What do you think has helped or inspired you during your recovery?
So many things! I think one of the most inspirational things is being aware that you don’t have to meet the system on its terms. Before I became ill, I followed a very conventional path of school, then university. I worked for a while and then completed my masters and won a place on a prestigious internship programme in New York, having studied Art History. I was on a career trajectory that in my mind appeared to be leading me towards success – you know, being financially independent, ‘successful’ on the world’s terms but in body and soul it was making me really sick and I was very unhappy. It felt exhausting and soulless and not what I was meant to be doing. Becoming aware and stepping out of the rat race was really important and it was actually my body that said no to this first. I became so ill that I had to leave the internship programme half way through and return home. It was a transformational time for me as everything seemed to be falling apart, but actually it was clearing space for real healing, for me to listen to my body and become more aware of what I needed. It was inspirational being able to realise this was a good thing, and now I define ‘success’ in a very different way… To what extent am I listening to my body? To what extent am I honouring my soul? To what extent am I getting the rest and nourishment that I need and feeling love in the things I choose to do?
Yoga has been very inspiring throughout my recovery. I had a great teacher at the start of my recovery process who was really supportive and although I could do little else, when I was able to, I went to his classes. After a while I realised that I wanted to do my teacher training one day.
I decided to move back to the Highlands to live with my mum and focus on my recovery. Before moving back I attended a 10 day Vipassana Meditation course where we meditated for almost ten hours every day! It was really intense but the practice has changed my life… I started to experience how meditation and yoga are not just about calming your mind, or being relaxed, but actually are both incredible enlightenment processes that clear, purify and transform us to become clear channels for pure energy. Yoga and meditation allow us to feel our true nature and enable us to learn and implement what it is we need in order to heal – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Through Vipassana, and Kundalini Yoga I discovered ways to clear out everything that no longer served me, and made way for more light, joy, love, and creativity. This has been far from an easy process, but I am so grateful to be walking this path. I just so happened to find a group of people based nearby who chanted the mantras of Kundalini Yoga, and I would go along to the circle once a month. Chanting is so powerful and such a healing experience, and I wanted to delve deeper. As there was no teacher locally, I felt called to do my teacher training in Kundalini Yoga and now lead workshops, when my energy flows to do so.
Grounding in nature – hugging trees, walking barefoot on the earth, laying in the sun, swimming outdoors when my energy allows, communicating with plants and flowers is also inspiring. This year I have been channelling the energy that I have into making flower essences, candles, oils and sprays for a new project Devas of Alba. We look forward to offering plant spirit communication workshops in the Highlands soon.
Something else that really inspired and helped me during my recovery was writing. My journal was for much of the time my best friend, like self-directed therapy, a compassionate witness to support me through the loneliest and deepest parts of my illness where so much was coming up to be healed. I got to the point where I wanted to start sharing and so I wrote a blog called Way Through the Woods which followed my healing and the things that I processed in order to heal – including articles on Kundalini Yoga and Vipassana. Chronic Fatigue is such a complex illness that seems to have underlying ties to so many different things. For me that included the impact of living a life that was not in alignment with what I really needed, or who I really am, and experiences of trauma. I have found that writing about these experiences to be incredibly healing and I hope to write a book at some stage.
What kind of support did you experience?
I was lucky enough to have been recommended by a family friend to ask for a referral to the NHS centre for integrative care in Glasgow, formally the homeopathic hospital. They run The WEL Programme which was created by the incredibly progressive Dr David Reilly, leading specialist in M.E/ CFS and chronic illness. The course looks at health and healing holistically. I attended the course specifically for people with M.E./Chronic Fatigue and was supported to learn how to cope and how to best support myself in recovery. This course is freely available online and I would highly recommend it. During my time at the centre I was diagnosed and being able to have a name for what I was going through, helped me to relax. I finally felt heard and validated for what I was experiencing. It had been so frustrating as I had not been getting answers about what was wrong with me. There had been lots of tests and specialist appointments. I am so grateful for their support.
Financial support is such a big issue. I am so grateful to my mum for allowing me to live with her for the couple of years that I needed to. My diagnosis allowed me to have the paperwork to provide the benefits system with enough tick boxes to receive financial support. For the couple of years it lasted I was able to fund my therapy, organic food, healing treatments and other support that aided my recovery such as books on well-being and spirituality. It was so helpful to have the weight of ‘earning a living’ lifted so I could focus on getting better. The way our current benefits system is set up makes it such a frustrating, challenging and exhausting process to gain the support we deserve. This system desperately needs to be overhauled to properly support people going through chronic illness. I got to the point of having my benefits cut more than once, and decided not to engage with the broken system anymore. I’m aware many others have experienced the same. It’s been a step-by-step, tentative, two-steps-forward, one-step-back process towards self-employment, patiently, compassionately finding ways to begin to earn a living from doing the things I love. It is an ongoing journey that has been challenging, and incredibly rewarding. I hold faith that we can create new ways of living where we are abundantly supported for bringing and sharing our gifts and light within the world in the ways that best flow with our own energy.
When I returned home I would say that I was incredibly isolated and I had to go through a lot on my own. It’s hard as a lot of people don’t understand CFS/M.E, and as much as we, and they, wish they could, it’s not always possible. Everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have at the time. I learned a lot about boundaries, and need so much solitude and alone time to manage my energy well.
It is such an isolating illness because we often can’t do anything. At times we can’t even go outside. Noise is painful and conversations are tiring. So a lot of the time it’s easier to be on our own, and if we are going to be around people it needs to be with those who honour that sensitivity and understand. I feel that I really learned to strengthen my internal support network when I was going through the hard times. I was learning to be compassionate with myself, to take care of myself and to honour what I needed, whatever that was moment to moment – like having a bath in the afternoon or a hot chocolate. There would be days where I would support myself with mantras like “today I will take care of myself like a sick child.”
After fighting with the isolation for a good while I started to feel a sense of liberation as it really put me in a space where I had to do the work to find my centre. At first I experienced a falling away from quite a lot of things – jobs, friends, some family connections, my old life, and went through a period of being in the desert, and slowly new connections began to emerge that felt more aligned with who I am. That has gradually increased. I still need a lot of time to myself. I live quietly, but I feel very blessed with my partner, friends, family and the community that I do have around me such as yoga, chanting, meditation, my women’s circle, and a deep supportive relationship with nature – with the trees and flowers, and the food we grow.
During my recovery I was immensely supported by working long-term with a therapist who helped me to uncover and heal the roots of my illness and inspired me to keep healing and recovering and creating a life that I feel happy and peaceful to live, and it is an ongoing process. I would see her every fortnight, and we mostly worked together on Skype as I was often too tired to make the journey to see her in person, it was an invaluable support, and it was really good to have someone to talk to in depth about the healing I was going through.
For around the first three years of my illness it felt impossible for me to think about having a relationship. I actually met my partner on the train to my first ever Vipassana meditation course and we met again a year and a half after that at the same centre. Finding somebody who is so supportive and sees me for who I am is incredible and I feel so blessed to have found him. I feel in order to be ready to meet him I had to go through a period of deep healing on my own, and he appeared once I had made peace within myself and loved myself enough to be ready, and we continue our journey together healing ourselves, deepening in our relationship together with the wider world and our callings here.
Do you have a favourite song, book or podcast?
Two books that spring to mind immediately are Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss which draws on and is inspired by the life of a mystic Teresa d’Avila who had ecstatic spiritual experiences and awakenings on her journey to knowing herself, and it follows this process of unlearning and healing. I found this incredibly helpful during the unravelling process and this helped me through the dark times. The book really helped to validate my experience and helped to show me that I wasn’t going insane!
Another book is A Course in Miracles channelled by Dr. Helen Schucman. This book was such a font of incredible truth and wisdom for me. Reading this was quite a journey, and felt like being guided along a written path to ultimate truth. It felt like a different route to the same source, in the way that Vipassana and Kundalini also are for me.
One more book that really helped me and found me at exactly the right time was The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. The title speaks so beautifully as to what it’s about. It really helped me to understand why I was ill and how this was connected to the health of the planet, societies and systems we live in, there is a quote by Krishnamurti – ‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.’
There is a book I am currently reading Medicine Woman by Lucy H. Pearce. It is written for all the women of our generation who are dealing with chronic illness, a deep dive into the roots, in our bodies, in our history (herstory) and in our society, and how to heal. It is just incredible. I am so grateful that it has found its way to me now and would highly recommend this, and its companion book Burning Woman.
In terms of music a lot of the time my head was so sore that I couldn’t initially listen to music. I had a DJ friend who makes lots of awesome playlists and once I could I listened to them all. That was really wonderful and I am so grateful to him for making these and eventually they got me dancing again. Gradually I got back into music and I returned to my singing again too. I have just got my first harmonium and plan to start recording some music, including mantras, which is exciting!
Is there any advice that you would give someone going through M.E.?
I would say that you are not alone. There are so many people around the world who are going through similar experiences, and recovery is possible, and healing is happening. My advice would be to let go, let go of the calendar, and surrender as it takes the time it takes and all we can do is meet ourselves where we are and take it moment by moment: what do I need right now?
We are healing so much stuff on a planetary level. I feel like with M.E. we are experiencing that on a cellular level. The journey is scary and dark, and yet beautiful and dark, a womb of transformation, a caterpillar in the cocoon becoming a butterfly. We need to stay in the cocoon for as long as we need to. What is it that is not serving us that we need to let go of? What is it that whispers quietly in our hearts and souls that we need to listen to, little-step by little-step, remember who we really are and who we really want to be in this life?
When we go through this incredibly transformational illness we learn so much, and often we find our gifts in the wound, through our experience we can be called to, in our own ways, share that wisdom – healing modalities, our stories, embodying changes we want to see in the world… What are our unique gifts? It’s all an ongoing process of beautiful revelation, integration and embodying… I still have to keep reminding myself it can be two steps forward, one step back… and that recovery tends not to be linear… acceptance, compassion, patience… I’m still learning all the time.
Have you learnt anything that you otherwise would not be aware of?
A million things. For me, I think in a good way the symptoms that I have keep me on track and they show me when I am not honouring my body. When I don’t listen to them then my body finds ways to scream louder and louder until I listen. In some ways, I see it as companion that keeps me true to myself and I’m refining that more and more as the days, months and years go by. Although it has been an illness I believe that it has been, and is, my process of awakening, returning to love in my life and my relationships and my being on the earth. It’s really hard but I’m grateful for what I have learnt, am learning. When I soften into it that surrender I feel incredible transformation happening, on all levels.