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.