Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The use of imagery with CFS involves inventing symbols in your mind's eye which will help you play out in a visualization how you want things to occur in your body. This may involve, for instance, visualizing your immune system working harmoniously and in balance; seeing your immune system eliminating viruses or other pathogens; or a general symbol to represent the syndrome, and another symbol to represent all your healing forces, etc. Visualization is a process in which you see the desired outcome develop.
Two theories have been proposed to explain how imagery works. One theory is called specificity hypothesis and the other one is called general effect hypothesis.
In a study at the University of Arkansas, an experienced meditator using imagery techniques was able to manipulate her immune system's reaction to an injection of harmless virus particles just below the skin. The material injected, called a "varicella zoster test reagent," ordinarily gives rise to a type of inflammation called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction. This reaction is created by white cells releasing chemicals, such as histamine, which have the effect of causing inflammation.
This and other studies suggest that it might be possible for people with CFS to deal with the problem of chronic immune activation through such methods. For example, by imagining the white cells becoming more relaxed and practicing the relaxation response, the patients will be able to reduce their hyperactivity.
The general effect hypothesis suggests benefits arise from the general overall feeling of greater control that we feel when we believe we can influence our health through these methods. It gets better as our confidence grows. Studies have shown that a sense of control over the source of stress leads to better immunity.
A study of cancer patients found improvement in immunity associated with imagery practice. Ten metastatic cancer patients attended monthly group sessions for a year in which they were supervised in imagery practice. Between sessions they performed the exercises twice a day. After each monthly meeting, blood samples were drawn to monitor immunologic changes. Significant improvements were found in several immune functions, including natural killer cell activity.
If the general effect hypothesis is true, then it does not matter what we imagine or visualize so long as it provides us heightened sense of well being and control. The feelings of confidence or competence are the key. Carl Simonton, M. D., once suggested that if you feel hopeful, powerful, and optimistic after doing your imagery, then that is the criterion of success, much more than the details of the images used. It follows that if you are confident in your ability to influence your health, this confidence will reduce the degree of stress you feel as a result of CFS. Then your healing can progress more readily.
Learning from Drawing
One tool you can use to harness the power of imagery is by drawing. Drawings and images can help you clarify issues in your life. They reveal the person's inner attitudes and beliefs about what is happening. This can lead to useful insights about needed changes.
William Collinge, in "Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome," described how one patient, during a group imagery session, drew a picture of herself being subdued by CFS. CFS was represented by a monster. Seeing this drawing, she realized how victimized she felt, and she immediately became in touch with her anger at this situation. Her anger fueled a renewed determination to break her old habit of volunteering to do all the legwork for her support group, which had been draining her of energy she needed to combat her illness.
This was the beginning of a much needed change in her life - to stop doing favors for others that she really did not want to do. That shift has endured beyond her illness.
Imagery and Belief in Recovery
Imagery can help you strengthen your belief in recovery. Belief in recovery is a prerequisite in healing from CFS. Very often, people cannot actually imagine themselves recovered. This need to be addressed. A major source of the difficulty is the powerful images of debilitation portrayed by the media. Very often we see the negative images of suffering; we do not see the positive images of people having recovered from this illness. We need to balance the two.
The ability to imagine yourself well affects you in many ways. On the physical level, the biochemistry of hope is very different from that of despair, and your immune responsiveness is affected by both. On the psychological level, a great deal of change in behavior is necessary to promote healing. Without belief in recovery, there is no incentive to sincerely follow through with such changes. And also, in those moments when you are in despair, feeling your absolute worst, imagery can be a resource to get you through.
One of the best ways to strengthen your belief in recovery is to create images of yourself well, and view them each day. Now that you understand the nature of CFS and the major principles in promoting recovery, you can create images which should be both realistic and inspiring to you.
Excerpted from Recovering From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by William Collinge, Ph. D.
There are three stages to any visualization program
Stage 1: Calming Relaxation. Imagery should begin with a period of calming relaxation. Close your eyes and take several breaths to clear your mind of the clutter of the day so you can be fully present for the process at hand. (Refer to our section on meditation for recommendations on how to do this.) Relax so that all your attention is available to the imagery.
Stage 2: Healing Imagery This is the central part of the imagery process. Feel free to let your images change. As your healing work progresses, and as you get to know yourself better, your images will naturally evolve and change. Be open to this and whatever messages you can glean from these changes.
Stage 3: Future Glance End with imagery of yourself healed, doing something you love to do. This reinforces the sense of momentum and direction for your healing process. This is where you are headed, and this is the incentive for the earlier healing imagery. This should be part of all your imagery process.
As in any exercises, it will take you some time to get the steps mastered the first time. Think through the imagery details. Very soon you will have a number of such images in your mind that you can recall as needed depending on the circumstance.
Example of Imagery
Close your eyes, breathe out three times and go inside your body. Imagine yourself playing a flute while riding a polo pony and carrying a polo mallet in your saddle. Coax the viruses out of your organs by playing music, then kill them with the mallet. Visualize living without the virus and CFS. Make it as detailed and specific as you can. Create an inner movie of how you imagine your life will look after you have recovered from CFS. Include the following details:
Now open your eyes.
Practice this imagery three times daily, three minutes a session, for nine cycles of 21 days on and 7 days off.
We suggest that you draw a picture of yourself that can represent your living this life of balance. This can be a picture you can hang on your refrigerator or a wall in your home. It will be a constant reminder of the new you and can invoke the beneficial effects of the imagery whenever you look at it.
Imagery: Looking Back On CFS
Close your eyes, and take several long, slow, deep, calming breaths. Now picture yourself in the future, five years after recovery from CFS. During those five years since you recovered, you have been able to contemplate what you learned and how you grew from that adversity.
Now imagine you are sitting on the ground in a meadow, with a circle of people. It is a beautiful day, and the nature that surrounds you seems most approving of your presence. The circle of people includes your closest friends, family members, teachers, and all the significant people of your lifetime. Be sure to include everyone with whom you have ever had an important relationship. The circle may even be two or three persons deep, so everyone can be included. Take a few minutes to fill out this circle.
Now give an informal talk entitled "My Healing Journey." It is about your past experience with CFS. Begin the talk with the following: "I'd like to tell you a story. I'd like to share with you what I learned and how I grew from having CFS.."
Now draw a picture of this gathering in the meadow. Attach names to the figures who represent all the important people of your life. Place this drawing on your refrigerator or a wall in your home.
(Source: William Collinge: Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
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