How I’m healing trauma trapped in the body

This is a topic that I find really, really interesting, knew nothing about until recently and is pretty much ruling my life at the moment.

I don’t much like assuming that you might be a ‘reader’, but if you are, you’ll know that I’ve had quite a bit of success with EMDR. So when it didn’t work for some new symptoms which arose this year (classic 2020, right?) I felt completely at a loss with what to do. I was back at square one.

Throughout the last six or so years I’ve had talking therapy which re-traumatised, an allergic reaction to Sertraline which knocked me for six and two very long and difficult stints with EMDR therapy which had, thankfully, worked wonders. It worked before – why not now – but more importantly, what would I do next?

Well, I researched the heck out of it and spoke to a few different professionals.

There was one very clear outcome to it all: I’d responded well to psychological treatment (in the end) but that was no longer the problem. The problem was with my body. My trauma’s trapped in it.

How I knew I had trapped trauma

My mental ill health challenges have always brought a lot of physical symptoms – but they were sticking around when I was mentally doing really, really well.

Earlier this year I saw a doctor on multiple occasions about some neck problems and migraines with aura they were likely to be causing, and he referred me to a physiotherapist.

The physio saw me for one session, moved my head and neck around for a bit, asked me some questions, got me to do a few stretches and told me he couldn’t help me. “It’s trauma coming out”, he said.

I went on a few months muddling through until three months later I started having what I thought were night terrors. So after four more months of dizziness, neck, head, tension and sleep problems, I went back to EMDR.

I definitely had a breakthrough moment mentally in these more recent sessions, but it didn’t help me physically.

I got absolutely sick of having my sleep interrupted by images of things falling on me and the inevitable panic and trying to run away that followed. It was absolutely wrecking me. CBD helped to reduce the frequency but that just made me even more gutted when it did happen. I’d been doing so well and it felt like a constant setback.

I made some lifestyle changes – changed my job, had a lot more headspace, less racing thoughts, less stress, slower pace of life, more time outside, better nutrition, new lifestyle that suits me better.

And it got worse.

So I spoke to a trauma specialist, who explained that I’d essentially given myself new strength and headspace to deal with unprocessed trauma and told me to look into body work – and that’s where my research started. I discovered two things:

  1. Trauma can get literally stuck inside the tissue in our bodies if we don’t go through a full cycle (often referred to as ‘completion’) of processing it
  2. My night terrors aren’t night terrors.

It explained a lot, but I didn’t really know what to do. In the middle of a pandemic and in a tier three town I knew I probably wouldn’t have much luck trying to start a physical therapy any time soon. Plus, this kind of stuff is expensive.

So I researched a bit more. Breath work came up a lot. I’ve been reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score for months on and off (there’s a heck of a lot of info to take in, but very good) and in the book there’s a whole section about yoga.

Yoga for trapped trauma

I’ve been telling myself I’d try yoga for literally months and haven’t done it. I was very skeptical about yoga being enough to clear out twenty years’ worth of shit but it was all that I had, so I started doing yoga three times a week.

Yoga with Adriene had been recommended to me by a few people and when I looked at her content I very quickly found a video titled ‘Yoga for PTSD.’

I had no idea what was going to happen – if anything.

The first time nothing ‘happened’ but I enjoyed the session and found that it calmed me right down when I didn’t even realise I needed calming down but hey, that’s PTSD for ya.

The second time I did it I enjoyed the session again so I knew I was taking away some sort of positive for trying this if nothing else. Then after the session I started to notice all these memories swimming around and taking it in turns to push their way to the forefront so I just sat for a bit.

I didn’t push the memories away I just sat with them and let them do what they were trying to do – something that anyone who has experienced trauma will know is bloody difficult. I just kept myself calm and tried to approach it with curiosity – something my therapist always says.

After about ten, fifteen minutes I felt ready to get up so I did and I felt rotten for a good few hours. All of this anxiety and sadness had come right to the surface and I knew I needed to focus on letting it out rather than continuing to store it.

I cried a bit: trauma release.

Cried a bit more a bit later: trauma release.

The next time I approached the mat I was a little nervous not knowing whether that might happen again but reminding myself that if it does it’s actually a good thing. In the end nothing happened, I just felt a bit calmer.

The next day I started to get a mild fever. Went for a Covid-19 test. Negative.

It only lasted for a day and is, I’m told, another form of trauma release.

I knew I had to keep going and facing the things I couldn’t bare to face in order to move them on, so back to the mat I went (when I felt better – rest days are really important and some days I’ve skipped sessions because I just wasn’t prepared for the repercussions).

I found the whole thing almost entirely uncomfortable, couldn’t get into it, couldn’t follow it and felt completely miserable afterwards. Once again I sat with it. I felt sad but even more overwhelmingly I just wanted to shut my eyes, so I did.

I went to the sofa, got under a blanket and just shut my eyes. I was absolutely exhausted. I didn’t sleep but I just rested and had more ‘things’ come into my head. They weren’t particularly negative they were more like conversations with myself and just working through stuff.

After about half an hour my head felt clear. Completely, entirely clear. Thoughts might pop in but I just let them pass and they were random, unrelated things and it wasn’t uncomfortable. I didn’t want to do anything at all. I could have sat and stared at a wall – and basically did.

After that my physical symptoms were largely reduced, particularly around muscle tension/pain and that foggy head, dizzy feeling. I was very tired but generally in a much better place.

Went to sleep and had a ‘night terror’.

The night terrors that aren’t

When I woke up in the morning I was properly cross and upset. Anytime I start to feel better something shits on it.

So I did more research.

It was at this point that I started to think that they weren’t night terrors. My Google rampage had brought to my attention that ‘hypnopompic hallucinations‘ exist and they sounded bang on what I experience.

There wasn’t much info, so I asked my therapist. She didn’t know. So I booked a free consultation with a sleep specialist (who later wanted to charge me £700 for treatment!) who also didn’t know. So I phoned my doctor. He knew.

“These aren’t night terrors.”

He diagnosed hypnopompic hallucinations which I won’t go into too much here because there’s a lot and it’ll be a separate post I imagine but the gist of it is that I wake up in the night, see horrid things and go back to sleep.

These can and do basically happen to anyone but are particularly common for people who live with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Parkinson’s and Narcolepsy.

What now

I think it would be fair to say that my physical symptoms are reducing with my yoga practice and I’m still working on that. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t, sometimes it brings things up, sometimes it doesnt.

I’m still experiencing hallucinations about one night per week on average but my doctor believes that these will diminish as I heal my body from trauma.

There is treatment available if they’re really distressing for people but mine seem to be becoming less frequent and I might as well deal with the root cause.

It looks like I’ve got as far as I can for now with EMDR and it’s physical therapies that are going to help. I’m still plodding on with yoga. Keep you updated.


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