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Case Study

CASE STUDY
Anna Hemmings MBE - 6x World Marathon Kayak champion, overcame CFS with Reverse Therapy to win her 6th World title. Read on...

Media on Reverse Therapy

Television interview with Amanda Crouch on her recovery from M.E. with Reverse Therapy on Meridian TV, March 2014

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Articles on Reverse Therapy have appeared in the following magazines and newspapers:

  • The Sunday Times 
  • The Independent 
  • The Daily Telegraph 
  • The Observer 
  • The Daily Express 
  • The East Anglian Daily Times 
  • The Northern Echo 
  • The Edinburgh Evening News 
  • Grazia 
  • Prima 
  • Women's Health 
  • The Newcastle Chronicle 
  • The Aberdeen Press and Journal

 

Here is a selection:

 

The Sunday Times - January 8th 2006

Anna Hemmings 
Interview by Caroline Scott

Britain's leading female marathon canoeist, Anna Hemmings, 29, spent 2½ years battling chronic fatigue syndrome before making a dramatic recovery and winning both the European and World Championships last year.
 
As a kid I was always active. There wasn't an afternoon when I didn't do sport after school. I played judo for Middlesex; I was ice-skating at national level when I was nine. I spent Saturdays canoeing. My friends didn't get it. As teenagers they were going to parties and staying up late. If I went out at all, I'd be looking at my watch and then leave early because I had to get up at 6am to train.
 
My life revolved round my training schedule. The worst thing about getting ill was that I lost my identity. I'm such a focused, challenge-oriented person, and when I couldn't train, I didn't have a goal. I'd wake up and think: "What do I do today? Where's the challenge?"
 
I first went to the doctor in April 2003 because I couldn't recover from training. My muscles ached and I was constantly exhausted. To begin with, my coach was very patient, but after a couple of months he said: "Anna, you've just got to deal with the tiredness."
 
The doctor felt I was overtraining and needed to slow down. But that didn't make any sense. I sought opinions everywhere. I saw an endocrinologist, an oriental medical practitioner, a nutritionist — at one point I eliminated red meat, sugar, wheat and dairy from my diet — but nothing made a difference.
 
I was sleeping for 14 hours at night and napping for another couple of hours during the day. Even washing my hair in the shower was a struggle, because I couldn't hold my arms up. And because I couldn't compete, I lost my national-lottery funding and then the flat I was trying to buy. That was a really low point. My mum kept reading stuff on the internet and giving me supplements, but I wasn't getting better. I didn't want to talk about how I felt. When anyone asked, I'd say: "Yeah, I'm fine."
 
I used to cry a lot on my own, but I found it hard to open up, even to friends, because I didn't want to appear weak. A couple of people said: "Just get your act together, Anna, and stop being lazy" — it was like turning a knife in a wound.
 
After six months the doctor diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome, for which there is no cure, apart from rest, and I'd tried that. I went to Canyon Ranch in Arizona and did yoga and meditation; I tried spiritual healing and psychotherapy. I spent many of those sessions in tears and I just got more and more depressed and isolated. But for my friends and family, I was still putting on a brave front. I'd spend a morning crying on my own, then when someone asked me how I was, I'd say: "Oh, fine, thanks."
 
I'd been out of the sport for 18 months when an employee of my sponsor, Pindar, introduced me to Reverse Therapy. Its premise is that chronic fatigue is the result of a mind-body-environment imbalance, and the therapy tries to reverse that. Every day I wrote a journal recording the stresses and pressures that triggered my symptoms, and very soon I began to see a pattern. I had no balance in my life. I was consumed by my sport to the point that I would do anything to be the best, even if it wasn't making me happy.
 
A big contributor to chronic fatigue is non-expression of emotion. The longer it went on, the more I suppressed what I felt. The other big trigger is fear, and I feared the symptoms. As an athlete, no matter how bad you feel, you go out to win. The therapist hit raw nerves. He'd say: "You must feel very isolated out there." I'd cry through every session. But it was only when I broke down in front of friends that I started to make progress. Letting everything go was really liberating. No one judged me or thought any the less of me. In fact, they made an effort to drag stuff out of me.
 
The therapy helped me realise that I constantly put pressure on myself, not just to be the perfect athlete but the perfect sister and daughter. When I began to unravel my anxieties I got better quite quickly. After three months I went for a 10-minute run and I felt completely exhilarated. The more I did, the more confidence I gained.
 
I honestly would not change what happened, because I couldn't have carried on the way I was. I'm so much more chilled out now. I can have a late night and my training doesn't fall apart.
 
On the start line of my first local race in over two years, I felt pure terror, but it was also wonderful to be back on the water again. The European Championships in July 2005 was my first international race in three years, and my first marathon in four years. I was more nervous than I'd ever been, because I didn't know how I'd deal with it. It was such an incredibly tense race and such a relief to finish. Winning was the icing on the cake. For me, the biggest victory was getting to the start line.

 

The Daily Express – 24th January 2006

New hope at last for ME sufferers?

World Champion athlete Anna Hemmings stood in the shower and felt she hadn’t the strength to lift her hands to her head and wash her hair. Her muscles ached, her head was muzzy and she felt defeated and demoralised. This was not the aftermath of one of her furiously-paced 32km marathon kayak races which had brought her four world championship gold medals. Anna had barely trained for months, was sleeping 14 hours a night and taking a nap in the afternoons, and she collapsed with weariness if she tried more than a gentle paddle. She had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or ME – an illness so debilitating it can keep patients housebound for decades. At 26 it looked set to rob her of a glittering career, her livelihood and even the very core of her identity, and no one could say how long it might go on.

But last October a fit and glowing Anna was back on the podium after reclaiming her world crown in Perth, Australia, following a four-year break.

“That victory was sweeter and more special than any other in my career” she says.

Now 29, she attributes her health to a controversial new treatment developed by British psychotherapist, Dr John Eaton. The treatment is based on the idea of “Bodymind”, which seeks to explain the link between the brain and physical health.

Reverse Therapy Practitioners believe CFS is caused by the Bodymind reacting to emotional stresses by sending the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis into overdrive, causing the muscles to burn up too much glucose, resulting in fatigue and pain. The therapy is designed to send a message back to the brain that the problems have been dealt with, allowing it to stop sending out distress signals.

Anna became so ill in the spring of 2003 while training in Florida that she had to abandon racing for the season. She then consulted the British Olympic team doctor and tried every alternative treatment. She had acupuncture and reiki, saw a nutritionist and an endocrinologist, took up yoga and swallowed vitamins and other supplements. But nothing worked. When I met her recently during a break from training on the Thames, she recalled: “One doctor told me all I could do was rest. I asked for how long and he just said ‘Until you get better’. I’d heard of people having this for 10 or 20 years and I thought: ‘No, that’s not happening to me.”

“It was very frustrating when people said things like, ‘Why don’t you get your act together?"

Some suggested I was scared of not winning again. But you don’t get to be world champion if you are lazy or not willing to put yourself on the line. It was hurtful to have people doubting my integrity.”

Luckily, Anna’s sponsors, Pindar, kept faith in her when she lost her National Lottery funding. When Anna started the therapy, she was told to keep a symptom diary for two weeks. Then she and Dr Eaton worked out what triggered the symptoms.

“Everyone has different triggers but one of the most common is not expressing emotion,” she says. “Though I felt hugely angry and sad about my CFS, I always told friends I was fine. I didn’t cry with anyone though I cried a lot on my own. I also had a lot of ‘must-dos’ in my life, including, ‘I must get ten hours sleep a night’ and ‘I must eat the right things’.

“I thought I was in tune with my body but I ignored alarm bells going off all over the place. My body cried out for a bit of balance in my life and when I didn’t listen, it gave me the symptoms.”

Dr Eaton’s method was to write messages on cards which she had to read aloud and act on whenever the symptoms appeared. “They said things like: ‘My symptoms are with me now as a reminder to stop isolating myself.’ The next time my friends asked about the illness, I burst into tears and told them how awful it was. It was really liberating.”

Anna gave up all her other treatments. After starting the therapy in September 2004, her symptoms subsided and she was back in training last January. “It has taught me to be happier. I’ve consolidated friendships and brought more emotional balance into my life and can still do my sport at the highest level,” she said.

 

Woman's Own, 9th April 2007 

Laurna Killin, 33, from Ayr, solved a sore joint problem by letting out bottled-up emotions. 

"Ten years ago, my hands became achy in the joints. I was referred for X-rays and it turned out to be Fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain in the body's tissues and joints. 

I was prescribed painkillers to manage the condition but they were so strong they made me ill, and I became tired and depressed. My condition worsened until I was in so much pain I couldn't manage stairs. I needed a stick to walk and had to take time off my work at a call centre. 

Then, two years ago, I heard about Reverse Therapy, which claimed to treat the condition. I booked an appointment. Even after the first treatment I felt so much better I was able to walk without my stick and a month later I stopped taking the pain-killers. Then over the next six months of monthly sessions, I acknowledged that I'd never recovered from the bullying I'd suffered as a child - mostly for being tall for my age. I'd bottled it up and never even told my parents about it. 

It's a year since my last treatment and the pain in my joints has largely gone, except when it rains. Other than that I feel I'm back in the land of the living and finally have my life back. 

 

The Independent - 22nd December 2006

Anna Hemmings won her fifth world marathon canoeing title this year. A great achievement given that the 29-year-old economics graduate was told by medical experts three years ago that she would have to retire from her sport after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

It is a condition that has blighted the careers of other top sports people such as Peter Marshall, the former world No 2 in squash, and for a while Hemmings thought it had done for her too. "It was a condition that left me feeling exhausted, aching with pain all over my body," she says. "I was actually scared, really scared that I would be trapped by it for ever."

She escaped with the help of a new method called Reverse Therapy, which helped her to identify the triggers that were overstimulating the brain's hypothalamus gland, which controls the body's functions.

Hemmings, whose marathons involve 18 miles of river, seems to have cracked the fatigue problem good and proper these days. She celebrated her latest world title in France three months ago by partying in St Tropez before returning home for a big night in a bar in Wimbledon Village.

"Winning the title last year just seven months after returning to training was one thing, but retaining it presented another kind of pressure," she said. She will seek to do the same again next year - but after thatwill focus on her "next big goal", the 500-metre sprint at the 2008 Olympics.