How overexertion and depleted energy levels can cause havoc…
Prior to getting in touch with The Helpful Clinic, Helen had been diagnosed with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue syndrome). She had been struggling with recurring infections (kidney, urinary tract and cold/flu) for around five years. As a result, Helen had been absent from her job as a social worker in a large UK city for extended periods and was off-work when we first met.
In her 20s, whilst studying at university, Helen had developed glandular fever and was subsequently diagnosed with the Epstein–Barr virus. It took her around nine months to recover and be able to resume her studies.
Despite the fact Helen managed to overcome her glandular fever, she remained vulnerable to the infections, causing her numerous problems in later years.
Furthermore, in addition to the kidney infections, UTI and flu-like symptoms Helen had been experiencing, she also presented with Irritable Bowel Syndrome-like symptoms too.
Helen’s symptoms impacted her entire family
But Helen wasn’t the only one in her family impacted by the symptoms she was experiencing. Helen’s husband and children had been forced to give up their valuable family time with her because her condition meant that she had zero energy left at the end of each day and would simply collapse in bed early evening.
To catch up on the vital rest her body so badly needed, Helen would sleep all day on Saturdays. This left Sundays for blitzing everything that needed doing around the house. But this one-time, big-time approach to household chores saw Helen undo all of the good she’d done resting the previous day. It was a vicious cycle…
It was at this point that her journey to recovery with The Helpful Clinic began.
Place the oxygen mask on yourself first…
As with every individual we see here at The Helpful Clinic, Helen’s health support focussed on her symptoms.
Now, if you’ve read some of our previous posts, or worked with us personally, you’ll know that we use the term ‘Sherlock Symptoms’ to describe the symptoms our patients are experiencing. That’s because we encourage our patients to search for clues that might unveil why they are feeling the way they are. In other words, has something happened to trigger these symptoms and is there anything that makes them better/worse?
One of the first aspects of Helen’s situation we aimed our attention at was her activity levels. It was obvious that she was overexerting herself and the knock-on effect was that her energy stores were constantly depleted. Helen struggled with prioritising what she needed and would overspend her precious little energy on others or on her never-ending to-do list. There was nothing left for her to function on, let alone create the essential conditions for the body to be able to heal.
It wasn’t until we talked about how onboard an airplane the strict instruction is to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others (including your child) that the penny dropped and Helen understood just how vital it was that she put herself first.
We set about putting some practical strategies in place to help Helen give her energy stores a chance to replenish. Things like getting some extra help with the kids and having her husband help out more with household chores.
No more boom and bust
Getting help created the ‘breathing space’ Helen so desperately needed to stabilise her activity levels and with that her energy levels. Understanding how energy works in the body both in the short and in the long term helped not just Helen but her whole family to understand what she needed. With the support of family and friends the household load lightened and the decks cleared, Helen managed to steer away from the boom and bust lifestyle she’d been living.
By looking at a bigger timeframe, not just week by week, but more longer-term, we were able to demonstrate to Helen the benefits of ‘Banking the better’ and not spending it right away. That is to say, whenever she felt as though her energy stores had some juice in them, rather than depleting it right away on activities, Helen would instead save it for another time.
Such an approach not only helps improve sleep and energy, but also digestion (something that was important given Helen’s IBS diagnosis).
While we were focussing on Helen’s activity levels, we also referred her to a functional medicine practitioner with suspected mitochondrial and adrenal issues. Tests showed that her adrenals and mitochondria were indeed in a dysfunctional state. It’s one of the reasons why Helen always felt as though she didn’t have enough energy to function properly.
But any work with mitochondrial and adrenal dysfunction often takes at least 18-24 months before it starts showing results. Therefore, an appropriate timeframe was implemented and we started looking at the longer-term benefits of not expending everything and just focus on surviving the next few days (the benefits that would be afforded in months and years, not weeks).
With the right scaffolding in place (help with the kids, household chores, etc.) and guidelines provided on how to live through the week, Helen was able to stabilise her energy.
After three months of working with The Helpful Clinic, Helen was able to begin a phased return to work – a process that would ultimately take six months and resulted in her working 9-3, four days a week.
For Helen, the linchpin was activity management. Once she realised how energy works in the body and how to best use it, she found that she could cope with much more than she had been able to for a long time.
You see, energy levels are very similar to your bank balance. Running on credit cards and in your overdraft is not helpful because it requires determined focus to get back in the black and comes with high interest in terms of energy costs. A more helpful approach is to learn to live within your means, remain in the black and have reserves for emergencies.
Banking the better
That’s why we say you should Bank the Better i.e. store energy when you are feeling better and not totally expend it right away.
But even after Helen had returned to work, her kidney infections were still an issue. They would take her out of action for a week or two weeks at a time, which obviously wasn’t ideal given the nature of her job.
We looked at Helen’s kidney infections from a nutritional perspective and a systemic perspective, but weren’t able to pinpoint the root cause.
That’s when we decided to drill down and investigate further the behaviours that might be causing them. We discovered, through conversations with Helen, that she rarely went to the toilet or drank water while she was at work. It was a light bulb moment.
We soon found that the reason why Helen didn’t go to the toilet whenever she needed was because she thought it would take her away from her work too often throughout the day. Helen’s conscientiousness to her important work with children in high-risk situations saw her urgency constantly focussed on her job and not on her body’s natural needs.
We decided to conduct an experiment to highlight to Helen just how little an impact toilet breaks would have on her job. We timed how long it took for her to get up from her desk, go to the toilet, wash her hands and return. The result was less than 3 minutes, so even if she did this three or four times a day, she would still only ‘lose’ less than 20 minutes.
What really hit the situation home was how much time Helen was losing with the kids who depended on her by being off sick for days at a time with a kidney infection compared to the small amount of time it took to look after her body first and then the children.
Helen’s life has been turned around
After two years, Helen’s mitochondria and adrenals were back in normal range and she hadn’t experienced any kidney infections for six months. She did, however, still experience cold-like symptoms when she was stressed and her energy levels were depleted. It was time to evaluate the situation and drill down into what beliefs and pressures meant that she was still overspending on her energy. This is a common issue in the final stage of recovery when people are integrating fully back into work and social life and other people’s expectations and demands are made based on no longer being ill.
Three years after we had started working with Helen, we had a follow-up consultation with her. We discovered that she had only experienced one cold in the whole previous year and that was a cold that impacted everyone in her household.
Fast forward two more years and Helen was doing fantastic. She was still working four days a week, but that was an active choice that afforded her a much better work-life balance. In fact, she was actually able to actively socialise with friends and family rather than just get by.
By focussing on her symptoms, implementing Helpful activity management strategies, get appropriate nutritional support and work with Helen’s beliefs and behavioural habits, we were able to not only support Helen to get back on track, but also help her take back control of her life. The simple experiment that highlighted how little time toilet breaks actually consume, was Helen’s big light bulb moment and a critical insight in understanding the recurrence of the kidney infections and how to avoid them.
The Helpful Clinic’s 3D approach to health and recovery and exploration of her Sherlock Symptoms helped Helen realise that her deteriorating health wasn’t a mystery and everything she was experiencing actually made perfect sense.
Does Helen’s situation sound familiar? Maybe you are experiencing something similar right now. The Helpful Clinic could also help you with your symptoms and situation.