By Erica Verrillo
Dr. Eleanor Stein’s book, Let Your Light Shine Through, is a gold mine of useful strategies for understanding and managing myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia (FM) and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). Her goal in writing this book was to provide a “light in the darkness” for patients who may feel they have lost themselves or lost their way. Dr. Stein accomplishes that goal through expertise she has gathered from twelve years of clinical practice with these illnesses. Her profound personal understanding combined with a deep knowledge of how to help people with these illnesses are what make Let Your Light Shine Through uniquely suited to patients with these difficult-to-treat diagnoses.
Dr. Stein expresses her mission eloquently with a message of hope:
“Our inner light is always there even on the “darkest” day. By the end of working through this manual I hope you will be better connected with your own light and that it will be shining brighter for you and those around you … I can guide patients to certain treatments and attitudes which may help them but to “feel better” you must find and utilize inner resources to forge your own path from illness to health. And yes … you have those resources.”
Although Dr. Stein provides enlightening explanations for the symptoms common to these illnesses, along with many references, Let Your Light Shine Through is fundamentally a practical workbook that provides a template for patients to apply their inner resources to the task of getting better. Symptom management strategies, as she explains, can make a profound and significant difference in quality of life. It is those strategies, what Dr. Stein calls “psychoeducation,” that form the backbone of the book.
The first chapter (session), “Laying the Foundation,” provides a useful overview of the three conditions addressed in the book. Dr. Stein explains that in her practice it is not uncommon for her patients to have all three conditions, though they may not be aware of that fact. As a consequence these conditions may be under-reported. In this chapter Dr. Stein defines ME, CFS, FM, and MCS, and describes levels of illness severity. She brings up the importance of getting to know your body as a prerequisite for any kind of management strategy, whether it is self-management or in a group setting.
The following seven sessions are focused on sleep, activity, coping, diet and gut, toxic load, pain, depression and anxiety. Each of these sessions is organized using an easy-to-follow, step-by-step format: an introduction to the goals of the session, explanation of the symptom and its effects, relevant tests and treatments, how to manage the symptom, sample charts to help patients track their symptoms, and useful references and links. Most helpful are the personal case studies of patients, which provide good examples for how to use these scales.
Aside from providing all the necessary tools to understand, manage, and track symptoms, as well as recommending helpful remedies, Dr. Stein also addresses some of the most important questions asked by patients with these illnesses: Does exercise make patients with ME/CFS and FM better? Is therapy for me? Are these illnesses psychological?
The question “Is it all in my head?” is of critical importance to people who have been accused of fabricating their symptoms. Having been dismissed by physicians, friends and even family members, patients with these illnesses suffer from the additional hardships of isolation and self-doubt. Patients themselves may eventually come to believe that their symptoms are not real, and that they are not serious.
Although Dr. Stein discusses grief, anxiety and depression, her training as a psychiatrist does not lead her to conclude that these illnesses are psychological. On the contrary, she states unequivocally:
“I believe ME/CFS, FM and MCS to be primarily diseases of the body for which biological treatments are necessary for recovery.”
Dr. Stein’s conviction that these illnesses are physiological, not psychological, is what makes this book stand out from many books written by psychologists. While she addresses the psychological and emotional fallout from having a chronic illness, Dr. Stein does not place them at center stage. Depression, grief, and anxiety are, as she points out, consequences, not causes. In that vein, her summary of treatments – including supplements, protocols, and tests – at the end of the book is thorough, informative and accurate.
The bottom line of this workbook is the question “What Can You Change?” How can we take control while we are suffering the ravages of illnesses that most doctors don’t even believe in, let alone treat? How can we help ourselves in a way that is productive? There are no silver bullets in this book, no false claims of “miracle cures,” just answers to those questions – signposts along the road to recovery that can help us avoid the many pitfalls along the way.
Let Your Light Shine Through guides us along that road – with wisdom, knowledge, integrity, and with unassailable hope.
Let Your Light Shine Through can be downloaded here. Price $20.00 (Canadian).
Dr. Stein is a psychiatrist and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of Calgary. Dr. Stein is the founder of the ETeam, the only multidisciplinary team in Canada offering objective assessment of cognitive and sensory function in people with ME/CFS, FM, MCS or a history of toxic exposure. She is the clinical lead of the Alberta Initiative for ME (AIME) whose objectives include education of health care professionals and improving access to needed services and tests for Albertans with ME/CFS. Dr. Stein runs a small, part time private practice in Calgary Canada for Canadian residents with ME/CFS and related conditions. Currently she is not accepting new patients.