I have been lucky to locate compassionate, smart therapists who, unlike many of my medical doctors, are good listeners without complicating preconceptions that get in the way of real help. I’ve read that Cognitive Behavior Therapy is most successful with ME/CFS patients, but I’ve found that personality and a willingness to be eclectic matters more than strict professional orientation or ideology.

Barbara Cole-Kiernan, MSW, Highland Park, New Jersey

 I’d tried to meditate with her help, but, as usual, couldn’t focus on anything besides my virulent fear, which, we all know, can harm your recovery and make chopped liver of your immune system.

I loved Dr. Karp  (remember him? My Reichian therapist?) but just didn’t have the strength to keep driving an hour each way to Lawrenceville, N.J. I don’t remember who referred me to Barbara, but there she was, a hippie in her 50’s with long hair, long skirts and long flowing blouses, up on the second floor of an office building in Highland Park.

She’d been on all kinds of meditation retreats, even ones with days of silence. She knew all the meditation gurus and tapes, but surprisingly, there was nothing spacey about Barbara. She had a clear, organized mind. Though she encouraged meditation and relaxation practices, she listened to me carefully and understood quickly that I needed immediate practical intervention rather than long-term psychotherapy.

meditation picture

A yoga nidra CD containing voice guided progressive relaxation and music worked for Carol where other meditative techniques had failed.

She believed in my illness and did her best to help me cope. And she had a definite no-nonsense thing; I couldn’t get away with my articulate excuses or rationalizations. “Why are you saying that? Isn’t that bullshit? You’re smarter than that.” Maybe that sounds harsh, but I liked it. She pushed me in a practical way to focus on the “now” of my life, rather than what was or will be.

Okay, once in a while she tried out some new-age hippy-dippy technique, but only with her tongue in her cheek. It’s hard to explain. She believed and didn’t believe, experimenting maybe for an emotional/physical rather than mystical effect. Whatever. It was kinda fun.

She’d disclaim any proven scientific validity, but state, “Well, it can’t hurt. Who knows? Some people have found this useful. Whaddya say?” Maybe there were vials involved, and some slight massages a la the previous nuts. I don’t know if it helped, but she was right; it didn’t hurt.

Barbara did, however, introduce me to something that has continued to help me over the years: A practice called “Yoga Nidra.”  She handed me a CD that amazingly cut through the ever present panic buzzing in my head and in my gut. I’d tried to meditate with her help, but, as usual, couldn’t focus on anything besides my virulent fear, which, we all know, can harm your recovery and make chopped liver of your immune system.

I began to lie in my bed after lunch and listen to “Yoga Nidra: Dreams of Ancient Yogis”; following the voice’s instructions on the tape brought me to a point where I would either fall asleep or mellow out into a sweet rest. I’d heard about and even (unsuccessfully) tried progressive relaxation before, but somehow now the combination of attending to various parts of the body and visualization accompanied by new age-y music and Barbara’s encouragement and support worked.

I felt Barbara was helping. Then, one bright day, she revealed that she was moving her Highland Park practice to Lambertville, New Jersey, where she lived. Sure, I could see her there. It was only 39.8 miles, 57 minutes away.

So I said goodbye Barbara Cole-Kiernan, as I had said goodbye, Gary Karpf.

M Best and Last Therapist, Dr. Robert Fink, PhD, Highland Park, New Jersey

I had issues up the wazoo

I’d been seeing Bob Fink for three years when my friend Rona called to ask me if I’d heard the news. Bob had suffered a heart attack and died. Sixty-two years old.

Another sudden deprivation. . .and heartbreak.

After a hiatus from therapy of about six months following Barbara, I was doing all right with illness issues, but then along came the family crisis I’d been expecting all my life when my neurotic, narcissistic 92 year old mother fell out of bed and broke her pelvis. (This was not the first time she actually called me from the floor.)

She wound up in the hospital and then rehab, while my 89 year old father with serious Alzheimers Disease stayed at home with a 24 hour nurse’s aide, and my 60 year old mentally handicapped brother who lived alone in a tiny shabby apartment near my mother’s office freaked out.

rock balancing

Bob Fink provided balance when external issues threatened to knock Carol’s life akilter

I had issues up the wazoo.

I’d known about Bob Fink since he treated each of my sons for a very short time when they were teenagers, around 25 years before.  Jack had been caught drunk at the radio station at high school and a community council made him see a therapist. Todd went of his own volition because he was a rebellious teenager who hated the restrictions we placed on him.

Steve and I went for a session with Bob when he was treating Todd, and I will never forget Bob demonstrating how Todd described me when he arrived home after curfew. He jumped around the room, flailing his long arms and shrieking, and Steve and I couldn’t stop laughing. Our very good friends and ex-next-door-neighbors-for-over-30-years also saw him for a long time and felt he had helped them manage their life with a developmentally disabled daughter. Other friends also spoke highly of him. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of him earlier.

If you picture Jeff Goldblum, you will see Bob Fink. He was tall with a mane of black curly hair which he often twirled with his fingers (I do that too, twirl my hair; I don’t know if Jeff Goldblum twirls his hair), often bronzed from the sun, with wide-open poppy eyes. Roughly handsome. Lanky and a bit gawky. Also restless. He sat in his large swivel chair and frequently pushed up his long body with his palms to shift into a more comfortable position.

Like Barbara Cole-Kiernan, but not nearly so intensely, he meditated and recommended 20 minutes a day of mindfulness focus on breathing, attending to the present, staying with and working through difficult emotions, opening up to the positive.  He suggested many helpful authors, including Pema Chodrun and Thich Nhat Hanh.

He did very little if any analysis with me; he listened actively, asked good questions, and best of all, gave good advice. If I rationalized and pursued negativity (as is my wont), he patiently, gently and humorously guided me toward a more positive perspective. He was supportive and understanding about my problems and helped me recognize the best courses of action.

Like me, he loved books and movies and plays. Frequently after a session, we’d share enthusiastic responses to something we’d just seen or read, and I’d leave feeling buoyed.

I will always be grateful for his realistic and persistent responses when I kept citing reasons why I couldn’t put my brother into a group home after I got him registered with the NJ Department of Developmental Disabilities. (“OhmyGod, he can’t deal with change. There’s a very long waiting list in New Jersey. My mother would go to pieces. I think he’s agoraphobic. He’s too set in his ways, too nervous, too afraid of people, too this, too that, too the other thing. . .”

“Just make the call. You know it’s the best thing for him. You know he’ll eventually have to move into one when your parents are gone. Start the process and see what happens. Better now than in an emergency, right?”

Boy, did I resist.

But after my father died and my mother’s dementia grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go, with Bob’s coaxing, I arranged for a meeting with David’s case worker and a DDD psychologist. To my surprise, they agreed that something had to be done right then, and within the year David was moved up the list and placed into the group home in Jersey City where he is adjusting beautifully. When my mother died two year ago, David had the necessary support and caring staff to help him cope.

Bob’s funeral was beautiful, filled with the love and tears and funny stories from family, friends and patients. He was a special man. Now when faced with an upset, I try to picture Bob, big and sorta ADD in his black leather swivel chair, and recreate his stare. He grabs the arms of his chair, listening and waiting before reviewing my choices, always supportive, funny and wise.

“Here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.”

I have not yet sought a new therapist and don’t know if I ever will, though sometimes I still feel the need. But how many times can I tell my story? It takes so long to develop that special connection and rapport with someone. I am where I am and I guess that has to be okay, at least for a while.

Some people express gratitude for an illness, convinced that they’ve grown spiritually and emotionally as a result. Not me. I cope, but miss terribly the 55 year-old I was before the flu shot. Bob Fink was a strong presence who helped me find my balance, some center in the midst of the shit, defining and understanding the shit, and working through alternatives to shovel it away, or, at least, aside.








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