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. Now I ask myself, “Do I hurt anywhere? Does it hurt more or less than yesterday or last week, and 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 warning signs of disease, like lumps or changing moles.
Body memories, at least for me, tend to occur in certain locations or at certain times and they tend to come back day after day after day. Some are really nutty, and that makes them easy to identify. Some come with a story attached, and that, too, helps.
What really complicates things is that a present-day physical problem can stir up body memories of a similar illness or injury. In that case, working with the memory doesn’t affect today’s condition. It’s worthwhile, of course, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Does it work the other way around; do body memories sometimes cause physical problems? I think so, but I don’t think it happens as often. For example, a memory of being made to drink something awful might make it impossible to swallow, which could lead to dehydration.
I’ve found that discussing things I am not sure of with a friend is a great help. I pick somebody 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.
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 another 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.