I skipped the last session with my previous therapist. Or, more accurately, I sent Mike in my place to pay the bill because the thought of going to another session sent me spiraling into an anxiety attack. Talking itself didn’t worry me. But the physical pain I experienced afterward was enough to make anyone run away like a rat in a maze after an electric shock. I would always walk out of the office fatigued, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. My limbs would burn. My neck and back muscles ached and stabbed at me. Laying on a heating pad helped very little; only time rid my body of the torture. And time moves slowly when you can barely move and are a prisoner in your own body. Like the maze rats, I learned to stop pressing the lever.
I was in therapy because my doctor had recommended it. In fact, therapy is generally recommended for anyone with fibromyalgia. Even if you don’t have a past which requires therapy, (and God knows I do) a life with chronic pain and fatigue is going to require a great deal of emotional support and healthy coping strategies.
In my case, I knew I was going to need strategies for coping with the stress and anxiety that triggered painful flares, and vice versa. In fact, my body hurting in certain areas was usually my first clue that I was stressing about something. While this therapist provided me with some important insights about my past, psychotherapy, (prior to Lyrica) proved too much for my body to handle. Not to mention, I never really received effective coping strategies to stave off the stress and pain.
Suffice it to say, I was nervous to try therapy again. What would be the point of therapy if it caused me as much or more pain than simply existing? But increased hopelessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide left me with little other choice. This time I synced up with a cognitive behavioral therapist. Now, not only do I talk about my past and day to day, I talk while holding vibrating paddles in each hand. The bilateral stimuli works in my brain to help with unlocking and processing these difficult memories. I don’t just talk about my feelings and behavior, I examine my feelings within the memories and work toward teaching my brain to realize that the memory is just that and no longer a threat. I learn calming techniques like the light stream technique, focusing on deep breathing during mindfulness, and packing up my memories and feelings when it becomes too much. I can pull them back out and work on them another time. And let me tell you, progressive muscle relaxation is amazing!
I still experience the pain during therapy: the pockets of burning and the tightening of leg muscles, rooted in a primal need to fight or fly. My brain is fighting harder than ever to keep those memories locked away and hidden. They’re behind doors and replayed scenes obscured by blackness. It means I’m getting somewhere. It means there’s hope that I can teach my mind to know that, those times when I felt unsafe and without control, are over. And if I can teach my mind to resolve those moments, perhaps my mind can let my body know that it’s okay to relax. My hope is that, someday, I’ll have control over this mind and body, inextricably linked. Until then, I’ll just imagine an aqua light beaming in through my head and down into my legs, which are now hurting because I wrote this post. Or I could pat my legs while talking abut baking. That really calmed me down during my session the other day. Anyone want to talk about apple pie?
**While editing, I found this blog post, which does a pretty good job of describing one way I’ve experienced CBT and how past pain can cause current bodily pain.