The 5 dreaded words: "It's. All. In. Your. Mind."

 What a silent illness can look like: no energy to even get up off the sofa to get a glass of water even though I was really thirsty

What a silent illness can look like: no energy to even get up off the sofa to get a glass of water even though I was really thirsty

Over the years I’ve spoken to a number of people who suffer from mysterious, chronic illnesses or know someone who does. Illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, extreme food sensitivities, multiple chemical sensitivity and fibromyalgia. 

And one of the subjects which inevitably comes up is how difficult it is to cope, especially when sufferers are told those five dreaded words: "It's. All. In. Your. Mind." 

When test after test failed to explain my ailing health, those five words kept going round and round in my head. I became convinced that my symptoms were in fact All. In. My. Mind. And in the darkest moments, that made coping even harder.

But over time I’ve been lucky to have learned how flawed this concept is in relation to mysterious, chronic illnesses similar to the ones I suffered from. And I hope this blog post might help you to see that too.

 The allergist believed me and told me I'd get better. And I did :)

The allergist believed me and told me I'd get better. And I did :)

Finally being diagnosed
So as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll always be grateful to the allergist who diagnosed my illness and who set me on the long (yet bumpy) road to recovery.

I can still remember sitting in Dr Michael Radcliffe’s office in London in September 2015 and explaining my strange symptoms to him. 

After listening patiently (it’s a long story – you can see for yourself here) – he looked at me and said four things which made me feel so much better:

  1. “I believe you.”
  2. “I’ve had other patients who described very similar symptoms.”
  3. “Science is far behind in the understanding of such conditions.”
  4. “You will get better.”

The day I was told "It's. All. In. Your. Mind."
Being so fully understood was overwhelming to say the least. Especially as it contrasted so sharply with the most negative experience I’ve ever had in my life with a doctor.

Although six years earlier, I can also still remember sitting in this doctor’s office and explaining my strange symptoms to him.

After listening (not so patiently), he shrugged his shoulders and told me four things that made me question many aspects of my life, including my relationship with Dermot and my overall sanity:

  1. “Your symptoms are very strange.” 
  2. "We can run some blood tests but I highly doubt we’ll find anything.”
  3. “From what you’re saying, it sounds like this is All. In. Your. Mind.”
  4. “This might be happening because you're unhappy at work or in a relationship.”

Moving on from those 5 dreaded words
To say I was upset is an understatement but I was lucky to have overwhelming support from Dermot, my family and friends. My sister Christa, an anaesthetist, was excellent at picking up the pieces and explained the following:

  1. Doctors do of course see patients whose symptoms are due to a psychiatric illness. With some mysterious chronic illnesses having symptoms that overlap with psychiatric conditions, it can be a tough call to make.
  2. There are many things which are still unanswered by science. Therefore no one has all the answers. (Still over the years I've been to many doctors and several have admitted that they could not understand what was happening in my situation. How much easier they made things than the doctor who instantly said those 5 words.)

Starting to understand that the distinction between physical and psychological symptoms needs to be rejected
Eventually, Dr Radcliffe patiently explained the following when he saw how upset I was at the mention that there could be a psychological aspect to my illness:

  1. Although we all tend to define symptoms as either physical or psychological, it is totally inconsistent with modern scientific thinking.
  2. On the other hand, modern scientific thinking studies the interaction between psychological and physical processes of the human body.
  3. In fact, there is no disease process in which the role of the brain can be disregarded and no organ system (the brain included) that malfunctions in isolation – all are interdependent on one another.
  4. It is therefore important to consider the interplay of physical and psychological mechanisms.

How this understanding started to prepare me to accept the notion of neural retraining
Although I was still sceptical before starting the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS), Dr Radcliffe’s explanations made it much easier for me to start to accept its rationale. (Click here for more information about my experience with the programme and the full list of chronic health conditions which can be treated by DNRS.)

The basic rationale for DNRS is that the ailments it treats are caused by the malfunctioning of a complex set of structures in the brain. The programme promises to give you the opportunity to retrain your brain, improve your health and get your life back. Despite my initial scepticism, as I explained in my blog post Housebound to Italy-bound in 5 months, it has definitely given me my life back completely.

My hope for anyone suffering from similar illnesses
I know it’s not easy to be told that something which causes you so much suffering is All. In. Your. Mind. And I know that’s not true. The symptoms are very physical, very real and definitely far beyond your control. So I also know it’s not easy to accept that your illness could be overcome through treatment which focuses so much on the brain.

But my hope is that you read my story and realise that this programme can give you your life back the way it gave me my life back. I never thought I would be living a normal life again with the same hopes and dreams I had before this illness started. 

But I am. And you can too.