It is fitting, perhaps, that today's foray into the workings of the nervous system was interrupted repeatedly with jolts out of the chair. "Bunny!" "Chipmunk!" "Two chipmunks!" Our yard is a veritable zoo, which never ceases to overwhelm us with its cute factor. Even the slimy frog that visits my kitchen window is soooooooo CUTE. But anyway: these times are lessons on how to stay motivated on day 5 of a monthlong project, even when you're not really feeling it.
My study of muscle tension as therapy in Babette Rothschild's work needs to begin with nervous system response, even though I keep flipping to the really fascinating stuff in the book that finally arrived from the UK.
Okay, can't resist. Here's one to tie you over (from page 5 of The Body Remembers):
A woman whose 3-year-old daughter had died four years prior was recalling, in a therapy session, a medical visit that had been particularly challenging. The details eluded her, but as she spoke, Rothschild noticed the woman's head jerking subtly to the right. The woman was unaware of the movement, and R suggested she allow it to develop. "Slowly the movement became bigger, becoming an obvious turn of the head to the right. When her head made its full turn, Carla began to cry."
And then she remembered. At the medical visit in question, an x-ray of her daughter had been displayed to the right, but the woman couldn't bring herself to look at it. The x-ray, and the visit, had made clear that the daughter wouldn't live.
As the title says, The Body Remembers.
This reminds me of the first year following Theo's diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Each Friday, when I'd visit the school to refill supplies, I'd have to fight back tears. I could say these came out of nowhere, in a sense, because at home, I handled supplies all day long; but of course, the response was deeply-rooted in a type of grief. There were other times, too, when this grief would hit, yet the regular attendance of tears each Friday caught me off guard every time.
Trauma of any sort can manifest itself in physical symptoms, with some of the most dramatic including the freeze response, where a part of the body can go numb, or get stiff and "stuck." Though the trauma may have originated in what feels like an emotional problem--verbal abuse, the death of a loved one--these deep feelings find their way through bodily processes.
We'll focus on just one today: the autonomic nervous system (ANS). When the limbic system of the brain detects a threat, it engages the endocrine system and the ANS in the work of preparing to fight, flee, or, if neither of those can be accomplished, freeze.
"PTSD is characterized, in part, by chronic ANS hyperarousal. The system is always stressed.... When SNS arousal is constantly high, adding a news stress shoots it up even higher... This difficulty is familiar to many with PTSD who wonder why they cannot handle daily stress like everyone else or like they used to be able to." (page 50)
Explains a lot, doesn't it? Of course, this is just an armchair summary of complex processes, but I think it can serve to articulate the situation of people under chronic stress. (And even those bunnies in the yard, who exhibit a type of freeze response when unable to flee.) In future posts, I'll get to what interests me most, which is what Rothschild suggests to be done about it: work those muscles.