A TINGLING down her side was Pam Clay’s first sign that years of painful muscles and crippling tiredness was over.
Her story of the onset of fibromyalgia is a common one – the symptoms start to mount up gradually, almost without being noticed.
For a long time, Pam hadn’t been able to work out what was wrong.
A busy mum with a full-time job, Pam doesn’t remember exactly when she first realised she wasn’t feeling 100 per cent.
Her muscles had begun to ache, her joints felt stiff and she started to feel exhausted a lot of the time.
Though she went to her doctor’s, there was no precise diagnosis of what was going on.
Pam said: "I had a lack of energy and a constant burning sensation in my muscles, but the doctor wasn’t prepared to put a name to it.
"I just learned to live with the pain. You get coping mechanisms that help you blank out the pain.
"When you have two young children, you just have to get on with it, though constant pain can be very wearing."
Heather Craig was living in Strathconon when she first began to get symptoms five or six years ago.
"I started to feel achey and had no energy. I felt exhausted and eventually I had to take time off working as a community psychiatric nurse. I would wake up in the morning exhausted, both physically and mentally, and all I wanted to do was sleep. My legs ached and I found it difficult to walk. If I needed to go upstairs to the toilet, I would be exhausted by the time I got up the stairs. My breathing became shallow, as if I had run 100 miles. And when I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t move because my joints were very sore and stiff – particularly in my neck and shoulders, and I would often wake up with severe headaches."
And for Lorna Taylor, who worked for Highland Council in Ross-shire, it wasn’t until she was on the road to recovery that she could look back and realise she’d been struggling to keep up with her hectic life long before the symptoms of fibromyalgia hit home.
"It all came to a head when I caught a virus," she revealed.
"I had a sore throat and a cough – and I just couldn’t get rid of them. I went to my doctor for an antibiotic. By my third visit, they thought I had post viral fatigue or ME. But that was it. I never picked up again after getting the virus and I was off work for two years."
Pam works as a college lecturer teaching complementary therapies at Inverness College. Part of the programme includes guest speakers coming to keep the students up to date with the latest therapies. And it was while with a class listening to therapist Clare Caldwell, that she pricked up her ears.
"Clare had had ME herself and was talking about the symptoms of that and fibromyalgia.
"Clare had tried all sorts of things before she had heard about Mickel therapy, and she told us that although some complementary therapies had helped with symptoms, it wasn’t until she had followed up on what she had heard about a newish treatment, Mickel therapy, that she had begun to get better. Once she was back to health, Clare had decided to train to become a Mickel therapist herself."
Clare’s story had a big impact on Pam.
She said: "Hearing about how the therapy worked, I thought ‘I just have to do this’."
But Pam is no pushover, and she decided she wanted to find out more about the Elgin-based Dr Mickel and his theories before trying the therapy for herself.
"I am very sceptical about everything," she revealed. "I trained as a nurse and then went on to work in occupational therapy. Because I come from a medical background, I want to see things that are evidence-based.
"Before I decided to become a complementary therapist, I came at things with the attitude ‘Come on, then, how is fiddling with someone’s feet going to make them feel better?’
"But now I am a believer in alternative therapies and have gone on to learn reflexology, aromatherapy, Swedish, sport injury and Indian head massage."
Pam thought that Mickel therapy sounded quite expensive, but she explained that she believed it was worth a try, so she saved up for her first session.
"It’s a lot of money, but what price do you put on health?"
The theory behind Mickel therapy is that the different symptoms of conditions such as fibromyalgia, ME and irritable bowel syndrome all relate back to the brain’s hypothalmus gland. If it isn’t working properly, it can’t understand the feedback from the body and starts to send out its own messages – symptoms that can affect both the nervous and immune systems. Dr Mickel’s theory was to tackle the body and mind problem by working out a one-to-one programme.
Mickel therapy is a talking therapy, which means that the therapist will start the first session by asking the client some questions about their health and how they think their lives might be affecting their health.
It can take as many sessions as it takes for each individual. For 75 per cent of people, that can be around six to eight sessions. Some people, like Pam, may just need one, but for others who look as if they might take longer than average, practitioners will pass on that information at an early stage.
For Pam, the very first question she was asked by therapist Clare brought an instant response, in her body. The tingling sensation down her side was a very physical response to the treatment, and from that first session she knew she was on the right track.
For Heather, the treatment took a little longer. Heather recalled: "I decided to take a few weeks off work, and went back 18 months later. I’d had the chance to go off for a while and take a career break, so I’d taken that.
I thought ‘Hurray, I just need a rest’. But as soon as you stop trying, it’s like leaping over a precipice and I actually became much worse. Someone said to me at that point they thought I had fibromyalgia and I just said ‘Don’t be ridiculous’.
"I had answers for all the symptoms."
But as Heather got worse and worse, she still didn’t want to go and bother her doctor, until a friend gave her a massage.
"It felt so painful at the time, and afterwards, it was much, much worse."
Heather laughed: " I phoned my friend a few days later and told her the massage had been far too severe, that I was STILL hurting. And then she told me that she too thought I may have fibromyalgia."
Heather still struggled on, trying the gentle movements of yoga for relief. But that proved painful too.
"It got to the stage that anything physical hurt. And then I finally decided to find out more about fibromyalgia. I started to read the symptoms and finally went to the doctor.
"They wanted to do a blood test to test for thyroid problems. I was feeling particularly ill the day of the appointment, but I was told to pull myself together."
Eventually, Heather’s own researches brought her in contact with Mickel therapy after she attended a complementary health centre for shiatsu massage to try to help her symptoms, and she spotted a flier about Mickel therapy.
Contacting the therapist, Heather discovered that the therapist was fully booked, but was sent a book about the therapy to read in the meantime.
"I had just moved out of the area for a while and I was too ill to travel. I started to get a little bit better, but began to fall back and suffer from the full-blown symptoms I had had in the first place."
Heather began to suffer the "brain fog" that those with fibromyalgia and ME sometimes talk about – where even thinking processes and daily tasks most of us do automatically, become difficult.
"By this time we had moved back to the Strathconon area and my partner kept saying to me that I should get back in touch with the Mickel therapist. And I did ring in March and found that the therapist had a space for me and I started seeing her straight away.
I had got to desperation point. I just couldn’t carry on any more."
Heather added: "They say that the kind of people who get these conditions – ME and fibromyalgia – are the kind of people who can’t say no."
Heather laughed: "And I have been that person all my life! I would try to do anything for anybody. I had stopped listening to my own body and so I found that the Mickel therapy did work for me. I was desperate to get better and I thought I had got to a point where I wouldn’t be able to. Your head can be very fuzzy or ‘cloudy’ as I used to feel it was. I got some respite to start with from the pain in my legs, so from the beginning I had a glimmer of things starting to change for me. When I went to see the therapist, I was battling against not having the mental power to do it properly."
Now, though Heather, like Pam has taken a while to try to build back her physical strength, she says she feels lucky to have found treatment. She is now back at work too.
"I feel incredibly grateful to Lorna. And though I still have to build back my strength, there is light at the end of the tunnel now. My inner strength is back. I’ve just had to learn not to do too much. I love gardening and I want to have a vegetable garden again. But I have had to learn I can’t always do everything I want to do. So maybe next year for the garden! I accept it will take time."
But Heather does have one problem.
"My partner has only known me as an unwell person. I have never been a stressed person in my life before this period, but one part of the illness for me was becoming very stressed. I’d get very stressed out about things that wouldn’t have bothered the real me.
"But now I am having to convince my partner that I am not really a stressed-out person, that was just another symptom!"
* For more information about fibromyalgia, you can check out the Fibromyalgia Association by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or going to website www.fibromyalgia-association.co.uk. And you can find the Centre for Fibromyalgia (UK) at www.ukfibromyalgia.com. There is also a book, Fibromyalgia And Muscle Pain by Leon Chaitow (Thorsons, £9.99). Anyone who wants to find out more about Mickel therapy can go to www.mickeltherapy.com, Dr Mickel is now planning to run his first weekend health seminar in Inverness at the Beaufort Hotel on October 27 and 28. The doctor, along with therapists Clare Caldwell and Lorna Taylor, will provide an introduction and equivalent of the first four sessions of the therapy course over the weekend. For more details and to contact Clare and Lorna, you can email email@example.com or clarec@mickel therapy.com When a mystery illness began to sap the life out of three Highland women,
Duo were so pleased with therapy they trained to help others
CLARE Caldwell had been an NHS manager in England until a bout of ME in 1988 was the first sign that all was not well.
Though she recovered briefly, the condition returned, and it wasn’t until after moving to the Highlands in 1995 that she heard about Dr Mickel’s therapy. In seven sessions, Clare began to feel better and was finally back to her former strength.
On regaining her health, Clare decided she would like to be able to do the same for others, and she embarked on a period of training and began to practise in the Highlands two years ago.
"I GOT so bad I couldn’t even make myself a cup of tea," revealed Lorna Taylor, who has now been a Mickel therapist herself in Ross-shire for three years.
The "brain fog" that many experience when they suffer from fibromyalgia, hit Lorna too. But hearing from a friend about a Highland teacher who had improved leaps and bounds after starting Mickel therapy, Lorna plucked up her courage, phoned the school where the teacher worked, asked for more information.
"I felt I had nothing to lose by trying it. I had tried so many things by then," said Lorna.
By her fourth session, Lorna was so improved that the therapist said they didn’t think she needed to come back: "I had to build up the physical side, but I felt as if I could climb Ben Wyvis!" recalled Lorna.
When she heard that Dr Mickel was looking for people interested in training to become therapists, Lorna joined eight others.
She revealed that she wanted to help other people improve and also show that there was life after ME.
"It was a huge boost to see so many of us who had been ill going on to give others the therapy ourselves," she said.