I have been far too busy actually doing this stage in my healing to have time to tell you about it before now! I take that as a good sign :)
Reintegration? What the heck am I on about now? Let’s recap before I dive in, just so you can keep up. Do read the whole of my Healing Series (from the bottom up) if you haven’t already. And if you haven’t, why not?! My advice: do not leave this part of healing out if you want to get well.
In effect, we have been exploring a different way of healing; seeing if there is a way without diet and supplements for those of us super-sensitives who can’t tolerate that approach. So far, I have worked on two main steps – first, calming the amygdala and central nervous system down, turning the stuck ‘on’ switch off, if you like, and next using various neuroplasticity/brain-training/emotional release techniques to change the way the body sees threats. That’s it in a, er, nutshell. As I say, do read the series to follow what I have been doing. It’s a lot more complex than that, of course, but that is actually what we’ve been doing and discussing, put very simply.
So, this post is all about the third stage if you like: the reintegration stage. (Although, actually, I am coming to realise these are not stages as such, more areas to work on in an integrated fashion. You’ll see what I mean about this below.)
What I mean by reintegration is essentially starting to push boundaries a bit, getting a life back. Once we feel calmer and ready, we need to push ourselves out of the fear and illness that has defined us pretty much, probably for years, and start doing stuff to see how far we can move forwards. This is not a science really, but feels more like an art.
Some people describe it as ‘bouncing’ the boundaries and that is about right so far for me. The idea really is to start taking a few risks, not necessarily with food to start with, to ‘bounce’ yourself out of illness and back into life. To show your body it is safe out there, to convince your mind things are not as bad as they might seem. I think of it a bit like the pinprick peanut allergen dosing where the body is exposed to the allergen in tiny but frequent doses to show the body it is safe and give it chance to work out how to deal with it. This is the same but not necessarily with food.
I’m probably not explaining this well; it is difficult to explain. I’ll use my own case as usual to try and make some sense of it.
I got to the stage a couple of months ago now where I felt much, much less fearful, more calm and centred in myself. I was waking up feeling ‘normal’ and having well days with the odd bad one instead of the other way round. It took me a good while actually to realise this. I only really realised when I thought how bored I was! More and more, I was becoming aware of how very small and internalised my life had become. I felt I had become bigger than my life, if you know what I mean. I was ready somehow to move on but I wasn’t sure what that actually meant. I suppose I wasn’t spending every hour thinking about food and how I felt, planning for the illness and how to cope. Once you stop that, you realise how much time it takes!
Obviously, for many of us moving from illness and fear to wellness and health is all about getting foods back in. So, I started there. The reintroduction phase, if you like, in food terms. I tried a couple of previously problematic foods and came a cropper. Not as bad as before and more able to cope with symptoms, the disappointment and frustration, but still reactive. Sigh. Things had changed, but I clearly had a long way to go.
But I was still feeling much more well than I had been in a long time.
Almost without thinking about it, I started to expand into life a bit more, becoming less defined by the fear of reacting, of upsetting people, of being the awkward one. I was suddenly not so focused on feeling crap or worrying about feeling crap because most of the time I felt ‘normal’ and not ill. Very strange!
Actually, what was most surprising, (and I have heard many severely ill people say the same thing, and that it surprised them too), is that I stopped yearning to go back to my old life. Somehow, I had moved past it and become a different person. I wasn’t hankering after the old stuff I used to do, the person I used to be, the foods I used to eat, the restaurants I used to frequent, the pubs I was always in (!). I wanted to continue to move forward and build a new life. It is much more positive than feeling frustrated about what you’ve lost. I stress here, again, this actually wasn’t conscious at all; it just started to be the case. I am sure it came from the meditation and brain-training.
Anyway, I had this real need for big spaces somehow. I felt too big for my life. I needed to be by the sea, to experience a different environment, to breathe different air. We started going on holiday to Devon and Cornwall for a few days here and there – in itself a big thing because I let go of the fear of starving to death because I couldn’t eat, of ruining the holiday by being ill for most of it, of being sad because I couldn’t go out to the usual places and join in – the usual things I know you recognise! Anyway, it has morphed, as some of you now know from the Facebook groups, into a move to Cornwall shortly! I never do things by halves. I feel it is somehow right to have a bigger space to expand into. That’s as much as I can say to explain it.
Interestingly, many people who recover from illness do say that a change in environment – even if that’s moving the furniture around in the lounge – becomes quite important at certain stages. I have read some research that suggests it is a real help to altering the brain’s perception – it somehow encourages the brain to change. A few people I know have deliberately done things like sleeping on the wrong side of the bed, getting dressed in a different order and things like that whilst doing the brain-training/neuroplasticity/meditation techniques because it helps the brain to shift from the gear it’s been stuck in. I don’t know the basis of it but I do know that is somehow seemed to be needed in me at this stage. P wouldn’t let me get a new sofa to I’m having a new house instead – he should have said yes to the sofa… ;)
But it was going to take time for a move to the other end of the country. It was too long. I didn’t want to give myself time to slip back into my small life. I had long wanted to volunteer for a charity, preferably something to do with cats and after we heart-breakingly lost Benjamin, our 15 year old puss, I started fostering cats for Cat’s Protection. I would just never have done that before. Why? Because the stress of trying not to be ill on a day when I needed to be somewhere, be with someone or do something was just too stressful. I would have to be ‘careful’ for several days beforehand to make sure I was OK, and sometimes even then the strategy didn’t work and I just ended up having to cancel and being embarassed. After a few years of that, I simply gave up trying and just kept myself to myself pretty much to avoid the stress of it all. Hence the very small life. And I know many of you recognise this in your own lives because you’ve told me. It’s sad. But true.
Anyway, even though to some people that will sound like a piddling little step, it is huge for me. I am now part of something outside of my small food-obsessed life and am not defined by it. It feels much better. A relief, actually. It doesn’t mean I don’t get tired or P doesn’t have to step in if I’m feeling rubbish for a day or so, but the emphasis is different – it is on the odd bad patch rather than waking up every day thinking ‘what will I have to cope with today?’ That feels like progress.
Anyway, as I say, I didn’t do any of this consciously really but one day chatting to someone I realised that I was putting things back in, just not food yet. I was reintroducing things, reintegrating with life. Part of that will be food at some stage, of course, but I thought it was an interesting point to make that maybe food is not the be all and end all of it, just a part of the getting better? I think it all fits together and maybe my preoccupation with getting foods back in has been the wrong emphasis. Perhaps it is more of the ‘letting go’ we talked about in an earlier healing series post – if we let go of the fear of food and the constant yearning and attempts to get food back in, concentrating on other types of reintroduction for a while, perhaps the food will follow. I hope so anyway.
Just to make the point that this is not a straightforward trajectory thing. As with any illness, you have to work out where you are and what you can cope with at any given time. You might try a food and react. You might start a new hobby and feel that’s too much. You might try taking up knitting and it feels like a step forward. Who knows? What I do know is that you have to try and have your resilience hat on if it doesn’t quite go to plan yet! It probably won’t. But you will have some successes and those count, as does the trying. It’s almost about showing your body what it is capable of, of showing it things are OK, things are safe. Remember the peanut allergy idea above. It’s all about safety and showing yourself – slowly but surely – that life is safe again. It might be only in certain areas for now and that may not include new or previous foods, but the safety message is a really important one to get through to your mind. The more safe things you build – and notice! – overall the more safe your amygdala etc will feel. That’s what I’m choosing to work on anyway.
It is very tempting, I know, to stay in the comfort zone. I have done for far too long and, typical me, I have done something drastic to bounce myself out of it! It doesn’t have to be that dramatic but I would advise having a go. Perhaps focussing on something other than food and how you feel will help. It was a heck of a thing to do, but my body and mind really told me to get off my **** and try. It isn’t perfect by a long shot and I am sure there will be trials and tribulations to come, but the very act of trying to reintegrate/reintroduce more has moved me forward one notch more. If that is closer to being calmer, less controlled by illness and being able to introduce foods as well at some point, well that’s good. One step at a time.
A Lesson Learned..Keep The Balls In The Air!
The other thing I’ve learned is not to stop the first stages either! I basically have been busy doing this other stuff and not done the usual meditation and brain training. Big mistake. I can feel the stress and reactivity increase as a result. Doing more when you’re not used to it is very tiring and can be stressful, even when it feels right. You need to continue to keep your amygdala nice and calm and to talk to yourself in positive neuroplasticity-strengthening ways as per the previous stages. As I said above, I’m discovering they are not really stages in a step by step fashion as such; more an integrated approach where you have to keep all the balls in the air.
Not Just Me Saying This…
As I was thinking about writing about this phase in the Healing Series, funnily enough, I came across this post from Angie at Autoimmune-Paleo where she is talking about getting out of the so-called ‘AIP rut’. It’s very much what I am saying in that she advises you start to let go of the illness and bounce yourself back into life. She even suggests starting to volunteer and organising more non food-based adventures to challenge yourself with – knitting is an adventure. Just sayin’ so you don’t think it has to be bungee jumping or something!
Anyway, have a read but one last point to bear in mind: reintegration is a known stage in the recovery of illness, especially mental illness and things like PTSD. It’s not some woolly thing despite how I have probably made it sound! It is an important part of recovery. I didn’t know the term before, didn’t even know that medical stage existed, I just did it. Perhaps so should you when you feel ready. And even if you don’t…
In essence, today’s advice is:
Even if you’re not sure you’re ready yet, start bouncing some boundaries. Make a few changes, show yourself you are safe with some little things even if that’s not food yet. Move yourself out of the illness as much as you can and focus on something else. Tell yourself: this is a temporary situation, I am not defined by it, it will pass. And get on with something else whilst your body learns to believe it! Stop hankering after the old you and embrace a new you.
PS. I have found a really good programme for you to follow if you work well with things like that and I will come back to some more specific brain training techniques you can add in too. Just sussing them out for us. Meantime, I hope you are at least doing your meditation, success stories and journaling?