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Trauma, EMDR helped remove a lot of pain from my body

I've been suffering for over a decade now with chronic fatigue and with that came a lot of pain in my body. I'd have either constant discomfort or an unrelaxed feeling in the kidneys/adrenals, which I've experienced throughout all my adult life. It got much worse if I started doing something to improve my health like a better diet. The pain felt like a physical manifestation of "adrenal fatigue", I could always feel them. I would numb myself with food to reduce the discomfort. I also couldn't have any stimulants. I once got into a seaweed salt bath and couldn't sleep properly for 6 weeks.

I was extremely confused, no one else on the internet seemed to have this particular problem of kidney pain and hyper sensitivity to stimulants, so I wasn't sure what it could be.

After 10 years of trying lots of supplements, diets and ignoring the mental side, I started looking for therapists. I tried CBT, which was a waste of time, then I came across a video of someone who'd claimed to have cured her chronic fatigue. She mentioned reverse therapy, so spoke to a few practitioners and they suggested that I focus on trauma instead of reverse therapy.

Here's the interesting bit, after telling the therapist about the pain in my kidneys she asked, "have you ever been hit in your kidneys?" ... Well, in fact I had! It was my most traumatic memory from my childhood where I was beaten at full force, by an adult, around my kidneys for what felt like an eternity. I'd been carrying around that pain for 30 years.

After a lot of sessions, re-experiencing traumas, being in bed for lots of days the pain subsided in my kidneys for the first time in many years. It was extraordinary and I could have stimulants again without bizarre reactions (although I avoid them for obvious reasons).

Once that quietened down other areas of my body got louder. I noticed intense, constant, discomfort around my heart and intestines area. Through many more sessions and processing other traumas (some of the traumas could be more accurately defined as unprocessed negative emotions rather than the usual meaning of the word) the full-time pain gradually disappeared from my body in those areas, leaving only a little left now as I come to the end of the EMDR journey - I suspect in the next month or two.

However, EMDR hasn't been a linear journey of getting better. I made a lot of progress initially and stalled for a long time and changed therapists. The person who beat me was still in my life and when I saw them again, I almost had a panic attack and it set me back months. It took me a while to realise it was my current feelings towards them were causing problem rather than past traumas and that I still had parts of me that felt like that same vulnerable child around them.

All in all, it has made me understand that emotions have a strong effect on the physical and these areas of the body now function better without the constant tension and stress happening 24/7.

Am I recovered? I feel I'm close, but I'm sure if you're like me you've had many false leads. You will be the first to know if that ever happens. I'm struggling a lot with much post exertional malaise as I try to up my activity levels, I'll know if I ever overcome that, then I'll be done. But what I can tell you is I feel a lot better about myself, more confident, my personality has changed and the pain has gone. With the session I had last time, I unlocked a secret to my lifelong depression.

If you are interested in finding out more, I'd recommend a book called: The Body Keeps Score . It's big book, but you can skip all the chapters and go straight to the ones that focus on trauma/emotional recovery (which cover EMDR, other therapies, Yoga, etc). If I didn't have that book, EMDR alone wouldn't have made things better, as the chapter on Integrated Family Systems (IFS) therapy was pivotal for helping me get past my mental blocks in the EMDR sessions.
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Moderator Resource
Southern California
Hi @AdamSee - I highly recommend EMDR for trauma of any kind. I found it after 20 years of regular talk therapy for childhood trauma just kept me afloat, but not much else - no swimming so to speak. And EMDR started to give me my life back - I wish I had known about it when I was 20!

Unfortunately, it hasn't done anything for my ME/CFS. By the time I discovered EMDR, my body was already on a long downward slide. So though mentally and emotionally I felt much better after doing work with EMDR, it couldn't stop the progression - for me - of ME/CFS. I think that severe chronic lifelong stress coupled with the necessary opportune viruses are what propelled me into ME/CFS. I think the stress damaged my immune system and viruses did the rest (though I don't know for sure of course)

I'm really glad EMDR has helped you so much though. I think every therapist should be trained in this technique. It can help with minor stuff too - it doesn't have to be horrible trauma, I think just anywhere someone is stuck, EMDR can help get them unstuck.

And, one of the best things about EMDR is that it produces lasting change. and relatively quickly, compared to regular talk therapy alone. With regular talk therapy, I kept talking about the same things (off and on) for 20 years! Nothing ever really got resolved. But issues got resolved for me with EMDR, and much more quickly. I've recommended it to several people and other family members, and they've universally all been happily surprised with the results.

emdr.com has a lot of info and also has a link where you can find clinicians trained in this technique. I've also read several books - it's fascinating stuff! and it has been used by the VA with veterans and with hurricane victims, rape survivors, incest survivors, everything.

And the book you linked, The Body Keeps Score, definitely looks worth a read - thanks for posting :nerd:
I'm really saddened to hear that it didn't work for you Mary. It's not nice to continue on a downward spiral in-spite of the obvious effort and learning you've done. It is really interesting to hear you suffered from childhood trauma, too. I wonder if there are many more of us who have CFS whom have also experienced trauma?

Whilst EMDR has improved my life a lot already, the jury is still out on whether this is going to be a long term fix and I promise I will come back in few months and be truthful. Let's be fair, nearly everything else I've tried has not been successful. But I have to hope, there's really not much left for me to try - I have to believe there is a way to cure it for good. Because the alternative is so much worse.

My analogy for the CFS I have is: A car with a leaky fuel tank. No matter how much fuel is put in, it will soon run out of gas.

My approach had always been to try and increase the energy going into my system. With good food, supplements and gentle exercise. But using the analogy of the car, no matter how much fuel is put into the car, if you've got a big leak you're not going to get very far on your journey. So what was causing my leak?

A clue came from looking at my past temporary successes. Whenever I tried something new to help with CFS, it worked for a couple of weeks and then stopped.

Pretty much anything would work, whether it be a crazy diet, fasting, pills, whatever. I would get better for a while. Then I would relapse. It even got to a point that I knew something would work for a while, but in two weeks I'd be back to normal. However, once I spotted this pattern, then everything stopped working! I couldn't figure it, it didn't make sense. It just added to the overwhelming complexity of CFS rather than reducing it. The more I learnt, the less I understood.

I eventually came to realise that it wasn't the pills or the diet that was doing it, it was me feeling powerful: I was taking control. It was the opposite to the absolute worst feeling in the world for me; being powerless. Which came from being unable to stop the trauma taking place in the first place. That's why once I'd spotted the pattern, every new attempt to improve my CFS symptoms didn't work because I knew from the start it was unlikely to work - making me feel powerless.

It was the placebo effect! But a placebo effect I finally understood. Feeling powerless was the biggest hole in my fuel tank. Feeling powerful stopped the leak.

The problem was feeling powerful all the time can't continue. After a couple of weeks of being in control my brain would say "Ok, got this, I've made this a habit now. I'll do the rest for you" and the feelings of power would disappear because I'd start to focus on other things and then I'd relapse, back to square one. Even knowing this, I couldn't magically conjure up feelings of being powerful, but I'm hoping after the therapy has been completed I won't need to. I will have closed enough leaks to carry on the gradual increase of my energy reserves. If I overcome post exertional malaise, then only then will I know for sure.
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As promised a few months have passed and I've finished with EMDR. It helped me remove my trauma from kidneys and other areas but it wasn't really appropriate for dealing with every issue - as coming to terms with not a great childhood takes a lot of rebuilding.

I started working with a former buddhist monk who does IFS (integrated family systems). We've spent the last few months going into painful areas of my body and removing that pain. It's been fascinating seeing parts of my psyche express emotions that I didn't know I felt: guilt, betrayal and strong religious belief (I've been agnostic for a long while, but the patterns of religion are still there).

The process has been very positive - I'm no longer in fight or flight all the time and my depression is fading away. As far as I can tell I still have PEM, but I have hope that it is going to diminish soon because I'm getting a desire to want to exercise, which I haven't felt for a very long time.

I'll update again in a few more months.
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No more PEM! I've started exercising - The image above is the last few weeks of doing 5 Km runs. The first run was a fairly casual 7:10/Km pace to today where I've reached 5:26 Km.

It tooks me months more after writing the previous post, but I finally felt ready last month. I felt I'd reached a point where I'd be OK.

I've found out what I think is my cause of my CFS. But it's almost worthless to know because it's the process that I've been through rather than the individual cause. Without the process, there's no way I'd be able to point at one of the major factors.

So I'm going to tell you, it's probably going to sound uninteresting and facile. Because the complexity and discovery has been in the journey.

I've realised that therapy can be a mix of useless dead-ends and amazing progress. I've reached a point in my life where I know that no one can fix me, no one can lead me to a better life, I have to lead myself. To take counsel from others rather than be led. To listen to what people say, but also understand they are flawed and don't know everything. Mostly to grab the self-discovery process of therapy and take control of my mind rather than letting my mind or the therapist control me.

My past has not been good, I've had years of lack of support from my parents, I've had to swallow down a lot of pain and anger, to survive when I was a child in my parents' household. Through the process of therapy I've gone to hell and back to faced my fears, which has left me in bed for days on end. I've ended my relationship with my father for what he did to me and also what he never can give me even now - support.

I've had to rip away layer upon layer of my past and go deep into my psyche. To tear down a lot of what I thought was my identity. Then I had to start building up my own support, my own grounding, that I should have gotten from my parents. It's been horrible. But I'm finally starting to get there.

So what is on of the major causes of my CFS? Supressed subconcious anger directed at myself, or in general terms, supressed, energetic, emotions aimed at myself causing me to malfunction.

It had been completely undetectable at the start of my journey. There are many reasons for it, but two of the main reasons are: living in an unsupportive household and the fear of death if I expressed anger.

I was always afraid of my dad after the trauma he caused me and thought he'd kill me if I stepped out of line. This was at a deep level, I wasn't conciously aware that my dad would kill me. To add to that with lack of support and constant undermining, I didn't feel like I deserved anything. So I always blamed myself. With my dad making me supress my anger, or "swallowing the poison" and me not feeling worthwhile, it was the perfect recipe for me to blame myself for everything. Again, most of this was not concious. I couldn't have done 1 week of therapy to figure this out, it has taken a lot of time (2 years so far) of effort.

So how did I know I was able to start excercising again?

I wasn't sure, but I've become more in touch with the self-sabotaging part of me and I had built enough support to be able to deal with the things it was telling me. The first run I did, I listened to the things it said to me, how I was stupid for trying to run, how I'd regret this, how I don't deserve happiness, how I'm just dreaming that I'll ever get over this CFS and be able to exercise again. And I kept on listening and instead of resisting it, I kept saying "May be you're right, may be you're wrong, let's see". A year or so ago, this would have completely overwhelmed me, I didn't have enough support to let it out. I had to supress it.

On that run, I realised no one in my life has ever treated me as bad as I have treated myself.

So I'm letting that anger in, I'm letting it out and I'm learning to direct it away from myself.

Have I recovered yet?

I seem to have beaten PEM, but it will be a while before I can say I'm past it for good. When I can exercise 2-3 times a week more intensely, that will be the next stage. For now, I'm taking it steady.

From an emotional perspective, I'm getting to grips with my anger for the first time. It's going to take a while before I stop attacking myself. I'll be back to tell you how it goes and what other things I find out along the way.

Advice I'd give to anyone wanting to go on a similar journey

Ignore most of the specifics of what you've read. Seriously, my problems are unique to me. There's a whole lot of complicated subconcious problems I've had to unravel and I think anyone can cause themselves problems a multitude of ways (not just bad parents, or abuse) that can impact in different ways. e.g. huge amounts of shame, or guilt.

My advice would be to go deep inside yourself with support from someone else, connect with your body and be a leader. I think leadership is the only way to recover. Not following others, but taking counsel.

I'll be back with an update in a few more months but will answer any questions if there are any.

Good luck on your journey.
Hello AdamSee, your story is so inspiring! I recognize similarities with my own story. I have so many questions I'd like to ask you. First of all, how are you doing?

Anyway, I'm new to this forum, and I've suspected to suffer from CFS/EM for over a year now. I did all the bloodwork, an MRI of the brain and met dozens of doctors, but no physical anomalities. 20 years ago, I developed an urticaria, a rare form, cholinergic urticaria, and after years of research, I realised that it's origin was psychological. It also dissapeared after a big emotional choc. In the case of the onset of my CFS/EM, a lot of painful emotional happenings took place as well. That can't be a coincidence.
I'm about to continue with my 2nd EMDR session this week. I did several long term psychotherapies already, a cognitive group therapy, but none were very efficient. I had one session of EMDR already. The 2 following days were really bad, strong PEM. I suspect a lot of unresolved childhood traumas too. But have no memories really of a lot of things.

You mentioned that you started working with a former buddhist monk who does IFS (integrated family systems). I remember years ago I did several meditation retreats in buddhist temples, but whenever I "reached" a deeper meditational state, strong anxiety popped out of nowhere and made everything worse.
You also mentioned "The body keeps the score" book. I was reading that book 2 years ago, while trekking through the Dolomites. Little did I know that it would be the last real physical adventure I would have...

I'd like to ask you more questions if OK with you. My email is continicolas[at]yahoo.fr

Kind regards,

Hello @AdamSee and thank you for sharing your journey. I'm happy for you that you've overcome so much emotionally, and that this has helped physically too.
@niccon I've been in counselling on and off for years and never get anywhere. It's more like the sticking plaster than the permanent fix. My counsellor has suggested EMDR and I think I'll give it a go, although there's a waiting list of 400 days on the NHS. I think I may have PTSD but this isn't confirmed.
I have always been scared to dig the worst traumas out in case it makes having family relationships impossible. (The relationships are good now, as the most negative family member passed away and all the others have gradually turned into human beings since they could stop being afraid). Can I drag it up and fix me without dragging it all up for them too? They've gone through enough too.
Hello @Julie A. I've stopped EMDR, and regular therapy. Since my post of nov 2020, I've tried numerous things. What seems to have an impact is Low Dose Naltrexone (I'm at 3mg). And accepting the limitations of the disease. Psychological help, and my own mental digging for the why and how I got ill hasn't helped at all, on the contrary. I don't dig around in my psyche anymore and am much happier. I do take 20mg of Paroxetine (Seroxat) which definitely diminishes my sensitivity, and I'm so grateful for that. Permanent medication is no cure or fix, but I've accepted that's how it is, and that's fine. I'm doing much better anyhow.
This is my journey, if you get helped through EMDR, especially since you think you have PTSD, that will be great. In my case it didn't do much, but everyone is different. I know people who've been helped a lot. Often where a trauma is obvious or remembered. Kind regards.