Neuroplasticity. For a long time, I never would have thought it would be a piece of the puzzle to healing from my chronic illness, but it turns out that it's a huge one.
About two weeks ago, I began a self-directed neuroplasticity program called the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). Two people I know who have similar chronic illnesses to mine started using the program with wonderful results, and my mom's doctor also encouraged her to try the program. So in late January, we both started watching the 11-hour video program that explains the science behind the program and the steps to rewire my brain.
Imagine for a moment that you are holding a lemon. You feel its texture and its weight in your hand. Then you bite into it and start chewing. Is your mouth salivating? Mine is. This shows how the body responds with real change to the imagination, so I spend an hour daily, usually in 20-minute intervals, doing visualizations where I am healthy, happy, strong, energetic, and eating things I currently avoid and doing activities that currently trigger fatigue but not in my visualizations. When I am experiencing a symptom, I distract my attention away from it with something positive such as music, fake laughter, going through the alphabet and listing a positive word that starts with each letter, or watching a funny video. Doing this weakens the neural pathway that is causing the symptom and encourages growth of positive neural pathways instead. I have also started eating with my non-dominant hand and doing word puzzles to encourage more growth of new neural pathways. I do incremental training where I challenge my brain with a new food or activity while simultaneously fake laughing, listening to uplifting music, etc., to teach my brain that the food or activity is safe and do a visualization before and after the challenge. Brain retraining requires a lot of commitment, but it's working. I am rewiring my brain and calming my limbic system, which has been stuck in a state of fight or flight.
When I started the DNRS program, I was recovering from COVID and mostly in bed all day except for meals, but since then, I have had some days with the most energy that I've had since age 14! I went to church last Sunday for the first time this year and didn't crash like I did in the past from going, and I went again yesterday. I also went on some other short outings in the past week. I've been reading more books and even doing some Algebra. There are ups and downs, and some days I still spend the majority of my time in bed. But I'm having more good days and am really encouraged and am fascinated by everything I'm learning about the brain and how to change its signals.
Because my infectious load is lower now with years of antibiotics and because inappropriate brain signals seem to now be my primary issue, my specialist and I are beginning to reduce some of my antimicrobial treatments. However, I am on Prednisone so unless/until I can get off it, I will always need to remain on some antimicrobial treatment to keep the bugs from proliferating. It's virtually impossible to kill every bug in my body, but that is not the goal. The goal is for me to feel and function well. I believe that DNRS is the puzzle piece that has been missing and that will lead me to that. I need to commit to the program for a minimum of 6 months, but I'll likely be doing it for a year. I need to build strong new neural pathways and weaken the old ones. There will be ups and downs as I work to do this, but so many people have recovered using this program, and I am very hopeful.
If you would like to help me in my recovery, here are a few things you can do.
- Pray that I would be disciplined. Brain retraining is a lot of work, and sometimes it's the last thing I want to do, especially on the days that I'm having more symptoms and am more tired. Pray that God would use this program to bring me to recovery and that as I bring my stress level down by rewiring my brain, I will need less Prednisone and will eventually be able to stop it.
- Send me cute and funny pictures, videos, songs, and stories. Having an elevated mood is part of the program.
- Remind me of good memories you have with me for me to use in my visualizations.
- Please avoid asking me how I am feeling. I am trying to weaken negative neural pathways that are causing my symptoms and discussing them serves to strengthen those pathways. Instead ask me what is going well, what I'm excited about, and what I'm grateful for.
- Visit me. I enjoy company, and God designed us with a need for community.
Me with a recent crochet project