I have been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E. since September 2013. Last Summer I spent a week as an in-patient at a Homeopathic Hospital to investigate different holistic avenues that might help me to heal from this mysterious and completely debilitating illness. My experience of Chronic Fatigue is (on the worst days) characterised by extreme tiredness (the kind where you just can’t get out of bed, no matter how much you sleep, and even sitting up can seem too much like hard work); severe brain fog (on some days you pretty much forget even your own name); and the kind of migraines that make even the thought of thinking lucidly or (God forbid) speaking to anyone, feel like climbing a mountain. Listening to music is out of the question, even making a cup of tea requires Herculean effort. On the good days I can be as articulate as an academic, as joyous as a giddy child and as energetic as… well a ‘normal’ person who is maybe just a wee bit tired. Energetic enough to cavort around the hillsides, do some pretty full-on yoga and meditation, read, listen to music, sing, chat to friends, maybe even dance and perhaps do some writing, and that’s about it. Anything more ‘real world activity’ such as work or handling stressful situations are pretty much impossible right now; I would crumble. Quite convenient you might say… sounds like a nice life… And it is, on the good days that is! But the best way I can describe the bad days is that I feel akin to a dying moth, one that is lying twitching on the windowsill, and you’re just not sure whether or not it will perk back up enough resume flight- off in search of the next cherished woolly jumper to nibble holes in. That, or like a mobile phone that is so low on battery it keeps beeping at you ‘Charge me! Charge me!… I’m gonna die if you don’t’. Luckily now the good days far outweigh the bad.
My week in the Homeopathic hospital was nothing like your usual idea of what a week in a hospital would be like (bed ridden in extreme pain, dipping in and out of consciousness, pumped full of drugs, overstretched doctors and nurses, food so disgusting you’d rather starve) counting down the hours until you are well enough to be discharged… No, it was nothing like that. Here, each morning I would wake up to go and do yoga and meditation in a bright airy room with big windows that opened out onto the beautiful wild garden. (It was here I found I could sit in full-lotus for the first time!) The garden was specially designed for patients to potter around, admiring the flowers, watching the bees pollinate, listening to the birds sing… stepping in fox shit. Yes, I did that one morning while I was contentedly (until that point) tip-toeing about in my bare feet. A nice warm surprise…
Each day we would do group movement sessions, group meditations and have presentations on different topics such as ‘Nutrition’, ‘Stress and Sleep’ with the friendly and attentive nurses. Alongside this we had long consultations with our doctors (which were so all encompassing they felt more like therapy); one-on-ones with a physiotherapist, and treatments such as Acupuncture and Bowen Technique (the subject of the story below), jacuzzi baths and art therapy. Did I mention that this is an NHS hospital? We would have far fewer sick people if more hospitals were like this, where they take the time to look at your mind and body; really investigate your physiology and psychology; your genes and your life experience- all of which go into being causative factors towards the forms of ‘dis-ease’ we might end up suffering from when we are not looking after ourselves. These hospitals prize optimum health, not plastering over the real health issues with prescriptions for pills and the factory farming care of patients.
The story I post here for you to read is a fictional adaptation of a session of ‘Bowen Technique’ I had during my stay at the hospital. (Fictional as I recently entered it in a competition and so decided to change the names). But it all happened. Now, I am pretty well-versed in alternative therapies- I’ve trained in massage and have tried all sorts to help heal me from this illness- Acupressure, Acupuncture, Nutritional Therapy, Reiki, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Shamanic Journeying, Pranic Healing (which is where someone waves a crystal over your chakras and cleanses your aura by spraying some lemony/lavendery water, banishing the negative energy into a pool of water full of pink himalayan salt. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. I’ve done some weird shit. And I’ve experienced all sorts of strange tingling, swelling, euphoric, and wave-like bodily sensations in the process. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced during this one session of Bowen Technique, it really shook me and made me sit up and take notice. (It has something to do with the scary image at the top of this post, as I’m sure you’ve been thinking why does she have a horrible photo of animals fighting at the top of this? How weird! Anyway- read the story and you will find out. In a later post I’ll dissect what these symbols mean for me personally, and in relation to Native American theology and Jungian psychology, but for now I’ll let them speak for themselves…
‘Is Hazel here?’
Stefan knocked politely on the already open door just as everyone was getting up to leave. We were returning our blocks to the pile by the door, and those who needed them were readying their crutches and walking sticks.
‘I’m here, that’s me’ I said, trying to sound upbeat, despite having just been put through the emotional wringer for the last hour, as I had endured that afternoon’s patient presentation.
‘Can you come with me please?’
He had to come now, I thought…. I’ve been looking forward to my session with him all week and he just bloody had to come for me now! Now when I am red-faced with anxiety and unbelievably tense, sat here for the last hour nodding in painful recognition as every single symptom spelled out to me that I am a textbook example of someone with a stress-induced illness! Brilliant, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to relax enough for this treatment to work. I fumed, silently. The shock of seeing all the symptoms written down like that forced me to relive the trauma: the nights of lying awake unable to sleep due to the shooting pains down my arms and around my heart; the petrifying burning rushes in my back (the evidence that I was in perpetual ‘fight-or-flight’ mode); and the nights where I just literally couldn’t face it anymore and would take a high-dose Benadryl to knock myself out for a few hours to get some respite before having to face the next day.
We walked down the bright airy hallway to the treatment room. Stefan was blind, Metta had told me. I walked cautiously so as not to step in his path.
‘Ooh, I cannae wait fer ma date with Stefan, he’s absolutely incredible, so he is’ sing-songed Metta on our first day in the ‘Hotel Homeopathic’, as she referred to it. Metta really lived up to her name: a warm-hearted old lady in her sixties with the cheeriest disposition despite her at times debilitating Multiple-Sclerosis (we weren’t here for fun after all, no matter how nice it was). A retired manager at Clarks, the shoemaker, for that week Metta became my adopted grandma. I was comforted to have her as my room-mate, my first time as an in-patient. I bet you would have had a right laugh with her getting your feet measured for new school shoes.
‘That man’s a genius, so he is, he sorts me right oot. One session wi’ him and I’m flyin’ high fer weeks, I call ‘im me aither man!’ She cackled. ‘He disnae even have tae ask you whit’s wrang, he just examines yer body, yer skeleton and yer energy and ‘aw that, and he just kens exactly whit tae dae.’
I had a lot riding on this session, I had seen countless doctors over the past year and so far, no one could tell me exactly ‘whit wis wrang.’
Stefan closed the door and gave me a minute to settle, I wondered if perhaps he could feel my seething discomfort, hanging around after the talk.
‘If you can stand straight, arms by your sides, that’d be great’ he said, his voice relaxed and reassuring. I stood up and closed my eyes and I sensed him moving towards me. I became highly conscious that he was not the wise old blind European man I was expecting, (more sage than civilian); but was rather an attractive Glaswegian in his early thirties. As he held my hands in a soft grip and gently pulled them one by one away in a spiral motion from my body so as to encourage my spine to rotate, first one way, and then the other, I was lulled by his silent attentiveness, but found myself feeling very self-conscious of my body, dressed only in the tight vest and leggings I’d put on to do my yoga that morning. I’d been nervously sweating so much in the presentation that I had to take my jumper off. I was painfully aware that as he sensitively moved my hair aside to run his hands along my collar bone, touched my face, pressed his knuckles up and down my spine, and measured the levelling of my hips bones, down through my knees and to my ankles, that he was using his heightened kinaesthetic awareness to create a picture of me in his mind. Not that I was uncomfortable, rather, I caught my ego red-handed having a full-of-itself moment: I wonder what his impression of me is? it said. Is he attracted to me? I was horrified and quickly berated myself for it, and then the intrusive thoughts came, as they always do when I feel I’m under surveillance I want to fuck you, the voice said, the same voice I’d been hearing since I was a teenager; habitual response; I swallowed hard. Please don’t let him be telepathic, I can’t control it, I don’t mean it, I thought, as I tried to breathe deeply to ease the dizzying heart palpitations. He stepped away and leaned against the counter, I opened my eyes; we both stood silently for a minute.
‘So, Hazel, what appears to be the matter?’
What?! I thought he wasn’t going to ask me anything. Metta said that he would be able to tell what was wrong just by examining my body, does this mean he has no idea either?! Surprisingly, I managed to tell him the story in a calm and straightforward manner, letting him know only what he needed to. I felt centred, and in my body, which was a far cry from my usual storytelling manner, where I would whip myself into a neurotic frenzy and leave my body completely, especially around the doctors.
‘Ok. I think I’m going to do some Bowen Technique. If you wouldn’t mind lying face down on the couch, that’d be great. It’s a very subtle technique, you might not really feel anything at all, though some people say they feel vibrations, or see colours… that kind of thing. Just let me know as we go along.’
Stefan began by softly indenting what felt like his thumb underneath my right shoulder blade. He gradually increased the pressure, but it was scarcely ever more than a light touch. The intrusive thoughts fired a few more quick rounds, but I soothed myself, breathed into my belly and they went away. I slowly became aware of my hands, which were gripped in tight fists by my sides, palms facing up. As my breath softened and deepened I felt my hands loosen their grip, and as they did so I felt pin pricks in between the knuckles of both hands, like someone was sticking needles into the pads at the base of each finger.
‘I’m feeling a tingling sensation in my hands, like you’re putting acupuncture needles between my knuckles and now waves of heat are travelling up my arms.’
‘Ok. I’m just going to leave the room for a minute, just notice how it develops’
What? He’s leaving? What?! I felt uneasy, knowing that he was just going to stand there, outside the door. What difference does it make? But my conscious mind was quickly silenced before it could begin its analysis by the waves, which were now intensifying by the second, moving up the entire length of my arms, buzzing right up into my armpits.
Stefan came back in. He asked what had happened. I told him, my face still face down on the couch, my voice slow and steady, not really aware of the words I was choosing. He resumed his position and placed his hands back on the same area. Within seconds the feeling had returned, but this time much more powerfully. The waves were moving up from the base of my spine and through my torso as well as up my arms; I was vibrating like a fridge.
‘It’s more intense this time, up my torso too, I’m getting really hot.’ I started to feel incredibly flustered.
Stefan quickly made his exit. My heartbeat quickened to a pounding and scorching heat was now burning up through my chest. It brought my heart right up into my throat and I felt myself cry out. Fear: unmistakable. I felt extreme fear. It coursed through my entire body as I gulped back the tears that sprang forth. I began to sob uncontrollably, chest heaving, face down, my head feeling like it was going to explode from the tension and ///// FLASH \\\\\ something, behind my eyes. The sensation retreated almost as quickly as it had arrived. I caught my breath and began to settle.
I heard Stefan return and I began to laugh nervously, head still down. He resumed his position and applied a light touch.
‘It grew stronger… I got so hot. I even started to cry, a really heavy sob from my chest, I saw…’
Another needle, this time in the right hand side of my sacrum, ///// FLASH \\\\\, there it was again, and this time it was unmistakeable: a grey wolf, the face of a grey wolf, close up, with piercing ice-blue eyes and white streaks through its fur.
‘I see a grey wolf.’ I laughed awkwardly as the words came out; this was a complete first for me. I was unsure of myself but unable to deny the image that was appearing in my mind’s eye.
‘Ok, stay with it. Let’s see if it will expand.’
Slightly more pressure in my back. A pain shoots through my right side. ///// FLASH \\\\\
‘Yep, I see a wolf… No… a wolf…, and a bear. I see a wolf and a bear, and they are facing off against each other on a snowy mountaintop. I am the wolf, I am wounded and I am absolutely terrified of the bear, I am afraid she is going to kill me.’
I could not believe what was happening. Stefan quickly shifted his attention to a different part of my back and I felt the fear gradually subside. I let out a huge sigh, and as I did I became aware that the fear had put my back right up, frozen in the high-arch of a petrified cat. As Stefan’s touch encouraged my back to flatten, flatten, flatten, I began to feel like a pancake lying there on the couch. I felt like I’d just dropped down a whole metre. A hazy scene started to form…
‘I think I see something else… Yes, now I see water flowing smoothly over pebbles.’
He exited again. It was so pleasant… The water was flowing gently down a river, the soothing close-up opened out to the same landscape as before, but the wolf and the bear were no longer there, it was summer, and everything was peaceful: I was safe.
He returned. I recounted. We resumed.
‘Now I see the bear again. Ha! She is not threatening at all.’ I was tickled by a funny close up of the bear’s big friendly face; I let out a huge belly laugh.
‘The bear doesn’t want to hurt me. She just wants to pick berries!’
He asked me to move onto my side. As I shifted my weight I wiped the tears away from my cheeks. He applied a light pressure to my uppermost leg and I felt it expand as if it were inflating up and away from me. I told him. He made for the door. By this time I was perfectly aware of the drill.
He re-entered with a comedic inquisitive noise.
‘I saw a galloping white horse, running wild and free, I kinda identify with it.’
He swiftly resumed his stance.
A sharp pain pierces me in the left-hand side of my torso ‘Ha! And as if that wasn’t enough, now I see a brown horse… domesticated, bridled, in a field, a show pony. It’s completely bored! It’s kicking the dust. It’s blowing raspberries! This is getting a bit ridiculous…’
We were both properly laughing now. Stefan’s hands came to rest in a place that felt like a natural ending-point and my entire body lengthened, as if I were being stretched out and unfurled completely.
‘Oh! And there’s the white horse again, galloping free, I feel content.’ One last flash for good measure.
‘Great. I think we should leave it there for now.’ I sense him retreating and I open my eyes. I smile at him in complete disbelief, forgetting for a moment that he can’t see me doing so.
‘Be sure and do some yoga or some other kind of body work tonight and tomorrow morning; very light, nothing strenuous. This kind of work usually takes around twenty-four hours to fully develop.’
I thank him and stagger out into the hall and float back along the ward, completely spaced out. I enter our room, where Metta sits with her swollen feet perched up, happily reading the newspaper. She takes one look at me and lets out a small giggle. I just shake my head in wide-eyed disbelief and walk straight out through the big glass doors and into the garden. Kicking off my shoes to feel the cool grass beneath my feet I think: I know exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as I get out of here: researching animal archetypes!