Is this type of dysregulation a mental or physical ailment?

“It’s mitochondria, not hypochondria.” -Dr. Sarah Myhill

I want to be very clear: I do not mean that ME/CFS could be imagined, or could be alleviated simply by positive thinking, therapy, or antidepressants. But I love this line of thinking because it begs the question: is there a difference between mind and body wellness?

Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous to view the body in a reductionist way: you have hives? See the allergist. You have diarrhea? See the gastroenterologist. You have anxiety? See a therapist. No! All of these symptoms are likely connected. Your skin and gut and brain are communicating with one another. The body is presenting these symptoms for a reason. It’s communicating with you.

The brain and central nervous system (CNS) can tell the body to do some pretty crazy stuff. Imagine the agonizing, nausea-inducing pain of hitting your elbow in exactly the wrong way. There’s nothing actually wrong structurally in your elbow, but you’re still doubled over in pain. And you are not imagining it. The CNS is telling you that this is how you feel.

Last year, I wrote about the sensation that my cells simply could not produce energy. The easiest exercise felt like an anaerobic interval. That is likely exactly what was happening. My cells couldn’t get the oxygen needed for aerobic energy production, because my nervous system had told them all to buffer themselves against pathogens (cell danger response, see here.) And why was my nervous system doing this? Because severe physical and emotional stress had suppressed my immune system and released pathogens into my body, and because my vagus nerve was still perceiving a serious threat to my safety from my repressed emotional trauma. According to Polyvagal Theory, I have been fluctuating between chronic states of sympathetic activation and dorsal-vagal freeze.

The body and mind are one.

As renowned ME/CFS expert Dr. Sarah Myhill says, “It’s mitochondria, not hypochondria.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with your mitochondria. It could also mean your mitochondria cannot get the oxygen they require through the cellular buffers your nervous system has erected.