ProHealth is proud to introduce Julie Holliday as the editor of our Inspirational Corner and the newest member of the ProHealth team. Julie is a holistic life coach, dedicated to supporting and empowering people with ME/CFS, fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses in their quest for better health and happiness. She knows only too well what that entails because she is an ME/CFS patient herself.
Julie was only 29 when she was first diagnosed with ME/CFS in 1996. Although it turned her world upside down, she refused to give up and was determined to find a way to help herself get better. And get better she did! Five years after being diagnosed, she had recovered completely. Julie enjoyed seven more years of full, vibrant health before relapsing in 2008.
This time around her health challenges were a little more complicated. Julie, however, was undeterred. She applied the self-help skills she had learned a decade earlier and gradually began to improve. While still not 100 percent, she's now significantly better and ready to share what she's learned to help others.
When you talk to Julie, her inner calm and peacefulness is evident. It doesn't take long to sense that she has learned the secret of making proverbial lemonade out of life's lemons.
We asked Julie about her experiences with ME/CFS and her goals as a life coach.
ProHealth: What was your life like before ME/CFS?
Julie: I would describe my life before ME/CFS as pretty full-on, but I’d never been happier. I was working in a children’s home with children with very challenging behavior. Although it was thought of as a stressful job, I found it extremely rewarding rather than stressful. However, it wasn’t unusual for me to work 56+ hours a week, on top of a shift as a volunteer youth counsellor. I also exercised furiously, doing yoga every day plus swimming, jogging or doing aerobics, about five times a week. I also had an active and fulfilling social life, going out for a drink most nights and going out dancing at least one night on the weekend. During this period I slept a maximum of six hours a night. I worked shifts and ate irregularly. I was a vegetarian and didn’t seem to have time to pay proper attention to eating a balanced diet, but I felt very fulfilled.
ProHealth: How did your life change the first time you got ME/CFS?
Julie: The change was dramatic; all of a sudden I could do none of what I could do before. I felt like I suddenly had the life of a not-very-healthy 80 year old. I was practically housebound; I could hardly walk to the end of my street and back. A friend who lived a quarter of a mile away would have to pick me up in her car to take me to her house to feed me. I couldn’t even read or watch TV for more than about half an hour without getting exhausted.
ProHealth: To what do you attribute your recovery from your first bout with ME/CFS?
Julie: Mainly it was small steps taken one at a time, each building on the previous. But I believe the key was developing an attitude of relaxed effortless in all that I did – staying calm and relaxed and never exerting myself. My interest in Taoist philosophy helped me to develop this relaxed effortlessness. Grieving the loss of my old life and reaching an acceptance that life would have to be lived differently for a while was also an important early step.
ProHealth: When you relapsed, in what ways was it easier or more difficult to cope with the life changes ME/CFS brought?
Julie: After the initial horror at the re-emergence of my symptoms, I reminded myself that I already had a great deal of skill that I could apply to illness management. At first I kept a lot of hope that if I took care of myself properly, it would only be a short term post-viral fatigue. But even when that no longer seemed feasible, I knew that I’d learned how to be happy independently of my circumstances. This time I knew I wasn’t losing my life; it was just changing course. I didn’t experience the same extent of grief as I did the first time around.
ProHealth: How are you feeling now?
Julie: I feel pretty good now. I can feel well about 80% of the time as long as I look after myself properly and stick within my energy envelope. Of course, it’s still extremely frustrating and disappointing that I can’t control the other 20% of the time, but I’ve learned to befriend those feelings so that they flow and soon pass. My energy envelope still isn’t huge, but I focus on what I am able to enjoy and not what I’m not.
ProHealth: Why did you want to become a holistic life coach?
Julie: I wanted to share the skills I’ve learned that enable me to live a happy and fulfilling life despite ME/CFS. I also appreciate that there’s an interaction between body, mind and spirit and that each of us is unique and will have to find our own unique path to better health and happiness. I love really connecting with people and felt that coaching would be an ideal way to do so and really make a difference. I love how the Internet now makes it possible to connect with people all over the world!
ProHealth: What kind of services do you offer?
Julie: At the moment I coach people individually using Skype or Google video hangouts, with limited email coaching between sessions. I offer a free strategy session to potential clients to find out if we’re a good fit, although I only have a limited number of those available each month. I’m also working on developing a more affordable group coaching program that I hope to launch later this year.
ProHealth: What advice do you give to people newly diagnosed with a chronic illness like ME/CFS or FM?
Julie: Don’t despair! Life has changed, but it isn’t over. It’s important to keep hopeful of substantial improvements to your health, but not put your life on hold until you get there. You may have to grieve the life you’ve lost in order to come to an acceptance that life needs to be lived differently for a while. But once you reach that acceptance, there are many ways you can learn to adapt, many things that you can do to give your health a better chance, and many new happiness skills that can be learned that will hold you in good stead even if you completely recover! It’s important that you learn to make the most of now, because better health might be a while in the making! Trying to fight against a chronic illness like ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia is often counterproductive, but you can look for ways to outwit it! Choose to rise to that challenge!
ProHealth: Where does your greatest inspiration come from?
Julie: I guess my greatest inspiration comes from the natural world, the amazing diversity and creativity of nature, and the sense of being a part of something far greater than myself that is absolutely amazing! The fact that nature has found incredible solutions to such an infinite range of challenges and that each being is so perfectly adapted to its environment inspires me to trust that by being true to my inner nature, everything will work out as it should! The writings of Lao Tse and Deepak Chopra have also been important influences on me.
ProHealth: How do you maintain such a positive attitude?
Julie: Self-compassion is really important. It’s much easier to choose to make the most of things most of the time when you also compassionately accept yourself in the moments when you naturally feel down. It’s impossible to avoid difficult emotions when you live with a chronic illness, but when you allow them the freedom to be, they flow and change, and you soon find that your spirit is ready to make positive choices again.
ProHealth: Do you have a motto that sums up your approach to dealing with chronic illness?
Julie: I guess my two most important guiding principles can be summed up as ‘relaxed effortlessness’ and ‘invest in better health but live life for today.’
If you'd like to learn more about Julie, read her blog, or find out about her coaching services, visit her website: ME/CFS Self-Help Guru.