I really struggle with anything even remotely body-related. It’s been like this for years. Even thinking about sensations occurring within my body, and putting these experience into words, can escalate my anxiety levels to the point of sheer panic. I know it isn’t justified and I can rationalise all the reasons as to why, however that doesn’t seem to stop the problem or make it any better. Describing my physical sensations and attending to my body during these moments is therefore something I avoid. When I am asked in therapy what my body is communicating, I tend to disengage because I become so scared of having a panic attack if I focus too hard on the incredibly uncomfortable sensations.
Today in therapy, my therapist noticed that something was up. As we were going through some things on my Diary Card, my anxiety started escalating and my body tensed up. She asked me to explain what was going on and how it was manifesting in my body.
I attempted to describe to her how I was feeling physically by using words such as ‘bad‘, ‘uncomfortable‘, ‘dysregulated‘ and ‘not okay‘, but as she pointed out, I wasn’t being very descriptive! (I was doing this on purpose, trying to avoid the situation of course!). She encouraged me to try again, to express to her exactly what the physical experience was like without using cheat or judgement words. Initially I was resistant but with some encouragement on her part I began describing my body sensations in a more specific in-depth way.
“My chest feels tight”
“I am really hot”
“I can feel my heart pounding throughout my body”
“I feel sick in my stomach”
“My breathing feels irregular and uncontrolled”
“My hands feel tingly”
As I was scanning my body and listing these sensations to her, the symptoms started to escalate rapidly. The more I thought about how anxious I felt, and how that was manifesting physically, the more panicked I became. It didn’t take long before I started shutting down, becoming dissociative and non-responsive, and entering a state of full-blown panic. I shut my eyes to make it go away, but that only led me to become less grounded and more detached from reality.
I could hear her but her voice was muffled. I was trying to catch my breath as I had started hyper-ventilating. My body was stiff and tense, I was gripping on to my water bottle for dear life, and my legs were crossed over each other in a contorted and ungrounded fashion. My limbs were numb and my vision was minimal. I was struggling to think straight as dizziness and dissociation pervaded.
Luckily, she came to the rescue and guided me over the next 20 minutes or so to help me regulate my system and bring me back into the room. Very slowly and with lots of encouragement I was able to open my eyes, place both feet on the floor, and start breathing in a more controlled manner. Together we went through an array of grounding exercises, until I started to feel more settled. There were a number of peaks and troughs but overall after half an hour, I was back in control of myself.
It was shocking to me how quickly and dramatically I had fallen into such a state of panic and dissociation by simply talking about my bodily experiences – and becoming freaked out and consumed by them so overwhelmingly. A terrifying experience.
(Even writing this post has induced slight anxiety which wasn’t present before. Prime time for Paced Breathing, to wind myself down for sleep…)