I found that there were two mindsets that were critical for all of this working: believing that it will work and accepting wherever I currently am. For me, the first was easy, while the second has proven to be ridiculously difficult. But both require knowledge. So let’s start there.
Knowledge and belief
First, knowledge for belief. It sounds like a paradoxical phrase, but consider for a moment that your nervous system is not rational. At least not in the classical sense. Somewhere, deep inside you, is the belief that you are in danger, and whatever actions the nervous system is taking is an attempt to keep you safe.
In my case, my nervous system went into a chronic freeze state which meant it was going to try to keep me from doing as much as possible. When I resisted, it would throw more reasons (illnesses) at me to shut me down and get me out
of harm’s way. Or, it went into a freeze state and lots of my systems stopped functioning properly because that’s just what happens biologically.
In either case, my body stopped functioning properly, and I couldn’t function in society or at work. I needed to understand that was happening in order to “believe” there might be anything that could help fix the problem.
Understanding some very basics about biology and how my nervous system works was a third of the knowledge I needed to believe I could get better.
Another third was “knowing” that other people with similar illnesses had recovered by doing similar work—not that they were feeling 80% better, but that they had 100% recovered, and maybe were even better than they’d been before. I binged Nicole Sachs’s podcasts because hearing other people’s success stories provided the real-life stories I needed to “believe” it could work for me too. (Listening to them also gave me lots of ideas for things I needed to journal about, which was tremendously helpful as well.)
The final third was doing the work myself and very quickly seeing improvement. It was easy for me to commit to a 28 day challenge because I was desperate, and I had nothing else to do with my time but lie in bed anyway.
I started regaining energy almost immediately. It was still a slow, incremental increase, but it was clearly an improvement that was the result of the JournalSpeak. And my food intolerances went away in two weeks. The “knowledge” that I was improving helped me “believe” that I would continue to get better.
But ultimately, it was the belief that I could get better that enabled me to convince my nervous system to calm down.
The belief is a component of the brain retraining process . We need to retrain our nervous systems to be in a calm state and not in a panicked, fearful state. But what do we do when, as we’re recovering, the nervous system doubles down on its fearful state and triggers a flare of some symptom?
The belief that I was fine and safe at that point never helped me. That is, if I was in the middle of a flare, I couldn’t convince my nervous system that everything was rainbows and butterflies. My nervous system was convinced there was something to be fearful of. At that point, resisting the symptom simply proved to my nervous system that there was a reason to be fearful–and suggesting to my nervous system that it was wrong was an act of resistance, which only exacerbated the situation.
Instead, to prove to my body that I was safe and that the fear response wasn’t necessary, I had to accept everything exactly as it was. I had to say, “I have this pain. I’m stuck in bed. That’s okay. It’s okay to have this pain.” OR “I have this pain. That’s okay. I’m going to keep doing stuff anyway because I know I’m fine, even though I have the pain.”
The first statement helped me start to calm my nervous system, and teh second statement only worked once my nervous system had already calmed down quite a bit from doing all of the other work.
That said, I’m terrible at acceptance. Well, I’m better now, but I’m still not good and I’ve been doing this for a little over a year now. Usually, I spend a really long time trying to convince my nervous system that there’s nothing to be scared of before I remember that I need to just accept whatever my nervous system is throwing at me, and I need to be okay with it.
However, when I can successfully accept a situation for what it is, my nervous system would calm down and I usually recovered faster—not right away, but faster.
Now, when a symptom arises, instead of trying to make it go away or pretend it isn’t there, I put all of my awareness into the pain and really feel the pain. I accept the pain (or the nausea or the fatigue or whatever else), and I try to fully experience it—where it is, how it moves around, what messages it might be trying to tell me, etc.
Sometimes, what I get is nothing more than a terrified, internal voice screaming “I’m scared! I’m scared! I’m scared!” over and over again. In the midst of a flare, I often let the voice have it’s say and I try to feel the fear. What does the fear feel like in my body? How many muscles around my body have tensed up as a result? I let them stay tense until they’re ready to relax. I just accept everything happening within me as it is, and I don’t try to change anything. It’s so hard! But when I’d done it successfully, the next flare often wasn’t as bad or as long.
Some of this also comes back to knowledge. It’s hard to accept something if you don’t know what you’re accepting. For example, with my migraines, I could tell they were connected to a deep, intense fear, but it took nearly a year for me to discover that it was an intense fear of intense emotions that triggered the migraines. Only when I had that “knowledge” could I then accept the fear and start to address it. And my “belief” that the migraines could go away was what allowed me to keep working on figuring out what triggered them, rather than giving up and forever being floored by them.
There’s nothing to “fix”
Another component is that I had to accept that symptoms, feelings, emotions and discomfort are okay to experience. I didn’t need to “fix myself” so that I didn’t have negative emotions, which was previously what I’d believed.
Instead, I needed both the knowledge and belief that emotions are good and healthy in order to finally accept them when they arose, rather than instinctively repressing them.
Given that so much of my fear and anxiety stemmed from my belief that emotions were bad, I needed the knowledge that they’re good to reverse my beliefs, and accept my natural, emotional self. I also had to accept that my fear and the symptoms it triggered were okay, in order for me to feel safe enough that they went away. It was a vicious cycle and acceptance was a necessary key to breaking the cycle.