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A touching and true story of ME sufferer Dawn Symons from being diagnosed to recovering.

When did you first get diagnosed?

I wasn’t diagnosed with ME until 2012, but I’ve had ME since I was in my 20’s, so I’ve had it for about 34 years.

And what was it like when you first got your diagnosis? How did that feel?

I felt relieved because I finally had a label for what I was experiencing. Until that point, I experienced a lot of judgment from people for being lazy and hypochondriac, and this wasn’t the case. Finally, having a diagnosis meant that what I was experiencing was real.

Can you tell us your experience of ME?

My experience has changed depending on how severe my condition is. At its worst point, I could hardly even roll over in bed. I was bed bound for around 18 months. Things slowly got better during my recovery. Some days were better than others. I had many setbacks. I still experience symptoms of ME now, I am now able to work, but I have to rearrange a lot of things in my life to allow that to happen. At the moment, I am able to work around 4 hours per day and manage a massage studio in Truro, Cornwall, helping many clients with a whole range of issues.

So at its worst, would this be considered a severe level of CFS?

Yes, I was classed as severe at my rock bottom. It’s a bit like getting up and trying to run a marathon. You hit a wall. And it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy because your body has become so weak, and then you try to do something, and you feel worse, and the symptoms that you are experiencing with the muscle pain, with the weakness, with the extreme fatigue. I wonder if that’s to do with the condition itself or because there is a weakness in the body. Although I was classed as severe, there are still people who have it worse than me. I’ve seen people bedridden for long periods and in hospital for months.

When you hit rock bottom, was that when you got the diagnosis?

No, it was after the diagnosis because I got no help. There was no help, there was no support, and at the time, I felt there was no hope. The doctor sent me off to see a Chronic Fatigue Specialist who ran through all of the tests to confirm that I had Chronic Fatigue, and that was pretty much it. And then I was on my own. This is the reason I created First Aid For Stress. It provides support and a clear process for recovery as well as managing symptoms and life. This is something I didn’t have.

Did/ do you take medication for CFS / ME?

I am so sensitive to medications. I can take a dose that, for other people, would do nothing, but for me, it absolutely floors me. Many people who are suffering are very fragile and very sensitive, and we have to learn to appreciate that that’s okay. I realised that I had to change my focus. The focus that I had in the past had to change. It is just not possible to do many of the same activities that I had done in the past.

What did you realise in your recovery journey that you put in the First Aid For Stress Program?

Dealing with stress is very important. Unless you deal with the worry and fear and come to accept the fact that you have Chronic Fatigue, you will not be able to recover. 

The worst thing for your energy levels is your mind chattering, your mental state. It’s so important to learn to be kinder to yourself. To do some meditation, one of the core parts of my work is the meditations that I’ve recorded which are freely available to everyone.

Listening to the recording repeatedly begins to rewire the brain. I don’t even know how many times I’ve listened to my own meditation. I almost had to hypnotise myself into believing it because every time I stepped out of my comfort zone, I was knocked back down again. I offer this meditation in the introduction. If someone were to listen to this meditation and only do this, it would transform them because it would help them with the mental chatter that comes with chronic fatigue syndrome.   

It will bring peace of mind to an otherwise anxious and low state. It’s about getting into that still state and seeing that the experience that we are having isn’t the sum of what we are. There is a place that’s full of energy. There is a place that has no pain, the more that we can marinade in that space, the more that we can begin to be open to the possibility that we can experience something different.

What do you say to people who say a program won’t help them because everyone with ME / CFS experiences different symptoms and has different triggers?

I agree with them. That is exactly right. Everyone has had a different experience. That is why this program is multifaceted. That’s why it covers so much, the healing wheel and the progress check and the implementation of the smallest things. That’s why people pick their own focus for their recovery. Once they start adding those small activities into their schedule, they start to see the change.

BIO: Dawn Symons from First Aid For Stress and Maga Therapy. Dawn has lectured and written widely, specialising in tension & stress reduction irrespective of the cause, applying the latest scientific thinking to provide logical, effective & progressive results. She facilitates the First Aid For Stress Program for people suffering from ME / CFS / Anxiety / Depression and Chronic Illness.

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It’s thought the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million people across northern Europe. It can affect people of any age, including children.

We all lack energy from time to time but if it doesn’t improve then you should see your GP.

There are a number of conditions that can leave you feeling lethargic. Iron levels are one of the first things that can affect energy levels and cause tiredness.

An under-active thyroid is another cause of tiredness and the falling hormone levels that occur at the menopause.

Fatigue can also be a sign of diabetes.

If you are suffering from SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) this can also cause fatigue. 

As well as the above, some medications can also cause lethargy, including beta blockers, some antihistamines, codeine-based painkillers and also some antidepressants. Also some sleeping tablets may help to get you through the night, some can cause daytime fatigue.

The main symptoms are – 

Key symptoms:

  • depression
  • sleep problems
  • lethargy
  • overeating
  • irritability
  • feeling down and unsociable

Of course, anxiety, stress and depression are also triggers for sapping energy levels. The best course of action is to go and visit your GP.

NHS Inform have ten tips on how to beat developing the winter blues – 

1. Keep active

Research has shown that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues. Read more about walking to get fit.

2. Get outside

Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. Inside your home, choose pale colours that reflect light from outside, and sit near windows whenever you can.

3. Keep warm

If your symptoms are so bad that you can’t live a normal life, see your GP for medical help. Being cold makes you more depressed. It’s also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half.

Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes, and aim to keep your home between 18C and 21C (or 64F and 70F degrees).

4. Eat healthily

A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter. Balance your craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Read more about healthy eating.

5. See the light

Some people find light therapy effective for seasonal depression. One way to get light therapy at home in winter is to sit in front of a light box for up to two hours a day.

Light boxes give out very bright light at least 10 times stronger than ordinary home and office lighting. They’re not available on the NHS and cost from around £29.99 or more.

“Some people find that using a dawn simulator [a bedside light, connected to an alarm clock, that mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually] as well as a light box can enhance the beneficial effect,” says Pavlovich.

One of the most obvious ways to treat SAD is to get outside in the daylight for at least 20 minutes a day but Light therapy is the most effective way of decreasing the symptoms. Also it is believed that eating foods rich in an amino acid called tryptophan increases the amount of serotonin in the brain.

6. Take up a new hobby

Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of SAD, says Pavlovich. “It could be anything, such as playing bridge, singing, knitting, joining a gym, keeping a journal, or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on,” she adds.

7. See your friends and family

It’s been shown that socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while.

8. Talk it through

Talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you cope with symptoms. See your GP for information on what’s available locally on the NHS and privately, or read this article on how to access talking treatments.

9. Join a support group

Think about joining a support group. Sharing your experience with others who know what it’s like to have SAD is very therapeutic and can make your symptoms more bearable.

SADA is the UK’s only registered charity dedicated to SAD. It costs £20 (£10 for concessions) to join, and you’ll receive an information pack, regular newsletters, discounts on products such as light boxes, and contacts for telephone support.

10. Seek help

If your symptoms are so bad that you can’t live a normal life, see your GP for medical help.

Read more about how SAD is treated.

Its the sunlight that tells your brain to produce serotonin, which is needed to boost our mood and energy. Lack of it as autumn turns to winter causes an increase in the production of melatonin (which makes us sleepy) and a reduction in serotonin is what can cause depression.

Also they say that Australian research found that taking vitamin D supplements for only five days in late winter improved the mood of people with SAD. It can also prevent osteoporosis, support immunity and regulate weight. Of course the best way to get Vitamin D is through the effects of sunlight on bare skin. Amazingly they say that Vitamin D lasts for 60 days in the body so if you’ve been away for your annual holiday in the summer, it will mean your levels should be fine until November.

Other sources of Vitamin D can be found in oily fish and eggs, cheese and poultry.

Research also suggests that eating carb-rich foods helps the brain take up tryptophan. You can also find supplements and The Food Agency recommends taking 10mcg a day.

Source: NHS Inform  

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If you’ve ever woken up from sleep under a heavy blanket and throw then you will have had a taste of how weighted blankets work.

By applying gentle pressure, a weighted blanket actually mimics therapeutic massage known as deep pressure touch stimulation. This firm pressure relaxes the nervous system and “triggers a chain reaction in the body that releases an overall sense of calm and peace.” They consist of plastic pellets or ball bearings that make the blankets heavy with an average weight of around 7kg.

The good things that come out of using this blanket include reduced pain, better sleep, improved focus, and lower anxiety levels.

When used at night, a therapeutic weighted blanket creates a wonderful sense of comfort and well-being. This allows the user to unwind and relax faster and easier than they normally would, perfect for those who suffer from insomnia.

The benefits includes the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone which regulates your natural sleep cycle.

I am sure you will have heard of oxytocin, which is a neurotransmitter sometimes referred to as the “happiness hormone.” There are different ways to boost the body’s production of oxytocin but, Sense Calm writes that Dr. Timothy J. Legg at Medical News Today writes, “When people hug, the body releases the hormone oxytocin… The weighted blanket essentially imitates the warmth and security that a hug provides. Both the blanket and hug use a gentle, firm pressure that goes deep within the body giving a sense of repose that allows the body to relax.” 

 Fatigue is one of the most commonest and debilitating symptoms of Fibromyalgia, which often goes hand-in-hand with sleepless nights. Weighted Blankets can help you have restorative sleep and have a better night of quality sleep.

The Independent writes “Sensory weighted blankets and clothing are nothing new; therapists have used them for more than a decade to help people with autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But the blankets only really hit the mainstream consumer market recently, when people started sharing how comforting they found them.”

The Sleep Advisors website lists this years 10 best weighted blankets reviewed and compared.

Deep sleep is well known for our bodies to heal, restore, and reduce pain sensitivity. There are so many reasons to get enough sleep.

Healthline lists a number of 10 reasons you need to have a good sleep pattern –

  1. Losing sleep can impair your body’s ability to fight off illness.
  2. Your chances of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke are greatly increased with less sleep.
  3. Your cancer risk increases.
  4. You can’t think properly.
  5. You forget stuff.
  6. Your libido diminishes
  7. You gain weight
  8. Your risk of diabetes increases
  9. You’re accident prone.
  10. Your skin suffers.

Source: Applied Behaviour Analysis, Sensa Calm, Physcology Today Medical News Today, The Independent, The Sleep Advisors, Healthline