Ian Cleary

CFS and getting sick

August 18, 2015IanChronic Fatigue Syndrome & ME, The Stress ResponseComments Off on CFS and getting sick

“Personal sickness behaviours can be a trigger for years of ME/CFS. So it makes sense to address these as part of one’s recovery plan. Why get well only to get sick again?”

We all have unique sickness behaviours – habitual ways we respond to being sick – physically, emotionally and behaviourally.

There is a spectrum of sickness behaviours from soldiering on even though there is blood pouring from your eye balls through to going to bed and cancelling everything with the first sign of sickness.

You could probably see how both these extremes could be problematic. Pushing our body when it is trying to deal with something puts extra pressure on our immune system but on the other end of the spectrum the lack of bodily movement combined with stress hormones released through fear also may not allow an appropriate healing response.

Avoiding the extremes and finding a middle ground can be a really useful change.

In working with ME/CFS I often hear the comment ‘ I got sick but went back to work too early’.  Was pushing their body when it was sick the final piece that triggered years of illness?

Equally years of chronic illness can leave people really fearful of over-doing it.

So years down the track these people are signing up for a training focusing on getting the body back to full health. It would be short sighted not to look at any beliefs, fears and behaviours that don’t allow someone to make great health choices.

So part of the training has people looking at their personal drivers. For some a major obstacle is the habit of not be able to put themself first when appropriate or being driven by what other people think even though it is against their best interests. For others it is looking at life priorities that put their physical or mental health as a low priority.

Why get well only to get sick again?

There is also another really fascinating neurological component of this. If getting sick (flu/virus/infection/accident/injury etc) was a trigger for years of illness, then these things now have a very high threat value in the brain.


There is often some work needed to retrain the brain that getting sick is just getting sick. It doesn’t require any “extra protection”.  People who spontaneous go into remission with ME/CFS, often report relapse with getting sick as the trigger.

So a big part of my work is training people to respond appropriately to stimulus – not just exercise. Learning how to respond appropriately to getting sick is important for long-term recovery because healthy people get sick.

So ironically we teach people how to get sick well – to respond appropriately rather than historically.


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