Clare Pyers on CFS and what challenge to choose

This post was written by Megan on October 5, 2011
Posted Under: burnout and food,burnout and support

Clare Pyers

Clare Pyers has quite a reputation. She has her own spectacular history of fatigue, which led her to some pretty serious research on the matter.

Clare is now moving mountains (without getting too tired) as a Chinese Medicine practitioner, helping those who are trapped under the invisible piano.

You know what about her really got my attention? Clare admitting there was a time when Chinese Medicine (her 'Holy Grail') didn't deliver the goods for her health. Meet this refreshingly honest health practitioner…

Mind sharing where you are at now with your health, Clare?

For the most part, my health gets 4 out of 5 gold stars these days. I have a carefully juggled balance between getting enough R&R and doing the things that give me a sense of fulfilment, that make me happy, as well as making my contribution to the world.

I have undertaken a journey to explore the subtleties of my body, I now hear it long before it screams out for rest, or sleep or better nutrition. This "cheat sheet" to my own body allows me to now take an approach where I spend more time fortifying the fence at the top of the cliff rather than calling for an ambulance once I've hit the bottom.


What do you think led to your fatigue?

The background to my fatigue was a lifetime of antibiotic use from when I was a baby right through my teenage years. I had so many infections in my upper respiratory tract, tonsils, ears, etc. and the mainstream medical treatment for that is mainly a reactive treatment protocol with antibiotics.

Probiotics weren't spoken of back then. Well, certainly not as far as my parents were told. So more than 100 rounds of antibiotics during the formative years of my growing and development have left me somewhat behind the eight ball. Glandular fever, chronic fatigue (although back then it was a pooh-pooh diagnosis – more politically correct to call it 'post-viral syndrome').

When did things start getting better?

I found Chinese Medicine in my early 20s and it really turned things around for me with my health. I was so fascinated by this amazing form of medicine, that I left the world of Chemical Engineering to study Chinese Medicine. I had found the Holy Grail. Not only was I healthy, I was invincible!! In the process of setting up a new clinic I was working very long hours, 6 days a week most weeks. And while I was able to get away with it for a year or two, eventually the dream came to an end and I developed a serious problem with my thyroid – the type that wouldn't respond to normal medications.

This was typical for me, by the way. To get diseases that weren't in the text books and didn't respond to normal treatments. Hence my fascination with Chinese Medicine, because it could make sense of my body and it's weird ways.


How crushing for you. So what happened next?

Along with my thyroid deciding to go on holiday, my adrenals were also completely pounded. I felt a bit ripped off that my wonder medicine – Chinese Medicine – didn't actually give me super powers, and here I was sick as a dog.

Thankfully, my stubborn and inquisitive nature lent itself to me learning every possible angle about thyroid and adrenal problems and chronic fatigue syndrome and how they interact and how they differ. It's actually made a massive difference not only for my life, but also now for the hundreds of patients that I see who have one or more of these problems.


What do you see as the difference between adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome?

Adrenal fatigue is the kind of diagnosis you get from a holistic health practitioner who is trained in looking for the symptoms of poorly functioning adrenals. There are varying stages of adrenal fatigue. People can actually function quite well until they've burnt out the majority of their adrenal glands by living a modern day stressful life.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a bit more of a dark companion that has been with someone for a long time. To technically qualify for chronic fatigue syndrome, you need to have had at least 6 months straight of feeling pretty darned awful. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome inevitably have something resembling adrenal collapse – and it can take quite a bit to draw yourself out of the chasm of chronic fatigue.

By the time someone is so incredibly run down and exhausted that they are feeling it in every part of their being, it's affecting them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.


What do you think were the key things that helped you to improve your health so you could have an active life again?

Having a positive attitude is the foundation to any healing process, having faith that I was going to get better was really the key. It wasn't negotiable, it wasn't even a question that I wouldn't improve, it was a matter of when and how best to do it. I can't underestimate the power of the mind here. I knew already that my biggest hurdle would be my mind.

My body had to take me out of my life. I was working myself into the ground and was miserable. But I hadn't had the strength within myself to make the changes needed. The main understanding that I have from a clinicians point of view is that chronic fatigue syndrome is the body's last gasp attempt to pull you out from where you're not meant to be – and that the way out is to find out what really makes your heart sing and do that instead.

So there was a lot of navel gazing that went on, I found myself a good counsellor to talk it through, I found a good kinesiologist, I got back into meditation, I got back into yoga, I loaded myself with nutritious food, took lots of herbs and had regular acupuncture. I couldn't really say it was one thing that made the difference, the important thing was that I was addressing every aspect of myself from physical all the way through to my spiritual and karmic health – what am I here to do in this lifetime, and what is going to have me feeling more fulfilled. I'm so much happier and content now in my life than I was back in 2008.


Who inspired you the most while you were unwell?

I'd have to say my partner, Mark. One of my lessons that I needed to learn through this was to accept my victories and to acknowledge my success – something I had never done before. I was in a high-achieving pattern of reaching a goal and then immediately setting the next one without ever standing back to admire my achievements. Mark pointed this out to me on a number of occasions, and it was a concept that I had a lot of resistance to initially. So I knew there was something juicy underneath it all.

He really inspired me to challenge myself in the right ways, not by pounding my body or by draining my intellectual mind, but to question how I landed up getting so sick. He's a big supporter of my profession and he knew from my ramblings that illness is very infrequently only based in the physical plane – that there's always mental, emotional and spiritual disharmony as well. So he prompted me to reflect on that and really get it sorted out.

How have friends/family/colleagues helped you (or not…) through your recovery?

My family and friends have all known my sickly history, so they're not suprised to hear when I peel back the next layer of the mystery of my health to reveal the next demon that needs to be exorcised! We all have a very open dialog around my health woes and successes, and I am always very open about how glad I am that I am a health practitioner and that I can be very proactive about my health.

I did my battles long ago with my family and friends – they know now the difference it makes when I'm well compared to when I'm not – so they support whatever I'm doing to get myself back to 100%.

My colleagues were also very supportive – always taking time out of their weeks to ensure that they could give me an acupuncture treatment. We all take care of each other in terms of getting enough rest and having enough headspace. It's quite a common scenario for health practitioners to suffer some form of burnout. So we're very proactive from that point of view.


Can you give me in outline of how you would help a client with CFS?

The best way to get back to harmony is to be aware of the 'why' so that you can be really clear about the 'how'. Sometimes life gives out blessings in disguise, and many times people end up in a much better happier place once they can peel off the disguise from ME/CFS and work out what your body is really trying to say.

Normally clients can trace back to a lead up of months or years of feeling not quite right before the "straw that broke the camel's back" came along and changed their path. Being really aware that the body was probably trying to say "no" for a long time beforehand before is important. Ultimately there was no way of ignoring it anymore.

  • About stress management

    To me, 'stress management' is a term that doesn't even scrape the tip of what needs to happen for those with ME/CFS. It's a process of stripping life down to the things that actually work for you, removing everything that doesn't, and rebuilding it all again in the way that will serve you best. This is everything from career, hobbies, friends, relationships, personal development – it's a big job and a lot of space is required for it.
  • About rest

    REST is the dirty four letter word that no one wants to be told to do. Defining what rest actually is, it is either laying on the couch, or laying down in bed. It doesn't involve laptops, it doesn't involve conference calls, and it certainly doesn't involve cups of tea at other people's houses.

    A lot of the time there can be some underlying anxiety around unfinished tasks, an impending sense of doom around what will happen if the ironing doesn't get done today, or what might happen if you don't reply to that email right this very moment etc. There is a lot of reframing of expectations that needs to go on, and lots of shifting of assumed responsibility that people have taken on.

  • About diet

    Eat plenty of good fats – lots of coconut oil, oily fish, grass fed organic meat is essential, and more leafy greens than people might think is possible becomes the mainstay of the dietary recommendations. 100% cooked foods, nothing raw, so that the digestion has nothing to do except extract nutrition  So we change the entire diet to be soups and stews and casseroles, long, slow cooking processes – and we're eating it for breakfast lunch and dinner. Lots of fat and lots of veggies. Avoid simple and complex carbohydrates, so that the blood sugar remains constant and the adrenals don't get fired off at any stage of the day.

    Caffeine is a big no – including: chocolate, coffee and tea. Again if the adrenals get pressed into producing too much adrenaline and cortisol then you unnecessarily use up your energy reserves.


  • About supplements and Chinese herbs

    Herbs are given according to a person's needs. Not everyone gets the same formulas but we use a lot of herbal formulas that help to boost energy levels whilst also supporting the underlying energy generating mechanisms. With all our treatment approaches we take the view that supplements are by and large an interim measure, and it should be the case that the more you take a particular formula, the less you will need it.Gradually dosages taper over a period of 6-12 months as improvements are cemented and energy levels and endurance return.

    We also sometimes give some luggol's iodine to apply to the skin of the inner forearm, especially for women and where we think there might be thyroid playing part of the role. It can be useful from a diagnostic point of view to see how quickly the iodine is absorbed, if it's not visible in 24 hours time – we know there's a problem with iodine levels – an essential nutrient for proper thyroid function. Magnesium chloride oil is also a good one for achy or tight muscles and is applied directly. It can help to improve sleep quality, reduce stress and anxiety too.

The more research I do, the more I realise that there are many people who are finding that their research is taking them way off the page – away from blood tests, pathology reports and scans, and towards the subtleties of the mind, the emotions, and exploring what stress actually is, and the best ways to conquer it.

I am very 'off the page' compared even to many of my colleagues in Chinese Medicine, and it's very clearly built into our medicine that there's no separation between mind, body and spirit. It just doesn't work if you don't get it all sorted out at the same time.


Running a health clinic on your own is no mean feat. How have you organised your work life to prevent you going back into fatigue?

I have very specific hours that I work, and I don't work outside those hours. In the type of work that I do – being in natural medicine – often we are asking people to come and see us when they are well. And so there is a requirement to a certain extent that we are available outside of business hours. I work 3 days a week at the moment, I have one late night where I work from 12pm-7:30pm, and two early mornings where I work from 8am-4pm. This seems to work well for me, and there are two other practitioners who work part time, they each do one late night, one practitioner works Saturday morning as well.

We find that people can fit in with this schedule, and it's useful for them to prioritise their health and wellbeing, and start a little late, or finish a little early, or take a little longer on their lunch so they can fit in their appointments. That is the biggest problem that other colleagues in industry are faced with is that clients are wanting to come in the evenings and they feel pressure to offer those times. However we have found there is a happy medium that leaves us refreshed and enthusiastic about treating our clients.

I have implemented a metric into the clinic whereby if it's not possible for it to be sustained for the next 15 years, then it needs to change. The most profound change I made was the decision to start taking the laundry to the laundromat next door. They have a wash, dry and fold service for $15, and to be honest – it has changed my life not having to worry about it anymore. It's the little things that all add up, we have made lots of changes that make life easier for everyone – not just for me. It's a really great clinic to work in now – and it keeps getting better with the tweaks we make along the way.


What do you think is the most important advice to share with someone struggling with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue?

It's important to connect with your body, and to listen to what it's REALLY trying to tell you. Your body is not your enemy, it's a very intelligent part of you and you need to learn how to make it one of your biggest assets. Understanding yourself and all the things that drive you, what makes your heart sing, what do you want to achieve in your life – all the big, deep questions – those answers will guide you towards better health and a greater sense of inner harmony and wellness.

More about Clare Pyers
BHSc(TCM), Cert Adv Clin Prac (China)
Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Clinic: Discover Chinese Medicine


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who applauds Clare's ability to set her working hours AND stick to them. Megan sets them well but….  Find out more about Megan


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