Deep Panic Breaths

Don't Panic

I have been in panic mode since childhood. Violent household. Hiding in the closet with my fingers in my ears and holding my breath until my face was red. That’s how I learned to play possum. If I couldn’t cope with my surroundings, I would just make myself numb, still, silent until it passed (or I passed out). There would be some dissociation. Sometimes I could see my body, balled up and trying to disappear. When it was over I would cry so hard I’d choke on my own tears, my sinuses would puff up and I would still not be able to breathe.

Now all of the stress I have shoved down into various parts of my body forms a well-worn path. If something stressful comes up, I go into full panic mode. I automatically assume crash position. A type-o becomes a worst case scenario and I become neurotic and hypervigilant. I can’t relax until I have made it right. And sometimes I can’t make it right. I know that’s the shallow end of my PTSD but it is enough to really get in the way of my happiness and productivity.

I think I might find my way out of this feedback loop by going into my body. By getting deep body work and motion therapy. Currently all of my past injuries, still very much alive but usually dormant, are acting up. My neck is frozen, my lower lumbar is in spasm, I have pain shooting down my leg into my foot and across my hip, latching on like an itchy sweater. I just can’t get comfortable. But maybe that’s the point. I should no longer ignore this pattern and go about my day until the next cataclysm takes hold.

Any thoughts? Any volunteers to be my panic buddy?

The Mind and the Muscle

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I feel the connection between mind and body deeply when my mental pathologies are in high gear. When I am depressed, my bones hurt, I feel burnt from the inside, my metabolism slows down. When I am in the throes of a mixed episode with heightened anxiety I have a flight or flight reflex that is catlike. My adrenals dump into my bloodstream and my nervous system zaps away. I have horrible agitation and all of the wonderful self-care tools like meditation, Reiki, breathing and even exercise are futile. It’s obvious to me that these illnesses aren’t just in my head, they’re in my body too.

I’ve recently developed an ongoing left lower lumbar spasm. It just won’t heal. It causes radiating pain and weakness and is in general a pain my ass. I’ve had unpleasant dealings with doctors who don’t want to treat patients who are in pain. They prescribed a short course of a muscle relaxer and recommended ice and heat. It wasn’t cutting it. They had no further answers for me and no concept of how all of my symptoms connected.

So I went to the chiropractor who I visited when my lumbar went into spasm last year before the ACA kicked in and before I had insurance. I needed to talk to someone who would listen to me, someone who actually understands the body. Doctors are good for the prevention and curing of diseases but when it comes to anatomy, many seem to have skipped that class. My chiropractor, after doing a series of strength and range of motion tests directed my attention to the psoas, the muscle at the root of a lot of lower back and hip pain (some people think it’s the root to almost all chronic pain).

When I first learned about the psoas muscle in massage therapy school, something about it stood out to me. It is the deepest muscle in both the back and the abdomen, it holds you up, it creates a shelf for all of your organs as well as massaging them and the spinal fluid. It is the core that supports health and longevity–not the abs or obliques but the psoas. But it seems nobody really talks about it that way. People talk about core strengthening in terms of abs but nobody mentions the humble psoas that takes the biggest beating from not only physical activities but mental and emotional stressors.

Since it is also deeply linked to the sympathetic nervous system holding up and massaging the body’s organs its job, among other things, is to protect them from the hailstorm of stress. When trapped in a state of flight or fright–when a person is pathologically scared, filled with anxiety, panic, terror and is hypervigalent–the psoas constricts to protect the precious organs and spinal fluid but it can cause crippling conditions wearing away joints and harming spinal disks. This wearing away doesn’t kill us but it can make us a lot weaker.

So, according to the philosophy of the body set forth in Yoga, as well as the understanding of human anatomy and psychology, it turns out this relationship works both ways. The releasing of my psoas, encouraging it to work correctly will theoretically help reduce my nervous symptoms as well as the physical ones. My new favorite body blogger¬†Brook over at Fascia Freedom Fighters¬†shared this. It’s called constructive rest. I love the idea of intentionally incorporating rest into the day. Apparently some people fight it wanting to multi-task but I say no way, my body needs a break from the perpetuality of doing.

We’ll see how that works. Anybody have any experience working with the psoas? This is a part of the body that I am definitely going to explore further because as I mentioned, when I am in a state of flight/fright and my adrenals are pumping for no good reason, the mind-oriented self-care techniques I’ve accumulated do not work.