The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

What is different about Mickel Therapy? Part 2

In the last post, What is different about Mickel Therapy? Part 1, I talked of the misconception of the separation between mind and body.

If we think instead of the conscious mind as being just one aspect of a wider whole that goes into making up who we are – which includes physical needs, instincts, primal emotions and subconscious desires – then it helps us to avoid many of the problems thrown up by the simplistic mind/body separation model.

Whatever the initial trigger for the ME/CFS might have been, according to MT (Mickel Therapy) and other mid-brain based theories, those with this and related conditions are now dealing with the result of a part of the brain no longer properly regulating certain hormone and chemical signals to the rest of the body.

The question plaguing the ME/CFS and medical communities has been what to do about it. The 2 leading recommended treatments are GET (Graded Exercise Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

GET works on the idea that you establish an energy baseline – understand what you can do physically in any one day – then slowly but steadily increase your activity levels and train yourself to get fitter. Some claim this has helped, but for many it doesn’t, and for some it can actually make them worse, as the body is already exhausted so making it work even harder just increases the fatigue and damage.

CBT looks at the impact negative thoughts can have on your mood. In brief, you learn strategies to catch your negative thinking patterns and change them. The idea is over time you should you learn to develop a more positive outlook and feel better about yourself and the world. The medical profession admit this is not a cure for ME/CFS, but do recommend it as a useful coping mechanism for dealing with a long term, chronic condition.

Mickel Therapy, on the other hand, comes at the problem pretty much from the opposite end to CBT: rather than try and use the conscious mind to change the emotions, MT is about learning to listen to the body and emotions and then change your actions.

With regard to ME/CFS and related conditions, the MT view of symptoms – muscle & joint pains, anxiety, depression, brain fog, IBS, fatigue etc – is that the body is trying to communicate with the conscious mind, but is not being listened to.

The older, more primal areas of the mind and body do not communicate in language – that is the preserve of the conscious mind only. So when we hear a loud bang, we jump and our heart starts racing; when a loved one leaves, we feel a sense of loss; when we sit on a pin, we feel a stab of pain. These are all instructions from the body and other parts of the brain to take some kind of survival action – in these cases, run away from danger, connect with others so we are not alone (and thus vulnerable to predators), or pull the pin out of our arse to avoid blood loss and/or infection.

But what would happen if we ignored these signals? What if, instead of standing up and removing the pin, we decided to distract ourselves from the pain by watching a DVD, or try and dull it down with painkillers? The body can’t literally say, “Excuse me mate, but this situation really isn’t very good for us, you know, so will you please remove that bloody pin!” All it can do is make the pain worse and through feelings of discomfort try and let us know we should do something about it.

Symptoms, then, are signposts to something being wrong. If we respond to them appropriately, they will ease off, because they are no longer necessary.

But in our culture, we are taught to override and suppress uncomfortable symptoms or “bad” emotions – ignore them, pretend they don’t exist, cover them up with food/alcohol/sex/shopping/gambling/anti-depressants/insert medication of choice. And part of this comes down to the delusion that the conscious mind is the authority in charge that should be giving the instructions to the body and primal emotions.

So instead of listening, and working with the brain and body to constructively deal with the symptoms, our conscious minds set about overriding them.

Our culture is also selling us distractions in the name of solutions – the consumer society makes us feel inadequate so we will buy more, bigger and newer, in order to make ourselves feel better. And we are surrounded by newspapers, TV and Facebook alerts, triggering feelings of fear, outrage, panic and righteous indignation, dozens of times every day. Generating these responses in us sells papers, keep us tuned in and makes sure we “share” with all our online friends.

This, then, is a problem for most people, but if your brain has now got the fight-or-flight gateway firmly wedged open, then it’s disastrous. Not only is the system already primed, it is being bombarded with further triggers, which are then being assisted by the conscious mind - thinking it is in charge and leading the fight in completely the wrong direction. Rather than tackling the symptoms, we are now reinforcing them.

So in contrast with drug or psychotherapies, the approach of MT is to start monitoring the symptoms – and instead of trying to cover them up or instruct them to be otherwise, we need to be looking for the clues they are trying to offer.

What were we doing when they appeared or got worse? How did we respond to them? And how might we change our response in a way that satisfied our body rather than overruled it?

And it doesn’t just have to be the obvious big stuff that impacts on us. Many of the triggers can be small and seemingly insignificant, so we brush them aside rather than deal with them.

At this point, an example would probably be a good idea. So let’s pick a trivial one like being the only one in the house who doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle.

Every time everyone else cleans their teeth, they squeeze from the middle or the top of the tube, so every time I go to clean my teeth, I have to push the toothpaste up from the bottom as there’s not enough left at the top for me to get any toothpaste out. Is it a big deal in the larger scale of life, with wars, famines, global financial meltdowns? Well, of course not. It’s what you might call a 1/10 issue. But, my response could be a 5/10 or on a really bad day, 8/10 – I HAVE TOLD EVERYONE ABOUT THIS A MILLION BLOODY TIMES! I AM FED UP WITH NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY!!! – it is not the problem itself, but the injustice or unfairness it represents.

But to make such a huge fuss about a toothpaste tube would seem so stupid, so I won’t react, I won’t do anything, because I don’t want to appear petty and trivial.

So every time I go to clean my teeth, I get the emotional kick in the gut, but do nothing about it. And the pathways in the brain get reinforced.

There’s a definition of madness, which is continually doing the same thing, yet somehow expecting different results. Or as another old saying puts it, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

With the example of the toothpaste tube, I keep expecting that either other people will finally see the wisdom in squeezing from the bottom, or I’ll stop being bothered about it. But as my behaviour never changes, neither does the situation, nor my reactions. Each time I clean my teeth, the pathways become more deeply embedded.

The solution, then, it to look for other ways to respond. Perhaps I’ll write instructions on where to squeeze the tube, on the mirror, in toothpaste – it might get everyone’s attention. Or maybe I just buy my own toothpaste tube and keep it on a shelf out of reach of everyone else. It might require a bit of trial and error, but if I keep looking for alternatives until I find one, then sooner or later I will come across a solution whereby I no longer get the feeling of injustice and unfairness.

Now I’m not saying that toothpastes tubes caused, or kept me in my Fatigue. I’m using it as an example of how there can be hundreds of minor things throughout the day where our immediate reaction is disproportionate to the event. And when you have a brain primed for fight-or-flight responses – where the gateway is jammed open and stress will exaggerate all your symptoms – then the accumulative effect, day in day out, will make either make the condition worse, or at the very least, impede recovery.

So the approach of Mickel Therapy is to start observing your symptoms and your reactions – your thoughts and emotions. The idea is to look for your underlying feelings – what is the core emotion you are feeling when the symptoms increase their intensity?

If you can identify the core emotions behind the symptoms and find a way to acknowledge and deal with them in a positive manner, then what begins to happen is the symptoms start to ease off. So by learning how to listen and respond to what’s going on at deeper levels, and stop your conscious mind leaping in and scuppering everything, you can effectively start to rewire your brain’s stress response mechanisms.

This approach, then, is not as simple as taking a pill or sitting and telling a sympathetic soul all your problems. It requires making a fundamental shift in your understanding of who you are and how you are interacting with yourself and the world. And then it requires learning, and applying, new skills, new ways of being.

As I said at the end of the TV programme, it's not a cure, as a cure implies returning to our previous self. This is about constructing a new version of who we are - one who understands the conscious mind is a useful part of the whole, but is certainly not the one in charge.

These posts have turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, so I’ll stop here, and Part 3 will be about how I have applied these principles to my own condition and found myself much improved.

12 comments

Nechtan said...

Hi Kim,

I found your first two post really fascinating. Enjoyed them a lot and gave me lots to ponder on.

I agree with what you say about mind and body interconnection. Fear, stress, worry, concern or any adverse thought or reaction affects the body in many ways like blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, etc. And a lot of those are tiring. When they are continual it can be very tiring.

I don't have ME/CFS so can't comment on that but can only say as someone with an anxiety disorder fatigue is a major part of it and like you said about ME/CFS that varies from person to person. So many of these conditions overlap I feel such is their ambiguity umbrella terms.

The one thing though that stuck out for me in the two posts was what you said about the balance between the conscious and subconcious. I see that so clearly in my own case. In the before time the subconcious was quiet and relatively unheard. Now its booming and dominant and ever demanding attention. And like MT says my instincts tell me to either try to override it or rise above it (usually with distraction of some sort).

Too long a comment as it is so I will leave it there but as I said really interesting for me so thanks.

All the best

Nechtan

Xavi said...

I'm intrigued by the graded exercise therapy. I have done some CBT and seen changes in myself; the more I can figure out to do to sort myself out the better.

Mimi and Tilly said...

Very intersting stuff. Kim. I think a lot of what I've been doing to deal with the illness has been about growing in awareness and listening to my body. As well as becoming much more aware on a deeper level of what might be going on in my subconscious and how it all ties in. I'm very interested in Mickel therapy and will look into it. Looking forward to your 3rd post.

Morgen said...

Thank you for posting the videos to YouTube. I've been watching them. I forwarded the links to my sister, who suffers from this as well. She found relief after 20 years using a supplement from Herbalife (haven't tried it myself) but this sounds a bit better for me. I'm not so trusting of medications - of any sort.

Anna van Schurman said...

Funny you should choose the toothpaste tube example. My sister and I shared a tube growing up. She always squeezed from the middle. I always "fixed" it. I came to see it as my job, fixing the toothpaste. Instead of being annoyed, I embraced it. So I suppose that's another response. I've been enjoying this discussion. I have an autoimmune disease (well that's what they think it is). I remember when I was first dx'ed the docs would tell me I had to learn to manage my stress. So I'd say, "great. How?" And then, to a man (to a doctor?) they'd all laugh. Seriously, you're going to recommend it and you don't have any ideas for me?

Theanne said...

Hi Kim...will be back to reread MT 1 and read MT 2! You'll have to forgive me ever since I was Don's primary caregiver during his final years (died 2009 age 84) and I had to read up on and understand about so many different kinds of ailments including psoriatic arthritis (and get fiesty with medical personnel who didn't figure I had a brain the size of a pea), I tend to skim medical information OR my minds just turns off all together. I do want to understand!

Hindsfeet said...

Really appreciate these posts, Kim; I think I'll go back and read this one about fourteen times...really resonated with me.

Thanks for taking the time to put this together...Anne Lamott said, "Pay attention when your soul leans in to listen"...which could be applied to what you're talking about here....at any rate, I'm leaning in to listen, looking forward to Part III.

Thanks again,
Liz

Pat said...

I am all for removing a constant irritation as in having one's own toothpaste. That makes sense in anyone's life IMO.
Like Theanne I'm trying to grasp the whole concept and am glad you are going to write further on it.

Graham said...

Hey Kim. Thanks for these posts. I was interested in the documentary, but felt it left out the most important parts: the therapy session itself, the association between symptoms and emotions, and any emotional release technique involved in MT. I hear a lot of people talk about CBT as if it's the gold standard in therapy; but it's not. Other techniques that stimulate an emotional release are more powerful because they actually heal the emotional trauma buried in the subconscious. I'd like to hear more about the process involved in Mickel therapy and what you do with the emotions once you've identified them. Thanks again for writing about your experience. I'm looking forward to part 3! Cheers, Graham

Guyana-Gyal said...

I read with deep interest, Kim. So well written!

There's a technique called 'freezing the frame' to help heal anxiety. It uses both the conscious and subconscious. And 'freezing the frame' is part of the larger process which involves writing also.

If only doctors paid more attention to this form of healing instead of dispensing tablets, encouraging addiction!

Kim Ayres said...

Nechtan - according to MT, it's not your instincts telling you to override or distract yourself, rather it's your learned responses (consciously or not).

The emotions live in the present - they do not have a concept of time. This is why, if we start dwelling on something that made us angry 2 weeks ago, we start to feel the anger now. Our emotions don't say "that threat is past, we don't need to relive the feelings".

So if we start to feel anger, injustice, anxiety etc, then something is triggering it in that moment. It might be something we are consciously thinking of, or it might be something our subconscious has noticed - like the toothpaste tube example. We might get to a point where we barely notice, consciously, that the tube has been squeezed in the middle again, but another part of us is noticing and it is triggering the emotions attached (in this example, a feeling of injustice and not being taken seriously).

As such, if we start feeling a symptom - anxiety, a strong emotion, or even a physical reaction like fatigue, instead of immediately distracting ourselves, or runnning away from it, we should try and stop for a minute and notice it. What were we doing at the point the symptom came on? What were the underlying feelings relating to?

To begin with, this might be quite difficult, but over time we will start to notice patterns. And, to be honest, this is where a decent therapist will be able to help you tease out what's going on when you hit a blank.

Xavi - it has a mixed success rate. I couldn't do it - each time I tried to increase my activity levels I got worse. However, if it's something you feel might help, then you'll find plenty of help and guidance on the Internet

Emma - I'm pleased you've been finding the posts interesting. Life has been getting in the way of completing the 3rd post, but I hope to have it up before the weekend :)

Morgen - medication under the right circumstances is a life saver, but where it's used just to cover up things which need to be dealt with, that's where it becomes dodgy

Anna - I think your response to the toothpaste tube was ideal - the sign of a healthier mind :)

And yes, I can so easily see the response of the doctors when you asked how. Personally I have found Mindfulness and meditation to have been the key

Theanne - don't fret about it - I swith off when faced with large swathes of text. After 6 years of blogging I've discovered the more I write above about 250-300 words in a blog post, the less people read it. The last post was over 1,000 words and this was 1,600. If this was on someone else's blog, I probably wouldn't read it all :)

Liz - if you find anything useful and is resonating with you, then I'm pleased :)

Pat - my stepson is currently staying with us, and I noticed the other day that in a household with 5 people in it, we have at least 3 different toothpaste tubes on the go at the same time :)

Graham - the documentaries were about ME/CFS, the effect it has on people's lives, and the different ideas of what it is, what might be causing it, and ways in which it might be dealt with. Mickel Therapy was one aspect of the programme, rather than the only one. And I'm pretty certain they had to make sure they weren't seen to be endorsing it. I would like to have seen more on the principles behind the therapy, but I know they would have had reasons for editing it like they did.

As for emotional release, this sounds like a different kind of therapy, and I don't think I either have enough knowledge of Mickel Therapy, or understanding of your system to be able to take a stab at answering that, sorry.

Kim Ayres said...

GG - I've not heard of "freezing the frame" - when I have a bit of time, I'll look it up. If you have a link handy to an easy to read source, please feel free to post it here :)

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