Sunday, December 22, 2013

Into the Red and Massive Pain overnight....

A strange thing happened. I did my usual 'work' in the bath, squeezing muscle/body parts of stroking along arms/legs/back etc. I spent more time on the muscular groups in my back and then decided to do gentle tapping moves on my body up and down - as if playing keys on the piano. I felt relaxed and got out of the bath and applied some really nice citrous lotion on my body and felt the need for my heat-pad before settling into bed (early - I was very tired) to read my book. I fell asleep for a short while before waking up in absolute agony all over the 'edges' of my book and into my back. It was if my body had gone into complete spasm. Since I had had some back pain earlier in the day I had already taken a variety of pain killers including diazepam, so the only thing I hadn't taken for a while was more paracetamol and dihydrocodeine. I got up and went on my computer for a short-time before then going back to bed, feeling very surprised about the amount of pain I was in, and eventually fell asleep.

In the morning I woke up tired, but in significantly less pain and since the weather was dry and sunny went for a walk. I have returned now. I am still tired, but again was surprised that clearly my body still finds 'tapping' movements of any kind a very distressing and obviously startling experience. On my walk I did some 'heart on hand' movements and finger tips together for strength and allowed for some deep exhalation as well as 'being in the moment' on the walk.

I feel some equilibrium again now, but it just goes to show how easily alarmed by body can still be.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hand on my Heart - Somatic Experiencing Session®

I had a lovely 'last' Somatic Experiencing® SE® session of the year. It was really positive to be able to tell Therapist (T) about how much more 'in' my body I now feel and how I was no longer dissociating anywhere near as much as I had prior to starting my SE® work. I was able to report how I had been continuing the 'bath' exercise and that I was now applying different pressures and sensations to my body, whilst giving the body time to respond, but that it was becoming easier, safer and more enjoyable all the time. I also explained how I was continuing with the use of body lotion after the bath, and that again, this was feeling 'more real' in my skin than in the past. I spoke today of feeling rather sore and stiff around my body's whole perimeters as if they had been thoroughly awakened, but that I did not see this as a negative experience, just a new awareness. I said I could even feel the front of my face and that now the most de-sensitised part of my body was my spine, which I will pay more attention to in the future. I said I had woken up feeling rather tired, so that this could also explain feeling more achy. However, the most important thing was that I felt safe and happy within my whole being, and reported to how I had enjoyed the child-likeness of sleeping in my 'onesie' suite!

I explained to T how I had averted crisis when I felt very 'dangerous' earlier in the week, that I had moved and walked outside of my flat, (had a smoke) and then pushed the air away with my arms, saying 'no' and how this empowered me and released the charged energy I might previously have self-directed in self-harm. We both saw this as huge progress, also in line with my Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT). I said I had also noticed that I was taking more slow and deeper breaths which T reinforced would re-balance my sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system.

T asked me to put my hand on my heart. I did this with my left hand and after a few moments, asked me what I could feel. I said that I felt that my ears were bilaterally warmed and felt 'pulled.' I then said that I had some 'pain/tension' in my left neck. T thought it might be because I was using my left hand over my heart, so I swapped hands, the feeling remained, but I felt very happy and said I could feel this in my whole face and in my heart and diaphragm. My breathing further relaxed and I felt very peaceful, happy and safe.

T asked me what next year would look like. I said that I now felt I was in the 'yellow' of my bucket and that the blue would mean I was feeling well much more of the time, rather than just for days here and there. I spoke of my plans, and that once my surgery would be out of the way that I could start to visualise a much healthier and happier future and perhaps allow for someone personal in my life. I spoke about future writing work and other projects. It felt really good and positive. T asked me to put my finger tips together, this made me feel even stronger as I continued to talk about my aspirations for the future.

T described me to be like a 'race-horse' who always needed to be busy, and that is a part of who I am, but that it was also important to be able to apply the brakes. Balance. This is what I am working on and working towards both with T and in my DBT work. The session closed with some new learned tools - the heart tool, and fingers in a triangle. T said that I was responding extremely well to the work and making very good progress. I agreed. We wished each other a Happy Christmas and New Year 2014. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Getting what I want" (in the nicest possible way!) and 'breathing!

Today's Somatic Experiencing session was particularly thought-provoking. My Therapist (T) asked me how I was feeling. I mentioned that I had been in the "red" again. Before we went into that much later in the session, T asked me what I was feeling 'now.' I was sat in my usual black high-backed chair with a cushion. I reported to feeling both my feet (no shoes) on the floor, my arms on the arm rest and the top of my head. I said that I could feel the whole of my body as if I were a triangle with my head at the apex of the triangle. I said I was enjoying feeling much more in my body than I had before treatment had commenced.

Early on in the session my attention was diverted to a small blue ball that was sitting next to T. I asked T if the ball belonged to T, and if so, could I have it? T confirmed that the ball did belong to T and asked me if it was OK to throw it to me? My face lit up, and I just hoped I would catch it. I did. The ball was not exactly what I was expecting. I thought it might be a soft foam ball, but it was actually a solid rubber ball with a suede like texture. I felt a real childish pleasure in palpating and exploring the ball. T said that my pleasure was evident. I had asked for something in a simple and direct way. I had got what I wanted, which T suspected was not the case when I was a child, and now I could enjoy something, just as a young child would. I also loved the blue of the ball, which has become my imagery colour for the bottom of my bucket, when I get there, and the safety that represents for me.

T and I talked about whether I often got my needs met as a child. I explained that when I was unwell I often did not and was sent to school (ill) and that if I was actually allowed to be off sick felt compelled to stay in bed for the whole day because I otherwise felt guilty I wasn't at school. I recalled a memory of my father giving me sugar water in my favourite mug when I suffered from vomiting bugs, and the comfort that represented. T then asked me about other times when I was not unwell if that was not getting me the caring attention I deserved then what happened? I said that because my face was fairly expressionless it was hard to tell what I wanted. I said that had probably happened from the age of about 5 or 6, but T suspected it went back to when I was a young baby. What I realised I felt now was that I love to care for others, but am still extremely poor about getting my own needs met, even if it is something as simple as asking people not to bombard me with questions at work, or whether I would prefer the lighting in a therapy session high or low. It is here where my work needs to begin. It will be a change, and will take some time, but it has to start sooner rather than later so that I can begin to get my own needs met before I start to experience signs of distress, which I described as a deep pain in my diaphragm and like "static" down my arms. T asked me to move my arms which I did, and then to explore the possibility of just walking around the room. T asked me how I felt. I said that it had helped to calm me down a little.

We begun to talk about breathing. It turns out that actually inhalation is about the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) whilst the exhalation is about the parasympathetic nervous system or (rest and digest system). When I (or anyone else suffering from trauma) goes into a "freeze" or playing dead, it is actually strangely enough the parasympathetic nervous system that has stopped the breath whilst there is an undercurrent of huge charge from the sympathetic nervous system (as if preparing to run from a tiger, Levine, 1997). We talked some more about how panic attacks occur when the breathing becomes both shallow and rapid and that there is too much carbon monoxide in the body. We discussed a breathing technique that I was already employing of inhaling for four counts and exhaling for six to re-balance and calm the body and discharge the held energy. I also explained how dance and walking helped me to discharge feelings of anger and we talked about 'Five Energies' (a form of dance) and stomping in the ground being a positive thing to do. I said that when I was angry my choreography became very "strong", dynamic and certainly grounding.

As the session came to a close, I asked T what T's needs were and T said that T was hungry. I explained how I couldn't tell that, but it was a simple enough question to see what T's needs were. I threw T back the blue ball and my homework for this week in addition to continuing with the bath and skin-lotion work is to practice asking for what I want, particularly in avoiding being overloaded at work and avoiding my red state:

Signs of me being in the red:
·         Severe pain (major negative distraction
·         Being bombarded by questions
·         Being asked to explain a lot of things, one after the other
·         Suddenly feeling very fatigued/tired
·         Mood suddenly plummeting
·         Feeling fidgety and uncomfortable
·         Feeling as if drowning/submerging
·         Sudden need to be alone
·         Not being able to listen/concentrate to what I am being told
·         Failure to follow instructions and/or forgetting something
·         Feeling weepy
·         Feeling dissociated and uncomfortable in my body
·         Wanting to throw a tantrum and shout
·         Feeling angry because my needs are not being met (because people cannot ‘see’ what is happening or for me to be able to explain ‘what’ I need in order to feel better.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Talking to my body

I was able to report many good things at my SE® session on Friday 6th December, by saying that I felt entirely in my own body following the bath exercise, and how joyful that had made me feel, and that I had been imaging a great deal about my 'blue bucket' and how that was going to feel. In the session on 6th, T (Therapist) said that it would be really good if I could now build on the bath 'work' by asking me to say out-loud the different body parts I was palpating (or gently squeezing muscles) so that in addition to the touch stimuli that my brain could also "hear" the different body parts as I was re-mapping it. I agreed to do this and tried it the evening after treatment sometimes using my right arm to palpate the left side and sometimes right arm for right body and then vice-versa. I noticed any areas that the body felt wary of, but wasn't distressed and was able to cope easily and be mindful about what was happening. The bath water was a very pleasant temperature, and I used candles to ensure the lighting was very calming.

After the bath I applied body lotion to the whole body, using more like 'stroking' techniques to each part of my body, again talking through where I was working so my body could both see, hear and feel the sensation. If I keep this up, I will have the most velvety skin in the whole world!!

Another image I talked to T about was these 'all-in-one' pyjamas called 'Onesies' and how they are like baby-grows and how the idea of having one felt 'child-like', safe, warm and comforting. I am off to buy one!

Finally, we talked about the fact that although I am smoking (bad) that it was keeping me mindful and that when in periods of deep relaxing, my breathing becomes much deeper (not necessarily when I am smoking) and relaxed.

I said how much more aware I felt of my body, being in my own skin and how wonderful that felt.

We are continuing to build on the sensation of feeling good and safety in my body before we progress this work - however this remarkable and fascinating journey may unfold.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Feeling my body and being in my own skin!

Part of my Somatic Experiencing® homework has involved being in a nice warm bubble bath, with candles, to relax and enjoy feeling the water on my body, how it flows around its edges and then to explore my body through palpation. I have been developing this for a while and lately been at the stage of making more stronger 'squeezing' like touch on major muscle groups, bilaterally and body-wide. I enjoyed the feelings, they were not alarming, and  I liked being in the water.

Afterwards I went to bed and read a chapter of my book, and lay in bed and felt, for the first time for as long as I can remember that I could feel the whole of my body, it's complete outline and that I fit in my own skin. I was aware of everywhere. I felt peaceful and blissfully happy and relaxed. There is so much to live for.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Somatic Experiencing® - How full is my bucket of 'trauma'?

Therapist (T) removed me from the waiting area at our clinic, which was quite noisy and rather busy. He had observed that I was in a 'frozen' state and invited me into his clinic room a few minutes earlier so I could come down as he had noticed my traumatized state. It gave me a few minutes to calm down and regroup. T asked me how my week had been. I talked about a small OD I had taken earlier in the week. I explained how I had gone into the 'red' state of overload and overwhelm we had discussed in the previous session. I explained some of the triggers that had lead to this state, including work - I had ended up leaving abruptly at 3pm. A phone call later on had aroused anger, especially as the person had made unhelpful judgemental comments about my mental health state at that time. I explained how I had almost hung-up the phone. I had tried the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) but had left it too late in the date to obtain any help. I decided to use ice - a pack of frozen peas put in my tummy in order to 'shock' me back into the now. The phone rang again and it was the same person who had upset me before. They tried to smooth over the previous conversation, but it was too late from my point of view. A short while later, I felt I couldn't be bothered to stay up any later in the day (it was 7.30pm) and I impulsively reached for a few tablets - reasons why - wanting to zone out, again, wishing I didn't have to wake up again. I knew that my behaviour was maladaptive, but I was too much in the 'red' and other skillful behaviour -e.g stroking cat, watching TV, dancing, had all failed.

T asked me to say how I was feeling. I explained that, minus my back which was in a serious state of pain and spasm owing to a strained facet joint and all the inflammation that included that I was able to feel the carpet, my sitz bones etc. T observed that I was relived the conversation that had upset me on the phone that my fists were clenched. He asked me what I might have wanted more ideally in the phone conversation. I reiterated to T what I had discussed in therapy earlier in the week that I wanted to be listened to and helped. We conducted a zen like conversation where T pretended to be the person who had upset me and showed empathy and listening skills. T asked me to look at what I could see in the room, what I could hear, what I could feel with my left hand, right foot etc, what I could smell. As these feelings were considered my body calmed down and I started to breathe having previously been crying when T said, (as in the role of caller) that T loved me, that made me cry more. We carried on putting me back into the present moment. I explained how smoking gave me a few minutes to enjoy being in the present moment as I observed sensually what I was seeing when I was in the garden at home.  T (for better or worse) encouraged me to to this for the time being.

I then started to talk about a brief visit to my sister, where although it had been nice to see my new niece and my nephew that my sister needed much listening to and then was asking me questions and I had blanked out and dissociated. I had realized I had the red again and that it was like pouring more water into an already overflowing bucket, that at the moment my bucket was fulled to the brim and in the red. I explained how the best I could get my bucket was to a deep amber state (next state down from red), which therefore gave me a small range of time to function before overload set in. I said that after red would come a deep yellow, a pale yellow followed by green and then blue - a sky/lapis lazuli blue that was at the bottom and would be an ideal state of functioning where there were very gentle waves, rather than huge ranges of waves and that I was calm, in the moment, that I had my short-term memory, that there was a huge hard-drive of more space, that I could easily do my writing work, that there was balance and harmony in my world, that I was relaxed and calm and measured. That life was a pleasure. Visualising that state, which is where we are aiming for was part of my homework, as well as making gentle contact with all parts of my body, varying touch and intensity depending on what my body felt same to manage. It was a surprise to both of us when I started crying after merely palpating my left heel. The right side remains much calmer and happier with touch. I agreed to use candle light in the bath to calm me down, to be listening to music more and to palpate/use lotion on all of my body, not just my shins as additional homework for the week.

It was a good session and left me lots of time on the bus to reflect upon my 'blue bucket' of Zen!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Somatic Experiencing Session® - 22 November "Being Safe"

Having had a period of being rather unwell, I had missed several weeks of SE® work, so the session today was very much a re-introduction to the work to ensure 'safety.' T (Therapist) said that we would  be doing very little in the next few weeks so that I could both experience and know what 'being safe' meant in my body - focusing on all the areas that felt OK. I had trouble with the fact my left TMJ, face and arm felt 'frozen' and immobile, but T said you can move your arm - and so I explored movements with my left arm and had my right hand on the most 'frozen' part of my left arm. T asked me to do movements with my arms that involved pushing away to the front, to the ceiling and with my arms outspread to push forces away and to explore use of space. T also asked me to stand very slowly so that I could experience feeling very grounded and very strong. T requested that I sat down very slowly also to continue to feel the strength in my legs - particularly in quads. The session ended. T reminded me of my earlier points of safety - e.g. the restaurant in Piccadilly, the 'butterflies' and other positive imagery to focus on in times of difficulty.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Feeling angry and mental imagery

I am starting to realize that the feelings I wrote in my last post were also strongly related to anger. I did not appreciate or understand this until there was another trigger of a similar episode both yesterday, where I walked what I interpreted as "anger" out, walking fast in the park. This evening, I had the same feeling of chest-pain, pain radiating down my arms and then I cut-out, like a fuse blowing. I saw red. Someone sent me an email that upset me. I realized I was angry, tried to sit in both my shoes and that of the other person before replying in a moderated way to the email, whilst also being aware of the usage of email and how it can be interpreted or misconstrued. This was a work-related, rather than a personal matter, so sorted it out, before texting a colleague for support.

On my way home from work, I had found a really fantastic imagery which I am going to use, to diffuse my remaining anger. I could first dance, now I am home, but then this is my imagery (don't laugh!). My head and spine are the Central Line (think  London Underground) and my arms and legs are the different branches of the Northern Line. My left arm is the Edgware Branch of the Northern Line with my elbow being Hampstead. My right arm is the High Barnet Branch of the Northern line with my elbow being Archway. My left leg is the Mordern Via  Bank line, with my knee being 'Bank' and my right leg is Kennington via Charing Cross with my right knee being Charing Cross. There is a train in my body and it has to travel through all parts of the system including down the central line. I can use the train to track(!) my feelings throughout the body underground system. If there is a blockage on the line, I can divert my train to a freer part of the network. I am already sensing that the Edgware Branch is very constricted and blocked. The High Barnet, Kennigton and Morden branches are all OK. The Central Line is mildly blocked at my chest. If I think carefully, perhaps I can soften these blockages so the train can travel freely around my body. It is my imagery, and if it works for me, then that is great. My other imagery tools involve blue butterflies. Avoiding turning my head to the left is important in order to ignite traumatic imagery.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tough day

Today was a tough day.

Something triggered "something" at work and I dissociated to the point someone asked me if I was OK? I had completely "cut off." Their question brought me back to the present moment. My chest felt tight, I was having difficulties breathing and felt very restless and agitated. I had tightness down the left-side of my body from the top of my head through my neck and into my chest and left-arm. My heart felt crushed. I was trying very hard to use some of my self-help tools such as imaging my safety of arriving at work, my friends and the restaurant at Piccadilly, but it was not really working. I tried to speak to myself to reassure myself it was OK, that here I am in the room and in the present time. I just wanted to get out. I had to leave work and was late arriving to have my hair coloured. As I arrived at the hairdressers I thought for one split second that I was going to have to cancel the appointment at that moment as I felt like I was "dying" and needed hospital at that moment.

I kept self-talking and trying to remain in the moment and breathe, as I felt my chest was so constricted. It was all very frightening. My hairdresser was asking me what colour I wanted my hair to be and what colour for highlights. I was asking for reds, but could not really hear what she was saying. Fortunately it seems I managed to communicate sufficiently and the end result was fine.

It took quite sometime - 2-3 hours before I could get out of this horrible experience and feel sufficiently "real" and myself again. I asked T for support and T reminded me to use all my imagery and to stay in the right side of the body and to try turning my head to the right (to avoid triggers to the left of the body) and to get myself back into the moment. I was, of course, trying so hard to do all these things, but it is so difficult and just very frightening (terrifying) to keep feeling like this and remaining in this space. I certainly hope that T and I can release this trauma properly in my next session.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My Sixth Session of Somatic Experiencing®

Today was my sixth session of Somatic Experiencing® -SE®. My Therapist (T) asked me how I was. I said that I felt 'wired' that I had felt myself dissociate slightly, leaving above my body previously in the day and that now I had tension in my whole left side from the tip of my head down through my face and into the left side of my left neck and arm. I reported it was an unpleasant sensation, but that the rest of my body felt "good" and comparatively "OK." We talked a little about whether I had been abused, physically or sexually and I answered.

I had started the session on the floor with my back against the wall and my legs outstretched. T suggested that I moved to a very cushioned area of the room and heaped as many cushions as possible so that if I were to fall I would feel safe. I sat with my legs crossed. T noticed that I was sunk into my left hip. I said that this was a common posture that I adopted, even whilst sitting at my desk. T asked how I felt. I said that I felt an almighty pull to the left lead from the head. T asked me to imagine that there was a spring of equal force attached to the right side of the room that could equally pull me back to the right. T also gave me a towel to put under my right hand so that I could gain sense of presence if I became too involved in the unraveling trauma. I asked whether it was OK to get upset and that I was worried I would get too upset or out of control and that I felt afraid. T said that the idea was not to take me so into the trauma that I got to that stage and that we needed to do this work very very slowly, millimetre by millimetre so that overwhelm and overload were not the case otherwise we were allowing the nervous system to continue going around the same loop it had been for many years. The idea being to very slowly, and in a very controlled way, let the body go through the essential process of discharging this energy and physiology to re-set the nervous system. T requested that T be the one to tell me when I was to start either rotating to the left or falling to the left. I agreed to do this and that I would stop the millisecond something became difficult.

My first attempts just ended in me 'spasming' (twitching) and having to stop. T kept bringing back into the present, and into the room. On other attempts I would end up feeling strangled. We stopped the SE® work for a moment and I told the story about one of (two or three) reasons for this held trauma, one story being the most plausible. That story is not for the blog, but we continued to talk and were going to continue the SE® work, but I had to urgently use the bathroom. I realized that I would certainly not have had the option of using the bathroom whilst I went through what  I experienced (at the time). 

When I returned from the bathroom, T decided that we should conclude the session for the day. I felt a little mixed by that, almost confused, but also dazed and quite exhausted, so perhaps that decision had been for the best. For another two hours following the session I still felt "in it" to some degree and did not leave my place of work (a holistic health care centre) until I felt safe to do so. Even so,  I managed to change onto the wrong bus and had a somewhat delayed journey home.

Now that  I am writing this up,  I feel quite sad. There is obviously more to uncover and T and I will do this during my next session in two week's time. I quite possibly need some processing time and also now some well-deserved rest.

Fifth Somatic Experiencing Session®

My fifth somatic experiencing® SE® session started in a similar fashion to previous sessions with my therapist (T) asking how I was feeling 'right now'. I said that I felt more or less in my body and we talked a little about what that meant. I said how I had found the bath exercise of the week before harder than anticipated and that it was clear that I was still dissociating more than I thought. We talked some more about body contact. T asked how I would feel if approached and if T put T's foot on mine. I said that it would be OK, but my body gave a contradictory message and I flinched. T immediately retracted. T reframed things and asked about how I could be approached and that T would edge closer to me, but that I could stop T at any time I felt unsafe or threatened.

T and I were about 4 metres away from each other. T approached me and only got about as far from T's chair and one step towards me. T stopped. T said why had I not said "stop." I said that I couldn't and that I had simply frozen. Again, this was not what I expected having begun to gain trust in T and not felt threatened by T in any way, however, my body gave me away.

T then sat completely opposite me in the room, length ways so we were about 5 metres away from each other. T talked about physical and spatial boundaries. T got me to have a go at saying "no" in an assertive way with my arms outstretched firstly out in front of me, then upwards to the ceiling and then pointing downwards. I felt strong and empowered. This was the end of this session.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fourth Session of Somatic Experiencing ®

I came to my fourth session of SE® telling T (therapist) about my strange over-reactions to the pain CDs - these reactions were extremely surprising to me, and I am usually a "good student" who will do their homework. T said not to worry, and that they could be used again, and at least I had learned some things from them. We talked about how I felt. I said that I felt quite startled and threatened in myself and that I had edges. T and I had a long discussion about baths - because I said how much l loved being in the bath, so T suggested that an exercise for home might just be the physical experience of getting into the water; how that felt, with my feet, then my legs, bottom, rest of body etc. That would then be the end of the exercise. I agreed to do this.

I came home from SE® and later that evening I ran a bath. I stood in the bath and noticed the change of temperature from my feet which radiated to my head. I then lowered myself into the bath and noticed that my thighs had goosebumps. I heard the crackle of the bubble bath and lowered my bottom into the water. At this point I cut-out, or dissociated from my body.  I was aware it happened and certainly I cut out again by the time my body was submerged in the water. Again, I was surprised how much a (twice) daily activity presented me with such opportunities to physically "leave" or dissociate from my body. I tried the activity a few times in the week with very similar results. The feelings experienced before "cutting-out" were, I think both fear and shame.

Third Session of Somatic Experiencing®

Having had such a strong physical and emotional release after the second session, T (therapist) took things back a step so that we could explore in a different way what it felt like to be in my body. I clearly remember saying that my right side felt free and spacious, whilst the left side of my body felt tight and taut, with not much space. We spent a great deal of time with me creating my own imagery that there could be butterflies in the right side of my body, they were blue ones, about six to begin with, and they had plenty of space and they were free and happy, whilst in the left side, which was not entirely the left side of my body, but cut from my leg, up through to my left breast and top of head, there were a load of wasps there, and there was very little space for them. We kept going back to the freedom that about 3/4 of my body had compared to the tight space of the wasps in the remaining 1/4 of my body. Gradually I added more blue butterflies to the right side of my body, but they still had plenty of space and were happy. As I was able to focus more on the positive feeling of the right side of my body, so it seemed that the aggressiveness of the wasps calmed down.

I went to sit on the floor with my legs stretched out, and my back against the wall and we continued to embellish on the feelings of the butterflies. It was a happy and relaxing session.

We talked about my body outline and where I could/could not "feel" parts of it on the floor. We used the butterflies to imagine them visiting those areas of numbness, and T asked me if I would consider listening to a CD about 'Freedom From Pain' by Peter Levine. I agreed to do this.

Although I was very interested in the academic part of the CD, and hearing about the theories of both pain and trauma, I had not anticipated my response to some of the exercises. I realized how much more work I had to do about my issues in relation to my own body and touch, let alone other people making too much contact or invading my space. For example, I found just tapping my body far too startling, and another exercise involving standing made me lock into my hypermobile knees and I started to 'spasm' on tectonic waves. It was clear my body was feeling unsafe, I felt very tearful and I had to make the decision to stop the exercises. This does not in anyway negate the usefulness these CDs will have, as I am ready to try to use them, and all the explanations about pain and trauma are excellent. It is just that things have to be done at my pace, which is more important.

Second Session of Somatic Experiencing®

In my second SE® session, we started by a check-in about how I felt. I reported to feeling a tight pull in my left side from the top of my head, through my jaw and into my chest and down my left arm. I said that I felt pulled to the left. We talked about my safe places again - e.g. the restaurant with my friends in Piccadilly, France and arriving at my place of work. I then felt the need to sit down on the floor with my legs crossed and my back against the wall. I said that felt a huge physical pull to the left. I fell to the left quite quickly, but T (therapist) wanted me to fall to the left in a much slower and more controlled way. We discussed what make any such fall safer and more comfortable for me. I suggested that we had some pillows stacked up, and then I moved to the other side of the room where there was a rolled-up futon and added some pillows to that. I then sat with my legs crossed again, but back without support as I was very, very gradually pulled to the left. In total, the experience must have taken towards 15 minutes, as I slowly fell to the left, but the pull was incredible. By the time I got to the bottom - or was lying on my left side, I felt exhausted. I was a little tearful. I felt sore on the right-side of my back where it had had to control the slowness of my pull to the left. There were no words to explain the experience - I didn't know what it was about. I badly wanted to, but the exercise, for its purpose, was finished. T and I discussed my places of safety again and the session finished.

I slept deeply and heavily following the experience, but a few days later felt deeply depressed. However, my chest pain had gone and my feelings of having a heart attack, which had escalated over recent weeks had stopped. Although my dear father had died of a very major heart attack when he was only 40, I imagine that has had a life-long impact on me and my own fear of having a heart attack. I am in my late thirties. This is my own processing, but the SE helped take away some of that physical terror that remained in my body.

My First Session of Somatic Experiencing ®

I remember my first session of SE® very clearly. After initial introductions with my therapist, who, at their request, will be referred to as "T" asked me how I was feeling.

I recall saying that I was feeling a wired sensation down my arms, particularly my left side, and a pull from the top of my head all down the left side of my body. "It felt hard and like an edge" whilst my right side felt much freer.  T reflected that was interesting. We talked more about how the chair felt - I was sitting on a high backed office-style chair with wheels. I again reiterated the difference between the left and right side of my body. My face became tense and I both looked and felt uncomfortable. T then changed tack. He started to ask me about a place where I felt really good about myself and my body and somewhere I felt both happy and myself. I told T about a restaurant I love in Piccadilly and about some of my best friends that I go there with. As I talked about it, my face relaxed and I started to smile. My body relaxed and some of the feelings, including chest pain, felt less intense than they had just some minutes before. We talked about other places where I felt happy and a place of safety. I said that I enjoyed coming into work, and we talked through that experience, as I was reaching the entrance to work, and the feeling as I walked down the street towards my place of work. Again, my happiness was evident through my face and body. We talked through two more "happy" places including a place in France I love, and being with another friend who always makes me laugh. 

T had told me I could go where ever I liked in the room. That I could even leave the room if I wanted. I decided to go and sit in one of my favourite positions on the floor with my legs crossed, with my back against the wall. Since I had issues about people being too close to me, I gave permission for T to sit across the room from me and T mirrored my body posture. We continued the discussion about being in Piccadilly and all the positive imagery that conjured. 

After a short while, T checked in with me about how I was feeling as I sat with my legs crossed on the floor. I reported that I had some sensation in my legs, and buttocks on the floor, but that the rest of me felt 'numb' and cut-off. As I spoke about it, I very suddenly started to tear-up. T noticed straight away and took me back to the place in Piccadilly, and I immediately felt happier again. I was surprised about where this tearful feeling had come from, but did not spend anymore time on wondering about it. The session ended.

I went home feeling quite tired and on the bus tried to reflect upon what happened. I realized that this was going to be completely different to psychotherapy in that I was not going to necessarily know what my sudden sadness had been about during the session. I took my thoughts back to Piccadilly and was asked to write about my places of safety and happiness for 'homework.' This, I did.

What is Somatic Experiencing® - and why do it?

Somatic Experiencing®  - from the bloggers point of view

Somatic Experiencing® is a form of mind-bodywork that works in quite an opposite way to psychotherapy, which is about mind-processing and behavioural changes and patterns, amongst many other things.

Somatic Experiencing® is a way of exploring the body and bodily sensations and as a very subtle and oblique way of looking at releasing bodily traumas that have been held, often for many years, without actually revisiting the trauma. In fact, the therapist who leads, guides and facilitates the work will not be interested in the story. What they are interested in is what can be felt and experienced in the body and whether or not this evokes any emotions - such as sadness or anger, or previously formed patterns or responses, such as 'freezing'. Somatic Experiencing® therefore deals with the part of the nervous system where such types of responses and emotions are held perhaps from previous traumas - some might be dramatic ones, such as a near-death experience (being operated on in surgery) , abuse, witnessing a horrific event. Others might be milder ones. Some of the traumas or stresses we may have no awareness or memory of, whilst others we will have memories of the events, but cannot erase them. It appears that what is happening, is that the normal Fight or Flight response that is evoked in response to danger remains perpetually on and we unfortunately remain in this loop of response, that is not naturally cellularly and physiologically dispersed, as it is in animals, who do not hold on to these fears (as far as we are aware).

Peter Levine coined the term Somatic Experiencing® or SE® in his book 'Waking the Tiger' and wrote about the need to release the energy that is trapped and the remaining loop of 'fight or flight' that has been stored in the nervous system in a safe way, so that the symptoms, that might be associated with trauma, can be safely released. The types of symptoms are very much the ones found in relation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This was first noticed in first world war soldiers who had what was called 'Shell-Shock'  Some symptoms might be:

Symptoms of PTSD and Trauma

·         Hyperarousal
·         Constriction
·         Dissociation (including denial)
·         Hypervigalence
·         Intrusive memory or flashbacks
·         Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
·         Hyperactivity
·         Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
·         Nightmares and night terrors
·         Abrupt mood swings (e.g. rage, temper tantrums, shame)
·         Reduced ability to deal with stress
·         Difficulty sleeping
·         Frequent crying
·         Inability to make commitments
·         Feelings of detachment, alienation and isolation (“living dead”)
·         Chronic fatigue or very low physical energy
·         Psychosomatic illnesses – particularly headaches, neck and back pain, asthma, digestive spastic colon, asthma, severe PMT
·         Inability to love,  nurture or bond with individuals
·         Amnesia and forgetfulness
·         Feelings and behaviours of helplessness
(from Levine, P (1997). Waking The Tiger , p.148-149)

During a session of SE®, the therapist always ensures that the client is in a place of safety through all work. In fact, the initial sessions are all about safety anchors before exploring some of the more unpleasant bodily sensations the client might experience. Even then, everything is done in a very careful, safe and controlled way to avoid any further trauma to an already 'traumatized' person. Over time, some of the unpleasant feeling disperse, leaving the client in a better and more bodily 'complete' state.

It is difficult to determine how many sessions of therapy might be required, but each session is approximately one hour long. The Somatic Experiencing® website (UK Branch) has far more information

My intention in this blog is to document my own journey through SE® work. It is therefore a very personalized account and must only be read with this in mind. The experiences are therefore my own and should not be interpreted in any other way, since everyone's experience would be different (with similar themes to treatment. My therapist will be referred to as 'T' for therapist, at their request.