasn’t sure if the techniques were strong enough to calm down my nervous system. I mean I regularly have manias. And what if I sucked at them like I did at yoga and meditation?
First thing I noticed about the OHC and its practitioners is that they make a tremendous effort to know “me”. They didn’t make me fill out twenty-three-page questionnaire for nothing. By the time the first session started both of my practitioners, Tara for the Nutrition and Jo for the Psychology, knew my history and symptoms so much that they could discuss the treatment ideas they had thought would suit me. Ta-dah, I was finally understood! It felt so good that I thought this alone could cure me.
Knowing the patients well was the reason why they are so good at customizing their approaches. It was completely different from my experience of the other CFS specialists who only wanted to apply a cookie-cutter method to everyone who came to their door (and I told them I didn’t have fatigue!). Tara was from the beginning very respectful to my sensitivities and determined to work around it. Jo didn’t even frown when I told her that I hated the word “relax” that came up in the first technique she tried to teach me. She just chose other ways to work.
And they know a lot of ways to work. Both practitioners always managed to teach me something new in our sessions even after I had gone through all the videos and textbooks provided by OHC. Jo kept dishing out new tools for 1.5 years and she looked like she was just warming up. Tara extended what I learned from self-help books by saying something like “Yes, the side effects of xyz are possible. But in our experience only the patients with pqr tend to react. So in your case… “. And when they don’t know the answer to my question they asked other practitioners. They work so closely inside and between their departments that I felt like I had an access to the knowledge pool of the entire OHC team.
The OHC practitioners are trained to respect my comfort level towards the treatment. Tara never wanted me to take “try and error” approach for a new supplement knowing that I had so many horrible “error” experiences in the past. And they encourage me to respect my comfort level as well, which I should have done much more. One of the psychology techniques, for example, gave me such a strong resistance that my body shivered every time I tried it. But I kept practicing it and the reaction grew worse. In retrospect, I should have told Jo how uncomfortable the technique made me feel and most likely she would have helped me modify it or picked something different out of the million tools she seemed to keep up her sleeve. It would have made my recovery much smoother.
And I could use some smoothness in my recovery path: the change on my body was sporadic. The first real change happened about four months into the sessions. My “flu to mania” cycle was replaced by the constant severe fatigue. I was excited by the fact that I finally had Chronic Fatigue! But then the things went stagnate again.
One year passed with severe fatigue and no further physical changes. Although I had learned so many psychology techniques by then (Nutrition side went slow because of my ever-stubborn sensitivities) my body never seemed to respond and I became more and more frustrated. So I did the only thing I knew at the time: I worked harder. I made a flashcard for each technique that I had learned from Jo and memorized it. I made a flow chart of the actions I should take for each circumstance. I made lists, tables, visual aids … then I practiced, practiced, practiced.
That backfired big time. My entire life quickly became a giant inner critic and I couldn’t even breathe without criticizing the way my lungs expanded. After a few crying jags (for which I had a flow chart as well but screw it) I asked Jo’s help. She told me that this was a typical trap that the patients could get into and suggested taking my foot off the accelerator.
And that worked. I finally started to feel better. From there my recovery progressed steadily. Around the same time Tara introduced me to an outside practitioner –collaboration with other specialists is another thing that impressed me about OHC– who worked with food sensitivities. With the said practitioner’s help my sensitivities also began to diminish
It’s now July, 2015, two and a half years after I started OHC, and I consider myself recovered. Yup, I’m a bastard now. I feel well all day long doing whatever I want to do. My sensitivities and allergies are also much milder. I now eat some “regular” foods on a daily basis. Although there are things that I’m still sensitive to, I know I can always get away with them in the first round. So an occasional piece of bread is no problem. Sleeping on the floor remains but it became a second nature. And my hair still in buzz cut? I’m just waiting for it to catch on.
I moved to Salzburg, Austria three months ago starting a new expat life. As soon as I get my muscles into decent shape I’ll go on a savanna expedition for Kangaroo watching… What? Wrong country? Then I’ll have to settle for skiing on an Alpine slope. Bummer.