I have both physical and emotional health issues. Some have been with me for years and others happened after an accident and personal loss in the same week in 2018.
A little background
Almost two years ago, I slipped and fell in a hotel lobby, on tile floor, and fell to the right, crushing my right elbow, requiring a radial head replacement surgery. I had never had major surgery, and was scared, but even worse, two days before the surgery, I lost my grandmother. It felt like my world was falling apart as I went into surgery, and I was convinced I wouldn’t survive. I felt so dark. I had lost the one person in my life who truly understood me. She was my person; my kindred spirit.
It took longer than the norm for my arm to heal as best it could; over a year, and even longer for my heart, as I am still dealing with that loss.
Unfortunately, those traumas didn’t end there.
As the weeks went on, I felt like I was in fast forward. My insides were vibrating, but my hands weren’t shaking. My legs felt weak and tight, to the point that I wanted to sit down on the floor of my bathroom while drying my hair. There was subtle muscle twitching throughout my entire body. And, due to terrible nausea, I also lost 15 lbs. in the month following surgery.
I just kept getting sicker, like the aftershocks following an earthquake.
“Trauma can sort of shock the autonomic nervous system into a state of hyperarousal and hypervigilance,” says Vora. “Like you’re in that peak moment in a horror movie when the music is accelerated, and you know something bad is about to happen.”– Ellen Vora, M.D., Mindbodygreen
In going to the doctor, I was quickly diagnosed with adrenal fatigue (which didn’t cover even half of my symptoms). I didn’t know what adrenal fatigue was or what to do about it, nor did the doctor explain it to me. She sent me off with the diagnosis, telling me I would be fine.
I researched, found a new practitioner and we uncovered two bacteria, one virus, and two molds in my body. We also discovered a leaky gut, SIBO, hormonal imbalances, and was borderline autoimmunity. Some of these health issues may have also been contributing to my anxiety and insomnia.
Beyond the Physical
Even after addressing the pathogens, ,my fatigue, insomnia, gut issues, and anxiety remained. So did the lack of motivation, crying fits and brain fog.
I started working with a psychologist soon after the traumas, who explained to me that current trauma can bring old traumas to the surface, because, theoretically, the body stores them in the tissues and nervous system. Our body remembers.
The repercussions of this is astounding. What she’s saying is that our bodies (tissue, nerves, muscles, etc.) are storing and holding on to to our traumas…all of them, cumulatively, over the years. Why? To protect us from repeating those past traumas.
Think about your physical response to certain situations. For example, do you startle easily? How does your expression change when approached by a stranger? Do your shoulders tighten when discussing a past trauma? Do you feel your heart quicken at the thought of speaking publicly?
This may happen because the body is reacting to a past experience it has recorded as dangerous from the past. It will also react to good memories…like feeling comforted by a certain smell or sentimental object.
“Here’s the problem (and this is important): your body cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional danger.”– Psychology Today
Last week, while in session, my cranialsacral specialist and I were discussing the birth of my kids. My oldest daughter was a very difficult pregnancy and scary birth…traumatic for both of us, but my youngest was very easy. After I was done telling (reliving) the births, my practitioner stopped and told me that my spinal fluid rhythm went off track as I was discussing my older daughter’s birth and came back into rhythm as I transitioned into discussing the much easier birth of my youngest daughter.
My body was physically responding to the memories as I spoke them out loud, both positive and negative.
Trauma happens to all of us, whether it’s an embarrassing moment in school where everyone laughed at us or someone physically or emotionally abusing us. It may be a single experience or something that was endured over years. It doesn’t matter the size of the experience, but how much it affected you. Childhood traumas are usually much worse due to undeveloped coping mechanisms, lack of emotional intelligence and reasoning.
I have a strong lack of trust. I have since I was a kid. In my early life, I was betrayed by those I loved, those who were supposed to love and care for me. I carried those betrayals around as long as I can remember, with a side of deep-rooted anger. Not only did I believe nobody could be trusted, but had also developed the life-altering belief that I would never bee good enough to be truly loved or successful in life.
I didn’t have any real coping skills, so I built walls of protection and approached life with caution and scrutiny.
Thankfully, today, I have a wonderful husband, who was able to convince me of his love, and two beautiful children that provide me with endless moments of joy.
Yet, I still struggle.
My accident and loss in 2018 acted as a catalyst, and my past traumas caught up with me, physically.
Even though I was already seeing a psychologist, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, like I was stuck. I was starting to understand WHY I felt the way I did, but struggled to let go of the negative feelings wrapped around my past.
Somatic Therapy was recommended to me.
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy helps to connect the body and mind. It’s the theory that our emotional experiences have a direct impact on our central nervous system, causing changes in our body (like pain and discomfort), and the way we physically respond and react to daily life.
Somatic therapy usually includes some talk therapy alongside physical movement that helps connect the mind to the body. This could be deep breathing, yoga, massage, meditation, etc.
In my case, it came in the form of water.
My Somatic Therapy Experience
Just before leaving for my somatic therapy session, I had an argument with a loved one, wasn’t feeling very good, and it was down pouring rain. The drive was curvy, steep and difficult, and my GPS wasn’t working as it should. I was getting nervous about getting lost, overthinking the argument, and a bit stressed about what to expect when I arrived at my appointment.
Let’s just say I was a bit of an emotional mess by the time I got there.
It was a warm, salt water pool and the woman waiting for me had kind eyes, and was very welcoming. She asked me to join her in the pool, and asked me how I was doing, how my week had been; how I was feeling.
I don’t really remember what I said, as I probably talked in circles with all that had been going on, but she just listened, and even made me laugh a few times. We talked for about half of the hour-and-a-half session, then we started water therapy.
She proceeded to wrap “floaties” around my thighs to keep my legs up in the water while she cradled my body. She then slowly pulled and swirled me through the warm water while I let my body go completely limp in her arms.
I closed my eyes and gave her full control of my body, which was no easy task.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so free in my life.
The water was to represent amniotic fluid, to take me back to being in the womb, where I felt safe and protected. It’s a little bit like floatation therapy in the way gravity is removed to allow complete relaxation and mindfulness.
The feeling of the water swirling around my skin felt so comforting, as did the cradling of my body. With my ears being plugged and my body mostly under water, all external sound disappeared, as did the world around me. With my eyes closed, I had a very deep awareness of my mind and body.
I was very aware of my heartbeat and breath. I could hear the sound of my bones creaking in the water and the sound of my belly digesting.
I let it all go. I became detached from all the anxiety, worry, and anger. I had no responsibilities. No appointments, no errands, no deadlines.
There were moments when I felt like I was somewhere else…in space, floating away. Melting into the water. It’s like I separated myself from everything for a time being. I was able to let go of the need to control, the need to overthink, the need to do, and I just was.
For the better part of an hour.
When finished, she asked how I felt, and honestly, I felt pretty good. We talked a little bit more, then I headed home.
On the way home, I felt different than when I had arrived. I was happy. I was singing to songs on the radio. I even felt energized…amazing, even.
I couldn’t really explain it, I just knew I would definitely be going back.