Carrying me through

At the start of every school year, the place where I used to have my contemporary dance classes lets you try each of the classes and each of the levels once for free. I stopped dancing in July 2013 when I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I had to have surgery. The surgery turned out not be necessary but then I went back to college and stayed away from dancing in order not to overdo it and have an MS relapse. With my masters starting two weeks from now looks like it’ll be another two years before I can go back to dancing. But that didn’t stop me from trying one of the classes for free tonight. I thought I’d be completely out of shape, I thought I’d forgotten everything, but the truth is the body has a memory of its own. For one hour today I felt really really happy, like I haven’t been in a long time. Like this is what I was born to do if MS hadn’t got in the way. I felt completely and positively alive. And I hope I can carry this feeling with me for the times to come.

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Homework

After my therapist and I did those sessions of reconnective healing, I asked her about EMDR. I did a session once, back in November 2013, with my previous therapist, and it was so interesting and intense that I always kept in my mind the idea that I could pursue this kind of therapy.

EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is a technique developed to help victims of trauma. It initially became very popular and successful with war veterans suffering from PTSD but it is being increasingly used to treat other forms of trauma – including emotional trauma – and even to soothe anxiety symptoms in people suffering from severe anxiety. Continue reading

Santa Apolónia*

Oblivion is a lure
Warm and painted in azure
But I want you to trace
The reminiscences of a face
Of stone, crying, so still
Adulterous to your will

Gray is as cold as ice
You’ve burnt it twice
On the morning ships were gone
And the world was forever dawn

*Wrote this in 2001 about saying goodbye to someone I thought I was never going to see again. As I’m trying to say goodbye in my mind to someone who probably doesn’t even remember me anymore, as I’m trying to say goodbye to 2014, and as I’m trying to say goodbye to a version of me that keeps beating herself up for not living up to people’s ideas of what I should be like, this poem came back to me, by heart. It still makes sense to me after all these years…

Careful what you wish for

12 years ago today, October 20th 2002, I woke up, went to the kitchen in my pajamas, Sunday morning, made breakfast, went to the living room while eating it, flipped the pages of a magazine, got up again, put the mug and plate in the kitchen sink – and then everything went black. I have a very faint recollection of feeling dizzy and nauseous but I don’t remember any more. I know I walked three or four steps because I was found on the floor by the kitchen door. On the wall there was a mark my fingers made possibly when I was trying to hold on to it not to fall. But I don’t remember. No one knows how much time I was out. My left knee and arm were bruised, and so was my head.

The story they told me was that my grandfather, who was living with us at the time, heard me crying and found me on the floor. He called my mother who was in the bathroom taking a shower and she realized I was in a disoriented, confusional state. My short term memory was gone. The last weeks of my life were gone. She called her therapist who told her to take me immediately to a hospital. She asked me my best friend’s number, which I gave her by heart, and called her to know if anything might have happened in my life that could have caused such a shock, such confusion, such dissociation. My best friend and her mother then joined us at the hospital.

At the hospital they gave me something to drink that I suppose was a sedative. It must have been strong because I remember drinking it and my tongue tingling. I was seen by a neurologist although I don’t remember talking to him. I remember getting up from the CT scan, putting my glasses on and seeing a really tall and really black doctor in the corridor looking in with concerned eyes. I didn’t know who he was but that image stuck with me. He made me feel safe somehow. Later on I asked my mother if she knew who he was and she told he was the neurologist who’d seen me and that he’d spent a long time talking to me. I don’t remember any of this, I just remember seeing him in the corridor and the look in his eyes.

While we were waiting for the results, I remember asking myself, completely puzzled, why I was wearing glasses if I never leave the house without my contacts, and why I wasn’t wearing a bra, another thing I just don’t go out without. I didn’t remember that just hours before my mother had dressed me to take me to the hospital and she wasn’t going to be bothered with bras and contacts. Similarly, I asked everyone what time it was. People told me it was 3. And I asked them “am or pm?” Then I wanted to know what day it was. They told me Sunday, October 20th. Bewildered, I remarked, “October 20th? Then my birthday was three days ago…” I saw everyone’s faces lit up. They thought I was going to remember. “Yes, sweetie, your birthday was on Thursday.” I searched inside my head but had to give up. I didn’t remember.

Finally the results showed no abnormalities so they shipped me to psychiatry. While I was waiting to be seen by a psychiatrist I saw my ex-boyfriend’s number written on my friend’s hand. She had asked me for the number and I had given it to her but again I didn’t remember. It was easy to think this could all be psychological. My ex-boyfriend and I had broke up two weeks before, I was hurt because he hadn’t even texted me on my birthday, and we had been together the day before so he could give me back some things I’d left at his place. This is why my friend wanted to call him so she could know if anything had happened the day before that could have led to something so drastic. But no. We had quite a peaceful meeting.

However that wasn’t the only reason I was sad. My mother and I weren’t speaking to each other then, and our family was going through a rough time with my grandfather being ill and living with us. Plus, my third year in college had just begun that week and I was feeling lost. I knew I didn’t want to be taking that degree but I didn’t know what I wanted to take. If I were to change, that was the occasion to do it because it was right in the middle of the four-year degree. But I didn’t know what to do, so I kept going. My English teacher had given me an assignment for Monday, which consisted in an analysis of a science fiction short story. In the story, the main character’s memories were stolen or lost, I don’t remember anymore, but I remember thinking, as I was working on it before meeting with my ex-boyfriend, something like “How nice it would be if I could just forget some of the things that happened in my life lately.” To this day, I’m really careful about what I wish for.

Then came Sunday. Despite not being in a good place in my life, I woke up feeling happy because I had plans to be with my best friend. I wasn’t going to be stuck at home feeling bored, lonely and sad. And then it all happened. At the hospital the psychiatrist gave me some sedatives for emergencies and told my mother I should seek therapy. I went home, ate dinner, went to bed, slept for twelve hours, and when I woke up I started putting together the memories that were slowly coming back. The next days I managed to remember everything except for much that happened on Sunday.

I still don’t know what happened. No one ever gave me a clear explanation. My family doctor afterward ordered a lot of tests to rule out possible physical causes. I repeated the CT scan, had and EEG, an echocardiogram, a Holter test and blood tests. Everything came back normal. The only test that was missing here was an MRI. I wonder what an MRI would have told had any doctor remembered to order one. Judging by the fatigue, it’s likely I already had MS. How many lesions, if any?

To this day, what happened 12 years ago is still the scariest moment of my life, scarier even that hearing a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. When you lose your memory you lose parts of your identity, you lose a sense of self, you lose reference points, you lose anchors to hold you, you lose cause/effect sequences that help you make sense of the world. Was it purely psychological? Was it plain dissociation? Was it a defense mechanism in a very stressful moment in my life? Is this what happens when I can’t handle the pressure even though I think I can?

The reason I’m remembering this is because I have been worried about me lately. I have been dissociating more and more. The other day I was driving, I got lost in my own thoughts, and suddenly I realized I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t remember how I got there. I recognized where I was, but it wasn’t the place I wanted to drive to. It’s like I fell asleep but kept driving. Should I worry or this too shall pass?

The Body Remembers – The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment

51Iz1JHskkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When my therapist said most of my symptoms were consistent with PTSD, off I went on a shopping spree trying to understand everything I could about it. I ended up only purchasing two books (so much for the shopping spree) and chose to pick up this one first because one of the things my therapist keeps telling me is that trauma is always in the body. It is felt, processed, stored and remembered in the body.

This book didn’t disappoint in explaining how. The first part provides a useful introduction to the mechanisms underlying the experiences of trauma. Being the geek that I am when it comes to all things science-related, I enjoyed learning about the role of brain regions such as the amygdala and the hippocampus in processing information, stimuli, emotions, etc, in regulating the body’s response to them, and their connection to memory, learning and language. 

The second part is aimed at providing therapists and their clients with techniques to alleviate and treat trauma symptoms using body awareness. The idea that the body is an endless resource for healing is certainly one that appeals to me. I’ve been learning for the past years how to pay more attention to what my body is telling me through yoga, contemporary dance and meditation. Now I intend to follow some of the suggestions in this book as well. I actually had the opportunity to try them today when I woke up startled at 5.30 am due to a nightmare. I didn’t think I could go back to sleep, but I remembered some of the exercises in the book and managed to get some sleep before the alarm went off.

Overall I think this book helped me getting more acquainted with what PTSD is about. It offers a nice balance between psychology and neuroscience, theory and practice. I hope the next one on my reading list will provide me with as much insight.

Fickle memories and things I need to ask my therapist about

So my friend and I were having dinner and for some reason we started talking about weight. Weight has always been an issue for me, because I’ve always been thin and many people think it’s ok to taunt me about it. No one in my family is overweight, and we’re all those annoying people who eat everything and don’t put on extra pounds. We also tend to lose weight when we’re down or stressed out, unlike other people. Personally, I eat more when I’m anxious and stressed, but everything I eat is burned up by my nervous system.

Apparently though many people think I should conform to their vision of what I should look like, regardless of my genetics and the way my metabolism works. It doesn’t help that it is socially acceptable to come up to a thin person and say, “You’re so thin, did you enter a contest to disappear or something,” (I didn’t make this up, someone actually said it to me once), but if I remarked, “You’re so fat, did you enter a contest to become a whale or something,” then I would be a really mean person. The irony in all this is that I’m not really underweight according to the body mass calculators online. I’m just pear-shaped and people only tend to look at your upper half. 😀

Anyway, as my friend and I were talking, I remembered something rude a mutual friend had once said to me about my weight and mentioned that I was so upset that I didn’t have any reaction to the rude comment.

My friend said, “Oh but you did, I remember you answered in a very dry tone and in a very smart way. [Our mutual friend] was left speechless.”

And I said, “I don’t remember. I believe I froze. I was going through such a hard time at the time and was so sensitive to anything anyone would say to me that I just felt hurt, like I’d been punched breathless.” 

My friend smiled and said, “No, you didn’t freeze. Your voice became cold and you said something like, ‘If weight were easy to control there wouldn’t be an entire industry dedicated to it.’ I thought that was a very smart answer.”

I thought for a second and said, “That sounds like something I would say, yes.”

We proceeded to check if the rest of our memories matched. “Was it at that dinner party at our friend’s hostel?” “Was it in the summer?” “Were there our friends […]?” “Was it before dinner?” They did.

And as I kept thinking about it it slowly came back to me. But it brought up many questions. Why did I just keep in my memory that I felt deeply hurt and misunderstood? Why didn’t I remember that I actually managed to stand up for myself without being rude? Remembering that could have been a great resource in many situations afterwards. Knowing that I can defend myself could have boosted my self-confidence and made me trust myself more. Do I unconsciously want to play the victim? Do I unconsciously go on picking up clues that reinforce my ingrained belief that I’m not good enough and therefore I should feel sorry for myself?

I feel a little disturbed considering this. It’s definitely something I mustn’t forget to talk to my therapist about.