A professional dog trainer with several serious health conditions uses group hypnotherapy with her dogs, ducks and chickens to improve her mental health and chronic pain management by falling asleep alongside her menagerie of pets.
Joe Nutkins, 43, has tried everything from wearing human dog collars on her ankles to light therapy to manage her chronic pain from fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis and an underactive thyroid, but hypnotherapy has the most noticeable effect, it sends her and her pets to sleep, making them all more relaxed.
Joe has missed out on many get-togethers with her loved ones because of being in so much pain, and for the last ten years has felt like a part of her personality has been missing.
She lives in Harwich, Essex with her Husband, Jon, 43, an HGV driver, and their pet ferret, hamster, house duck, two parrots, three dogs, four cockerels, nine quails, 25 chickens and 30 ducks, and says her pets have been integral for improving her mental wellness.
She said: “Hypnotherapy has changed my life – I look forward to the session so much. Everything just becomes lighter.”
Before hypnotherapy, Joe tried almost everything imaginable for pain relief, such as light therapy and morphine patches.
She said: “I actually use a lot of the things I use for my dogs for pain relief.
“So there’s something called a Streamz collar, similar to a magnetic bracelet, and it promotes the body’s natural healing.
“But they do a human version you put around your ankle while you’re in bed overnight.”
Joe was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis and fibromyalgia around 10 years ago.
According to the NHS, symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis include feeling extremely tired all the time, taking a long time to recover after physical activity and problems with thinking, memory and concentration.
Fibromyalgia is a long term condition that causes pain all over the body, and, common signs of having an under active thyroid, where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormone, include tiredness, weight gain and feeling depressed, say the NHS.
Explaining her day-to-day life with her illnesses, she said: “I get brain fog all the time, it just feels like your brain is full of cotton wool.
“The other day, I was taking the duck to the vet and on the way back, I ended up in Sussex instead of Essex because my brain just couldn’t function properly. I’m a confident driver and I had the Sat-Nav on, and I just couldn’t work out where I was.”
Joe said the three illnesses make life very frustrating for her too: “It’s hard work because you need to plan things.
“You kind of get into a pattern of knowing your limits and knowing that if you’ve got a big day coming up, the next day will need a rest period.”
Joe has had depression since she was 13 and her illnesses can negatively impact her mental health even more.
She said: “My husband has been doing lots of stuff with enclosures in the garden lately, and I know that I can’t even help with that.
“It makes me feel really rubbish as an owner of all the animals that he’s lifting stuff and moving stuff around, and all I can do is make him a cup of tea if I can manage to carry it.
“I can feel like I’m not trying hard enough, and there’ve been periods of grief where I’ve had to give up stuff and know that part of my personality isn’t there anymore because I can’t do certain things.
“There are just times that I just don’t feel like I’m complete.
“Other days, I feel proud that I’ve achieved something. Even though I feel rubbish, I’ve moved a little bit.”
Joe said her illnesses are limiting on how she can live her life and she has missed out on occasions with her loved ones because she is in so much pain or needs a day in bed.
She said: “I don’t do as many sports with my dog. I don’t go out and do as many family meals or get to go out with friends and things.
“Because if I did that, then the next couple of days, I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all – if I did nothing with the animals for a day, I would have absolutely no job.
“It’s quite frustrating, especially when you see other people doing bits and pieces and getting on with their lives, and I’m just sitting here.”
Joe began hypnotherapy on Zoom in lockdown to improve her well-being after seeing it advertised on Facebook.
Joe has attended monthly sessions ever since and brings her chicken, duck and dog along.
She said: “It’s about 40 minutes of guided meditation and then hypnotherapy.
“It’s really bizarre because the therapy takes over fully. The woman will count down from 10 to one, and by one, literally, all of my pets in the room are asleep.
“And then she’ll start counting back up to 10 – by 10, they’re awake, yawning, stretching.
“One time Echo the duck was walking around quacking, throwing water everywhere, and having a bath.
“And by the time the therapist counted to one, Echo was asleep on my leg.”
Joe explained how she feels after hypnotherapy: “Normally, I never feel refreshed.
“I always wake up in the hypnotherapy session feeling calmer and more relaxed, and like I’ve actually had a rest of some sort, which is always obviously very nice to have.
“It’s helped my mental health in respect of feeling calmer and having my own space to do nothing and not worry about work or anything else.
“I feel so much calmer, which then has a knock-on effect on the pain levels.”
Joe’s husband, Jon, helps her as much as he can, but, being an HGV driver, he is away from home for four days in a row.
Joe said: “I sometimes have to put on a brave face, and I say I can do things, like put the bin out, when it can be hard work because I don’t want Jon to worry about me.
“Jon can see when I’m struggling, and he goes out of his way to help me.”
Jon’s care and attention have really helped Joe’s overall well-being, and Joe thinks the addition of hypnotherapy has been life-changing.
She said: ““It can be so hard with all these aches and pains, but I’d recommend hypnotherapy to anyone, especially with animals, it’s so relaxing and chills both you and the pets out. It’s a win win.”