Monday, November 24, 2008

A Novel Therapy - Self-talk for CFS-Lyme

Over the past few years there has been some interest among members of the CFS community in a number of cognitive therapies for CFS that claim to produce dramatic improvements by resolving a chronic fight-flight response in people with CFS. I have studied two of these therapies, and concluded that there is some validity in their approaches. Not wanting or being able to afford these therapies, I have invented a simplified 'self-talk' therapy that I believe addresses the same core issues as the other cognitive therapies. And it seems to make a significant difference for me. Not a cure, but very, very helpful, my activity level is better than before, and some of my food allergies are reduced. So something has been helped. Here is some background, and an explanation of using self-talk for CFS and/or Chronic Lyme.

There are several cognitive programs that have helped people with CFS, such as Reverse Therapy and Mikel Therapy. But two are focused on stopping the chronic low-level fight-flight response that seems to be part of CFS, and this is consistent with my own discoveries so I will mention them. In particular, the Lightning Process by Phil Parker, and an Amygdala Retraining program by Ashok Gupta, both in the UK, have produced some amazing results, per testimonials. Gupta has also produced a peer-reviewed journal article (published in Medical Hypothesis) and a formal clinical study (currently in review) that shows an amazing 67% full recovery rate over a year's time. Both programs identify a brain dysfunction as the core issue in CFS, in particular a dysfunction involving the amygdala and hypothalamus. They claim this dysfunction can be accommodated and new brain pathways can be created that circumvent the amygdala-adrenal 'looping' problem that may be causing CFS in a major subset of people with the illness.

After following several online discussions, and corresponding with people who have tried both programs, I became convinced that these types of cognitive approaches were being oversold but lead to improvements for many people with CFS, and near remission for a few. Therefore, this seemed worth further exploration. So over the past year I have learned what I could and tried some of the ideas from both programs. I definitely experienced some improvement, and at times dramatic temporary improvements from trying what I knew of both programs. My daughter who has CFS also experimented with the ideas from these programs, and they helped her to some extent as well.

So, could CFS be caused by a type of looping error in the brain? Many of the ideas in these two programs are consistent with my own theory of neurotoxins creating an anxiety-type disorder in the brain, leading to CFS and Lyme symptoms. So I searched for a way to address a 'looping' problem that I believe is caused by neurotoxins, but I did not want to spend the money, or travel to London, to use these treatments. What I have discovered is a very simple method of stopping the adrenal-amygdala looping using 'self-talk.' While this does not seem to produce an effect as powerful as the claims made by Parker and Gupta, and has not been a 'cure' for my CFS or Lyme, it really has significantly helped me. I have shared this with 15 other people with CFS and/or Lyme, and some have been helped, so I would like to share a little of what I am learning. I am also writing an ebook describing the use of self-talk to stop destructive adrenal-amygdala looping and hope to post that to my blog eventually. But for now, here is a brief summary of using self-talk for CFS and Lyme ...

The theory behind the use of self-talk for CFS is that neurotoxins are affecting the parts of the brain that regulate the fight-flight response. This is where I differ from Parker and Gupta, they both identify the pathological brain looping as a learned pattern. While they acknowledge the effect of illness on the problem, they seem to believe that it is the stress of illness or other stress-related factors that produce the brain looping. My view, based on studying CFS and Lyme, is that the illness produces neurotoxins that then combine with a susceptible brain type and create brain looping.

I believe Parker and Gupta have produced useful treatments that can re-train the brain's chronic fight-flight response, but they apparently have not identified the role of neurotoxins in the original looping problem. The self-talk process I am using now shares some elements of the Parker and Gupta approaches, but addresses the role of the neurotoxins more directly.

First some quick background. As I have identified earlier in this blog, CFS and Lyme share many symptoms and biological patterns with Anxiety disorders, particularly the fight-flight response. Chronic anxiety disorders also produce nearly the same biological signature in a person as CFS. This includes glutathione depletion, depletion of B vitamins, digestive problems, low blood flow to the brain, kidneys and other organs, brain fog, adrenal depletion, chronic exhaustion, and so on. I do not believe this is a coincidence, rather it suggests that these illnesses all involve a common mechanism, a chronic activation of the fight-flight response.

The idea that CFS involves chronic fight-flight activation is the basis of the adrenal-amygdala looping problem addressed by Parker and Gupta in their respective therapies. If we add the idea that neurotoxins are the basis of the chronic fight-flight activation, we have a more probable explanation of why the Parker and Gupta approaches work than they have provided. I can not really explain this thoroughly in a blog post, but will put that in my ebook. In essence, neurotoxins are toxins that alter nerve function. When they are present, the nerves will mis-fire, and if this is a chronic situation, there will be chronic problems. If neurotoxins are causing a chronic up-regulation of the amygdala, a continual low-level fight-flight response could result. This might be at least partly treated by learning cognitive processes that calm the amygdala continually. That is in fact what I believe happens with the Parker and Gupta approaches, that they are unknowingly addressing a neurotoxin problem.

So why use self-talk instead of their approaches? I believe that the simplest solution is often the best one. If CFS (and Chronic Lyme) involves a chronic activation of the amygdala by neurotoxins, and if this can be at least partly treated by re-training the brain's response to the neurotoxin, then a simple treatment that directly targets the problem may be adequate. I won't go into details of Parker's or Gupta's approaches, they are probably quite effective at the retraining of the amygdala, but they are not directly targeted at continual neurotoxin activation of the fight-flight response. If we need to treat the brain's response to chronic low-level neurotoxins, then I think it best to address that issue directly. Self-talk is an elegant and very simple approach to doing that.

And what is self-talk? How does this work? Self-talk is a form of intrapersonal communication, meaning a person is both the sender and receiver of a message. In essence, a person tries to alter or create new subconscious memory. Self-hypnosis, NLP and meditation are common methods of intra-personal communication. Self-talk is a simplified form of intrapersonal communication using a repeated conscious message. By thinking a repeated message in words a person is able to focus the brain on a specific meaning. Elements of the subconscous mind are always alert, so as that message plays across the conscious mind the subconscious elements of the brain become aware of the intended meaning. With repetition the subconscious memory accepts the message as real and important, and adjusts its responses accordingly.

The subconscious mind does not have the ability to reason or directly process conscious information, it uses a slower form of memory that recognizes subtle patterns in the environment, the internal body chemistry, or our thoughts, and triggers a semi-automatic response. Thus the primary challenge in altering subconscious responses is to create new subconscious memories. Repeating a self-talk message consistently either when symptoms appear or at certain times of the day will lead to gradual alteration in the subconscious memory. Then as the amygdala accesses the subconscious memory to recognize patterns, new patterns will be available and amygdala responses can be changed. Self-talk can be a very effective method for creating these new subconscious memory patterns, and thus altering amygdala responses. This apparently includes altering the amygdala's response to neurotoxins.

For self-talk messages to help treat CFS or Lyme symptoms, they must change the subconscious response to neurotoxins. This subconscious response is based on the brain's conscious response to neurotoxins over a long period of time. Given enough time, neurotoxins will have caused the amygdala to create a large number of danger messages in the brain. These danger messages will have become attached to many aspects of life, daily routines, career, relationships, and even hopes and dreams. Therefore to counter this continual pattern of danger messages, a person must insert new messages into the amygdala, messages that will directly oppose the many existing danger messages caused by the presence of neurotoxins. The new messages must cause the amygdala to believe that something has changed, that the person is no longer in danger, that they are safe. This shift must be strong and constant, so a person must persist with the new messages long enough to re-condition the amygdala to continually believe that even in the presence of neurotoxins, it is safe in every way.

The only type of thoughts that will directly counter a neurotoxin-based danger message in the amygdala are clear opposing thoughts. To be precise, only a strong message that communicates the specific thought 'I am safe' or 'I am alright' can defeat the danger message. This simple message of safety must be adapted to daily triggering circumstances and adapted to one's symptoms, then repeated many times each time a circumstance or symptom occurs. An entire self-talk approach can be constructed to help a person compensate for the effect of neurotoxins on the amygdala across all elements of daily living and in all thought processes. This personalized self-talk approach must be repeated often enough that the subconscious mind believes that the person is in fact safe, and that even if neurotoxins are present, they pose no real danger.

These are simple ideas, the amygdala is a simple organ, when the subconscious mind sees a pattern that matches a danger signal, it reacts by triggering the amygdala. So the subconscious mind must see patterns of safety to stop the amygdala from reacting, and that is what self-talk can provide, a compensation for neurotoxin-induced messages that provoke the amygdala.

I have developed a somewhat formal approach for identifying the most appropriate self-talk messages for CFS and Chronic Lyme. The messages must be tailored to the individual, each brain creates a different set of danger messages, and they must be identified and properly countered. In many cases I believe the brain actually is in a chronic superstitious (or self-delusional) state due to the presence of the neurotoxins. So you must find ways to ground yourself and break through the false danger signal patterns that have been constructed by the brain over the years, in order to stop the perpetual fight-flight reaction. This is not a simple task, but when it works, it really helps.

More to come, hopefully I will have the ebook written soon.

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