“Self development is a higher duty than self sacrifice”, Elizabeth Stanton
As I read more and more about brain mapping and how to change the pain mappings in my brain I am reminded about how intensely I wrote in my book regarding the highly sensitive person (HSP, according to Elaine Aron). This is the ’empath’, the person who senses what other people are feeling and takes on the emotions of others as though they were her/his own( I don’t mean this in the usual sense of the ‘psychic’ person, or in any mystical way). I still stand by that description of the person with fibromyalgia. We are like a toxic sponge! Now, I believe that this type of person (mainly, but, of course not solely, women) has the personality characteristics of the self sacrificing, doing good for others (what Dr. James Rochelle calls ‘goodism’) and ‘giving yourself away’ (a term my physiotherapist coined). When I think of Florence Nightingale on this May day, her birthday month, suffering from fibromyalgia, I think of her as a primary example of self sacrificing.
When we aren’t getting our needs met, we are subject to repressed anger, among other negative emotions. Often the result is trying harder to please in an effort to be pleased ourselves. Why is it that Christian and other religious values of doing for others to the point of giving more to them than to oneself is exemplary? This cannot be the essence of good health for those with chronic/invisible dis-eases. If we don’t understand ourselves and all that we neglect of our own body/brain it stands to reason we (and others) will suffer in some way. So, what is the answer? Certainly not to become self absorbed or do nothing for others. But, how about if we look after ourselves first?
This ultra-sensitive person who is keenly attuned to the needs of others becomes almost immune to what she (he) desires for herself. Wanting to please others to the point of ‘goodism’ means that unpleasant and unsatisfying memories are stored in our brains. If we do not meet everyone’s needs we believe we are less than perfect. Fear, anger, anxiety and other negative responses are inhibitory and the brain is always on guard, ‘on duty’. We cannot meet what we perceive to be others unrealistic expectations of us. How can we ever be that perfect person and why are we so hard on ourselves? The unconscious part of our brains stores these unpleasant emotions, including other past traumas, physical and/or emotional, resulting in our fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. We overcrowd our brains with negative emotions. If we continue to treat the symptoms but not the root cause of these emotions, we are giving ourselves away even more. It is little wonder that after a surgery, emotional or physical abuse, an accident or prolonged trauma of some kind, that those with fibromyalgia tendencies will have reached the over- the- top point in our already overstimulated nervous system. Full blown fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue ensue.
We now understand and accept that the brain is changing all the time and that we can change those maps that are not helpful to us and develop alternate pathways. In other words, the brain is not hardwired, nor static. The new brain science is becoming increasingly spell binding! In my book I speak of psychoneurologists as the professionals who can assist us with this process, not the rheumatologists. In particular it must be noted that physicians know very little about fibromyalgia. We must be constantly aware of the neuroscientists whose work is changing the way we view the brain and hold out hope that their work will soon turn more specifically to those of us with this condition of epidemic proportions. Some of the practical work that has been successful in this regard is that done by those who write about trauma which can over arouse our nervous system. Especially helpful is the link I have provided : http://www.myshrink.com . Dr. Suzanne LaCombe writes about Self-Regulation Therapy (SRT (R) as a psychotherapy approach “that is based on this innate ability to regulate arousal”. While this and other books or sites I reference are not specifically about fibromyalgia, I have included them as fitting in with the points I am making about the hyperarousal of the nervous ssytem.
I have read today of a group of women who get together in Toronto as a reading group to discuss wellness, instead of sickness regarding FMS, CFS, and MCS (all of which I discuss jointly in my book). This ties in to the perspective of remapping the brain to focus on sensory input of a positive and innovative nature rather than triggering the emotions that have brought about flare-ups and the sickness model. That suggests that alternate pathways can be developed within the brain, bringing about neurorehabilitation. Perhaps this is why ‘talk therapy’ has not been helpful for people with fibromyalgia. Reliving past injuries of a physical or emotional nature only reactivates the nervous system. Instead, it is more important to recognize our reactions rather than the specific events related to the trauma. Dr.Peter Levine in his book Waking the Tiger Healing Trauma writes that we should become unattached to our symptoms to reduce the power they have over our minds. “We need to release them from our minds and hearts along with the energy that is locked in our nervous systems” (p.218).
I urge my readers to delve into the book by Norman Doidge The Brain that Changes Itself and to watch him in the CBC video of May 7, 2009, The Nature of Things, David Suzuki, in which the new advances in neuroscience point out how the brain is changing all the time and even more so when innovation is introduced. Groups getting together in a positive way is one very effective means of remapping unpleasant memories in the unconscious part of our brains, since the brain is now known to be plastic, not rigid! As Diane Jacobs has told me : “neuroplasticity is your friend”.
We don’t need to be ‘all-mothering’, self sacrificing and giving ourselves away to others without attending to ourselves. Tapering off is difficult to do and it takes a long time. This doesn’t mean we have to be totally self focussed and oblivious to the needs of others. Rather, we have to be more discriminatory. On this Mother’s Day week-end, I wish us all Happy Mother’s Day, those of us with, or without children of our own. May all of us with these invisible dis-eases learn that we cannot, nor should we mother the world. We have to mother (take care of )ourselves first. Being the perfect, all good woman exhausts and depletes both our body and brain.
I have just read a blog on www.myheartsisters.org in which Carolyn Thomas compares heart disease in women to fibromyalgia by a discussion of the similarities between both groups of women. Her site is a wonderful resource for all women with or without heart disease. Check out how ‘goodism’ plays into the scenerio!