Being in your body

The PNT wants me to get back in my body. Some days I’m not even sure I understand what she means. Truth be told, I’ve lived an almost entirely ‘cerebral existence’ as another blogger called it* for just about as long as I can remember.

I think I looked like a deer in the headlights the day she first asked me how it felt to feel sad.

PNT: “Tell me, how does it feel when you feel sad?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

PNT: “You know, how does it feel? In your body?”

Me: *speechless*

She’s been getting me to try a mindfulness technique called “body scanning”. Occasionally I can do it, but most times I run out of energy around my ankles… or even earlier, like my feet, because I can’t get a good ‘reading’ on them. I don’t know how they should feel; let alone how they do feel. And this despite several years of yoga practice *eye rolling* (although admittedly I haven’t done any real yoga since before this blog was born; since things fell apart; or even before… which is possibly another reason they fell apart in the first place, but I’m sure that’s another topic for another day).

This has all come to the fore in recent weeks because I’ve been suffering an unknown abdominal complaint that has kept me away from work, and from life. So far I’ve had numerous tests, and the usual gynecological and gastrointestinal suspects investigated and have come up with nothing. Nothing. That’s n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Except for a bowel disease that I’ll need to pay some attention to at some point, but that apparently isn’t related to my current pain.

So I’m left feeling like I must be making it all up; like it was all in my head to begin with. Not a good feeling, I can tell you. It triggers all that old stuff about being hopeless and a failure and a malingerer who will never be good at anything and … you get the drift. Now, here’s where I get confused, because the PNT says pain is real. REAL, she says. It’s our bodies telling us something isn’t right. So, umm, there’s pain, and my body saying something’s wrong but medical tests saying there’s nothing wrong with me.

Say what? You’re confused? Yea, me too. :S

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In other news I’ve been reading far more than I’ve been writing lately. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but if you want to see what I’m reading, you can follow me on Twitter here, or a round-up of my tweets/twusings (?) on Kerro’s Kronicles here.

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* Sorry, I can’t remember who you are, but I remember thinking it was a great phrase, and a great blog post.

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10 thoughts on “Being in your body

  1. I wish I could remember the name of the woman who did this video … I think she’s also written a book about this … PNT may know who I mean; she’s someone who had DID and became re-integrated through therapy, and does amazing teaching work with people across the spectrum of dissociative phenomena … unlike most therapists, she’s been there, and remembers exactly how hard and confusing this stuff is.

    There are a couple of things from her video that I remember pretty well, and both of them were really helpful to me personally when I was learning to relate my body to my brain. For me, the body scanning technique was exhausting, frustrating, and seemed irrelevant. But these two things worked pretty well:

    1) Rather than asking “how do you feel when you’re sad,” she suggested figuring out a color to associate with a certain type of emotion. You don’t necessarily start with all the emotions, maybe one or two. Let’s say that for me, anger is blue. So I might actually create a chart for myself on the computer of a line of blue that goes from very pale to very dark. Even though I might be physically disconnected from anger, I do know, intellectually, when I am angry. So the first step is that when I am angry, I would look at the range of blue, which I would number from 1-10, and figure out where on that chart I am, very pale blue being “mildly annoyed” and the other end of the spectrum being “too enraged to think clearly.” So the first part of the exercise, which can take days, weeks, months … however long it takes … is to get a little bit of practice noticing where I am on the scale. Then the second thing is to assign the number, and then stop for a second and pay attention to what is happening in my body. And that goes to #2:

    2) The big revelation: They’re called feelings because you feel stuff. Like, in your body. The mind creates a release of hormones that act on the body. When you have a dissociative coping mechanism, you’re accustomed to ignoring those phenomena in your body, but although you may be expert at relegating them to the physical equivalent of white noise, they are still happening. The trick is to bring them back out of the “white noise” category. And this was what I found very helpful — it’s not that you can’t feel your body, and it’s not that you don’t feel your body; you’ve just made it into white noise. You can tune back into it, just as you would stop focusing on what you’re reading and suddenly notice a song on the radio. This, for me, was key — the idea that I was feeling all the time, and just choosing to ignore it. For very good reasons, but still, it wasn’t a matter of learning something I didn’t know how to do; it was a matter of redirecting my attention to a channel I’d stopped watching except out of the corner of my eye.

    So, after a bit of practice, let’s say I identified myself at 5 on the blue scale (for most dissociatives, it feels better to refer to the emotion by its chosen color) after talking to my dad about business. After several of these conversations, I reliably know I will recognize myself to be between a 5-6 on the scale. Once I’m comfortable with this idea, then I start to just notice what’s going on in my body when I mentally know I’m at a 5. The idea isn’t to change it, but just to tune back in to things I usually tune out. I might notice that my teeth are clenched. I might notice that my stomach feels knotted. After a few times of noticing this, I might choose to decide to consciously relax my jaw, or relax my stomach. And later down the road, I might notice that my stomach doesn’t inexplicably hurt as much as it used to … because the problem with white noise is that once you learn to tune it out, it can get a lot louder and you still don’t notice it. Once you learn to hear it sooner, you can take different action with potentially different long-term results.

  2. Hi David, thanks so much for your comment, and for sharing your experience with this, it’s incredibly helpful. You’re right, the body scanning is frustrating and exhausting. I just don’t “get” it. What I do get is your “big revelation” – they’re called feelings because you feel stuff. Hmph, who knew?? I remember when I first realised this – it was like a whole world opened up before me. An unknown world, but a world nonetheless. 😉

    I’d never thought that I associated feelings with colour, at least until I read your comments. You completely threw me when you wrote anger as blue, because I’d always thought of it as red – so perhaps I do associate colours and feelings, again in a pretty unconscious way? I will try tuning into this more and see where the other feelings are for me on the colour wheel.

    I had quite a difficult session with PNT yesterday. We focused a lot on the body (*my* body), which I still find incredibly triggering. We also did a progressive relaxation, which I completely hated but which I think was helpful. First, the relaxation side of things helped to lessen the triggery mess, which has gotta be a good thing, right? Second, while I still found it difficult to recognise the difference between a part of my body feeling tensed versus feeling relaxed, the idea that I can tune in to those things was helpful. I found that if I isolate a particular body part, and think of it more in terms of its biological structure than its association to “me”, then I can feel the difference between tensed and relaxed. Perhaps somewhere along the road the fact that they’re “my” body parts will come together? I’ve also found that some of my body parts are less triggery than others – my forearm, for example, is a “neutral” area, so starting with that is helpful as well.

    The other thing that was useful was just getting a sense of how different parts of my body feel – e.g., my feet in my shoes. I know this is basic grounding work, but it feels very new. Or perhaps my inability to tune in to these things is why this basic grounding work hasn’t worked well for me in the past? Anyway, if I can start with my feet in my shoes, perhaps I can gradually start to sense how other parts feel, too?

    It all seems like very remedial activity, which is equally difficult for my over-achieving brain to cope with, but better baby steps than no steps, and it’s not a race or a competition, and all those lovely rational things, right? 😉

  3. Here’s another suggestion, regarding relaxation/relating to your own body. Focusing on the structure is a great idea; I also had some luck focusing on the function of the body part in a completely non-body way, like thinking of my back as the “upright position column,” and also referring to them as “the,” rather than “my.” “My” can come later; the important thing is to be able to have an understanding of what the parts are doing. I learned this by accident from being around professional singers, who almost always refer to “the voice” rather than “my voice,” in order to gain a greater sense that it is a mechanism, and like all mechanisms, subject to strains and failures, which makes it less painful when you hit a real clunker of a note. I noticed how helpful that really was, and extrapolated it to the body in general.

    The emotion color trick also works well with positive emotions, too. It’s weird and also good to identify positive body sensations, esp. ones like light-heartedness.

  4. Thanks David. I definitely find it easier to think about functioning and biology, and also easier to refer to “the” rather than “my”.

    Here’s where my brain starts to make it all confusing, though. If I’m not “in my body”, how come I can feel pain? Even feel where it is, and articulate it? Or is it just that the pain is above the “white noise” threshold you mentioned earlier? Is that why I’m not so good with pain, because I’m not used to anything above the “white noise”? Is my whole body going to talk to me like this at some point in the future? I don’t like noise … can’t imagine the headache if every body part is chattering away at me all day every day … 😉

  5. Yes, you can feel pain that rises above the “white noise” threshold. If you are more attuned to your body, you won’t have more noise; you’ll have noise that you can turn off sooner because you will notice the root cause of it sooner. A good example would be me with my sciatic nerve … I have a perpetually misaligned pelvis that causes my left leg to go numb, and I get these really life-altering shooting pains in my hip when things are more misaligned than usual. When I was relegating the opening salvos of this problem to white noise, the problem had to get to the point where I couldn’t sleep and needed a physical therapist to pull me back into position before I really noticed it. Now, I notice it sooner, and can do a simple exercise to readjust my leg. I don’t have more noise; I have more manageable noise now that I’m tuning in at a lower level. 🙂

  6. Hi Kerro,

    I have always found the body scanning techniques to be incredibly frustrating. I just can’t do them, and they tend to make me panic, dissociate and disconnect more from my body.

    I also find that because of this continual disconnect from my body, I tend to have a really high pain threshold. This high threshold has confused many a doctor and nurse… it can be really invalidating to feel as if the medical profession are questioning you… I found it triggered all of those old messages too. The pain is there, trying to tell you something… I hope you are all able to find out what that message is.

    Please take care (((hugs)))
    CG

  7. Hi CG, I’m really pleased to hear from others who have found the body scanning so frustrating. Of course, I thought it was *just* me! The body scanning is really good at making me frustrated and, like you, disconnect just that little bit more because I. Can’t. Do. It. That in itself triggers a whole lot of negative thoughts.

    The high pain threshold thing is interesting. I used to think I had a high pain threshold, but I’ve had so many issues the last few years, and my ability to push through them and keep going is almost non existent now. So now I think I’m just being a big wuss … until a dr takes me seriously and then I go into complete panic, because it *must* be real. Ignore the nurses, they have invalidated me many a time, including telling me I *must* know what child birth is like, even though I’ve never been through it. Idiots.

    Mum also has a high pain threshold (actually I think she’s just able to disconnect and be stoic most of the time – her pain threshold is pretty low when it’s actual pain) … anyway, she completely invalidates my pain all the time, which makes me question myself even more. This week for example, I’ve heard “I think you should go back to work” (when I am struggling to concentrate enough to respond to a blog post) and “just ignore it and get on with things” (most helpful – NOT).

    I am seeing another specialist this week so hoping to get to the bottom of this. The good thing is I know it’s not serious, although it’s hard to remember that when you feel like there’s a knife running through your belly and back. Sigh.

    Take care ((hugs))
    Kerro

  8. I hate the body question too. I hate the word body to begin with, and I never know what I feel in my body as it relates to emotions, except for anxiety and fear and that makes my stomach hurt. I hope that you figure out the cause of your pain, I agree that pain tells us something is amiss and it is NOT all in your head.

  9. Hi Harriet, nice to “see” you 🙂 It’s hard, sometimes, to quiet the noise in my head enough to figure out that pain isn’t all in the head… you know, between the internal chatter about how I “must” be a hypochondriac, or “just lazy”, or something. You’re right, though, pain is our body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. It sure did this time. I’ve just had surgery (again) and am now on the mend 🙂

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