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News Human Interest

How Re-Training My Brain Saved Me From My Chronic Illness

A Maltese woman's journey towards normalcy

I’ve recently recovered from a mysterious illness which left me housebound for several months. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, extreme food sensitivities, and multiple chemical sensitivity. This is how I survived it      

I started to experience some symptoms in February 2015 – I began throwing up and at first I thought it was gastric flu, but it dragged on and on to the point that for months I was throwing up every day, sometimes up to 20 times a day. I had had unexplained symptoms for a long time – probably since I was a teenager. 

It's most likely that it all started after I contracted glandular fever as an adolescent; it was quite bad and some of the symptoms from that just seemed to drag on. In the end 2015 would be the year that I went from being a happy, newly-wed, athlete – keeping busy and loving life – to being barely able to function.

"I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, extreme food sensitivities, and multiple chemical sensitivity – a mysterious illness which left me housebound for several months"

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Pre-diagnosis

In the past I also used to have very severe reactions to anything with artificial sweeteners, like aspartame. It was years before I eliminated them and saw a general improvement. But despite the changes, eight years ago I experienced a bad flare-up of symptoms, and that's when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Things kept getting worse and worse, with other symptoms cropping up. By the end of 2015 I had really hit rock bottom. I could only eat eight foods and I was housebound. I began living a life of avoidance and isolation. There didn’t seem to be any cure for the conditions I had been diagnosed with.  

It felt like my life was spiraling out of control. I felt helpless because there were so many things I couldn't do any more. I was becoming like a shadow of the person I used to be. I did a lot of tests, and spoke with many really helpful and caring health professionals, but for a long time no one had any answers and so it felt like I just had to accept things the way they were.

"I started to wonder whether I had gone crazy and whether I could carry on any more"

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End of 2015 – the height of the condition

I experienced so many low points, mostly while I was hoping for answers and not being given any. I started to wonder whether I had gone crazy and whether I could carry on any more. 

Slowly things became more and more difficult – I realised I could no longer hug my family and friends, I couldn't sleep in my bed any more. Soon my husband and I decided it was better if no one came over to see me any more.

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June 2005 – Venturing out for a weekly walk wearing a protective mask

When I first heard about neural retraining I was very sceptical, but decided I had hit rock bottom so it was worth a try, even if it would just help me to improve by 10%. It's hard to try something new after trying many things and being disappointed each time. I had started to accept that this was my life, and I was beginning to develop ways of coping. But thankfully, one day, I just decided to give it a try.

So I started a treatment called Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) – it's a drug-free treatment that targets brain function, teaching patients how to change the function and structure of their brain.

When I started the treatment, I thought DNRS might help me with my tolerance to chemicals. A year after I began the retraining, I found an email I sent to colleagues telling them that I was starting a treatment programme the following day “which should hopefully help to increase my tolerance to chemicals (and hopefully allow me to go back to living a more “normal” life).” 

"my aim is to raise awareness about conditions similar to what I had, and about the treatment programme which was life-changing for me"

I’m now able to be with my loved ones again, travel, work full-time and I’ve even started running and taking part in races again. I feel extremely grateful to have recovered and to be able to live a completely normal life again.  

The treatment has given me my life back, but it was my family and friends who stuck by me through the hardest times. My husband was my rock and never made a big deal out of anything and even found ways to make me laugh when everything seemed difficult. My mother came to my house every day to do my shopping, housework and walk with me so that I'd get some fresh air. My father, brother, sister and all the rest of my family were also extremely supportive.

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June 2016 – back to a normal life

Now that my life is back on track, my aim is to raise awareness about mysterious conditions similar to what I had, and about the treatment programme which was life-changing for me and which has helped so many other people too.

Even if it doesn’t seem so immediately, the same kind of solace can be found for others reading this who are suffering. All they need to do is to take the first step and decide to just give it a try. DNRS has an extremely high success rate among people who commit to it as recommended. 

Beforeandafter

Left - Before DNRS, Right (photo: Sean Mallia) - After DNRS 

What do I cherish most at this very moment? Definitely the love and support of my husband, family and friends. When so much was taken away from me, I realised that having that was actually all I needed. 

When you're very busy, sometimes you can lose sight of that, but this experience really made me realise how lucky I am and how much I used to take for granted before (my health too), which I should be thankful for every day. So while I couldn't be happier that I can now live a completely normal life, what I value most are definitely things I was lucky enough to have all along: love and support.

For more information about Johanna's story and her experience with DNRS, please visit her website – Road to Zest.

Have you been suffering with a condition that has changed your life? Write to us about your experience on hello@lovinmalta.com.

READ NEXT: I Was Hospitalised With Clinical Depression At Twenty-Two

Written By

Johanna Galea

Johanna has an MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Chester. Her website, Road to Zest, chronicles her journey recovering from a chronic illness through Annie Hopper’s neural retraining system (DNRS) programme.

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