Hundreds of thousands of people have their lives blighted by ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Could the condition be reversed by changing our behaviour? Health Editor Barry Nelson meets a North-East convert.
BUSY staff nurse Lyn White tried to shrug it off at first.
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"My throat felt terrible, I thought it must be tonsillitis,"
recalls Lyn, who was working on a children's ward at a new Durham hospital at the time.
Lyn went to see her GP who agreed that she probably had infected tonsils. But overnight her condition worsened significantly.
"In the morning I felt quite panicky. I was finding it difficult to breath and the swelling in my throat meant I couldn't even swallow my own saliva," she says.
Lyn packed an overnight bag and jumped in a taxi to her local doctor's surgery. Her GP took one look at Lyn's inflamed throat and arranged for her to be admitted to hospital.
"It was terrifying. I couldn't swallow or talk and the swelling was blocking the airwaves. At one stage I thought I was going to die," she recalls.
The mother of two was given medication to reduce the swelling and an oxgyen face mask. "They put me in a bed next to the intensive care unit," she says.
Her illness was diagnosed as supre glottitis, a potentially life-threatening swelling of the glottis, the vocal apparatus of the larynx probably caused by a virus. It was while she was recovering that the staff nurse began to develop a different set of symptoms.
"About the third day into my illness I felt an incredible heaviness in my legs,"
says Lyn. "It felt like your batteries had run down. I was getting pains in the back of my calves and it felt like I had just run a marathon."
Doctors ran a seried of tests to find out what was wrong.
"They kept telling me I might have had a heart attack but I knew that wasn't right," she says.
Lyn, who was then in her mid-40s, was allowed to go home after a week in hospital.
While her throat condition had cleared up, she still felt utterly shattered.
"I just felt this awful heaviness in my limbs which wouldn't go away," says Lyn.
For the best part of a year she tried to follow her GP's recommendation and rest as much as possible. She did try to go back to work at the University Hospital of North Durham but had to go home after colleagues told her she looked "grey" with fatigue.
Still baffled by her energy-sapping illness, Lyn persuaded her GP to refer her to specialist at Sunderland Royal Hospital. It was early in 2004 that the specialist told Lyn she was almost certainly suffering from Myalgic Encephelomyelitis, otherwise known as ME.
According to the ME Association, the main national charity which represents people with this condition, ME affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK.
Symptoms include chronic fatigue, muscular pains, digestive problems, memory lapses and what sufferers describe as brain fog', where patients find it difficult to concentrate.
Research into ME suggests that it has physical rather than psychological causes but there is still little hard evidence to explain the symptoms. In the worst cases some patients are virtually bedbound.
Some are so weak they have to be fed by tube.
Armed with a diagnosis, Lyn was determined to find out as much as she could about ME and figure out how to get well again. "I remember deciding I was not going to be sick any more," she recalls.
She searched the internet obsessively, read every book on the subject and took "vast amounts" of supplements and vitamins, including Omega 3 fish oil. Virtually housebound, apart from trips in her wheelchair, Lyn became increasingly angry that her life had been blighted by ME.
Her husband, Conrad, a consultant in genito-urinary medicine at the University Hospital of North Durham, was "frustrated and upset" because there seemed nothing that conventional medicine could do to improve his wife's condition.
Her teenage sons helped out by pushing their mother's wheelchair and helping her up and down stairs.
Lyn was at a low ebb when several newspaper cuttings from an aunt in Scotland popped through her letterbox.
"They were articles about someone who had ME who had recovered by using techniques called Reverse Therapy and Mickel Therapy," she says.
Lyn had never heard of either therapy and admitted being deeply sceptical.
"What really hooked me was the claim that this approach had an 86 per cent success rate. I thought I had to give it a go."
Lyn clicked on to the websites mentioned in the articles and became increasingly fascinated at what she was reading. She was so encouraged that she bought a manual for patients and arranged to be visited at home by a Newcastle-based therapist.
"The two approaches are based on the same underlying theory that in ME patients part of the brain, known as the hypothalamus has gone into overdrive,"
The significance of the hypothalamus is that this area of the brain is where the nervous and hormonal systems of the body interact. According to Mickel Therapy and Reverse Therapy, ME is the result of individuals consistently failing to heed signals from these nervous and hormonal systems.
Instead of acknowledging these impulses and acting on them, people ignore them, block them off and build up chemical imbalances in their bodies as a result.
The end result - according to this view - is an incapacitating illness we know as ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This approach is still controversial and the ME Association refuses actively to endorse it.
However, the ME Association accepts that there are many success stories and has a "neutral" view on whether ME sufferers should try this approach.
Initially, Lyn followed the Mickel Therapy approach but has now switched to Reverse Therapy.
"What Reverse Therapy believes is that your body is sending you messages all the time. If you ignore these sensations then your hypothalamus picks up on this,"
"If you are feeling fear it wants you to find a way to be safe; if you are angry, it wants you to defend yourself. If you ignore them it is like a pressure cooker and all the emotions boil up."
At this stage, according to the theory, the pituitary gland goes into overdrive flooding the body with adrenalin.
"When the feedback mechanism breaks down, hormonal and nervous messages get short-circuited and people can get stuck in that state."
Essentially, says Lyn, the message of Reverse Therapy is that you have to listen to your body rather than your head and act on these impulses.
As soon as she started having therapy and following the Reverse Therapy path, Lyn started to feel better. She had ten therapy sessions in total, some at home in Durham, some in Newcastle and some in Edinburgh.
As part of the therapy she used message cards to prompt her to remember to heed her bodymind' rather than her headmind'.
To the amazement of her family and friends Lyn is now fully restored to health. If anything, Lyn now feels even better than she did before her illness.
"My energy levels are better than they used to be. I recently walked 11 miles around Derwentwater and I completed a sailing course, something that I last tried in my 20s," says Lyn.
However, she admits that "speaking her body" rather than her mind can sometimes be uncomfortable for those around her.
Now a fully qualified Reverse Therapy practitioner, Lyn, now 48, is keen to help other ME sufferers in the region. "You need to have a diagnosis of ME which excludes other conditions and unless you are committed it is not likely to work, "
But for her, following Reverse Therapy was "a joy" rather than a chore. "It actually makes you more real. I'm still excited about it ," she says.
● To contact Lyn ring 07942-044-800 or email her on lynwhite@reversetherapy.
com. Sessions cost £80 each.
● The address of Reverse Therapy UK is : The Old Bakery, 4 Church Street, Kintbury, Berkshire RG17 9TR. The website is www.reversetherapy.
com and emails can be sent to email@example.com