Body Memories?

How to tell the difference between a body memory and a medical emergency? Good question. I have visited emergency rooms more than once with a panic attack that I mistook for a heart attack and have ignored the pain of a strep abscess, ending up spending five days post-surgery in the hospital.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at sorting things out. About once a week I ask myself, “Do I hurt anywhere? Does it hurt more or less than last week, or does it hurt differently? Have I told the doctor?” I also check to see if I feel generally, bodily, sick or if I have any of the classic warning signs of disease, like lumps or changing moles.

I’ve found that discussing things I am not sure of with a friend is a great help. I pick some body who is neither a total stoic nor a hypochondriac and ask for a reality check. Sometimes just hearing my own words helps me make a decision.

Education (first medical books and now the Web) is also very useful. I was able to decide I was getting carpal tunnel syndrome rather than having mini strokes when I learned that one of the early symptoms is tingling in the hands – everywhere but on the inside of the little finger. A wrist brace, better posture, and more frequent breaks from the computer solved that problem neatly.

We were taught to bear pain, not to talk about it (certainly never to strangers), and to dissociate from it completely. No wonder it is hard for us, as adults, to know when there is something seriously wrong.

It takes prolonged practice to learn to tune into our bodies. We have to make a conscious effort to feel things that others notice instantaneously. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

And now I have a little motto for my fridge: “When in doubt, check it out.” It’s embarrassing and sometimes expensive to be an alarmist, but it can be lethal to ignore or dissociate away pain or other symptoms.

Survivorship Journal Volume 10 Number 2

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5 thoughts on “Body Memories?

  1. Hi Jeannie, I totally agree with you! I have had the same things happen to me. In the beginning I did not understand and became very upset when the Dr told me I was sick in my head!!
    Only two or so years later did I begin to find out what was really wrong with me.
    I had to rely on lots of vitamins, even now. Eventually I had to take antidepressants which was a difficult but necessary choice.
    I got what our pastor calls ” tired flu”. It means that my body reacts as if I have flu, but there is no fever. This had me confused until I told them and they said that it is a common thing among emotionally stressed people. So I learned to take brufens for three days and also pray. Then I will be better for a while till the next session and all it’s pain comes along.
    However, it has all been worth my wile and I am now needing pills less and less as my healing journey is almost over. The body memories has disappeared now and I a so grateful. For me body memories also took me back to the incident and then I became small and afraid and completely disorientated. Fortunately my eldest daughter new just what to do to help me.
    So to all of you out there; there is hope, you are not alone, nor crazy, or imagining things. These things do happen and I found that God was the only to really change it for me.
    AND I am glad I found you all and can share my thoughts with you.

  2. Mara — I can relate so well! I’m glad you found the article useful.

    I think there are many things that give the body trouble. For us survivors, chronically messing up our hormone balance by being flooded with stress hormones is a huge one. It looks like that’s what leads to all sorts of auto-immune diseases. So I believe there is always a cause for getting sick. Body memories, flashbacks, they come from being triggered. I often don’t know what I am triggered by or what my body is remembering, which makes it hard to sort out. Takes a lot of practice.

    I hope you can be able to let go of being embarrassed by having symptoms the docs can’t explain. Sometimes they are body memories, sometimes they just haven’t looked hard enough. Either way, it certainly isn’t your fault.

    As for being charge of the body, I think me and my body do best when we work together. I don’t appreciate it when my body tells me in no uncertain terms what I can and cannot do and my body suffers when I try to boss it around arbitrarily.

  3. What an important post you made! I get difficulty deciding — is it panic from subconscious trigger in the environment, or from intellectual worry inside. What makes the actual physical body go off “on its own?” (Besides germs.) Aren’t WE the boss over the body?? Feel sooo deeply mortified when docs get negative attitudes over symptoms don’t seem to link to anything. [By the way, if you have autoimmune thyroid issues, be sure to get Reverse T-3 Test!]

  4. I’ve found my Yoga practice (and teacher) to be a big help. I still get memories and tears on occasion, but the positions require me to tune in to my body to do them. And I learn more about what’s normal and what’s not from others and from the teacher.

  5. I so agree body memories can be very hard. Once I went to a treatment center and the doctor said I had cut myself on the belly but later they look at it again and it was gone.. so strange.. I think when I check inside it sure helps.

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