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Psychosomatic Illness- Are you really sick?

I get an interesting magazine that I read for fun.  It’s called “Psychology Today.”  I like reading about why people act the way they do; by trying to understand, I’m less upset about how people behave in general. I think I’ve been interested it, ever since I was very little.

A recent article by neurologist, Suzanne O’ Sullivan, M.D., was particularly interesting. On this website, for many years, I’ve written about emotional well being and how it can hurt us.  This article, was a good reminder in many ways of what can  happen with people who are so sick and have zero answers for their illness, despite a barrage of testing.  It also was really well written and the points Suzanne makes are quite good…so good, I thought I’d share. For anyone who has been upset at their doctor for not being able to diagnosis or saying “it’s in your head” it can help you understand their point of view, making you less upset (which can help heal you).

Suzanne has the the kind of clients that no amount of morphine can help.  She often performs invasive testing to try to get answers for her clients and says, Neurological diseases manifests in elusive and strange ways.  When I started, I could not have predicted how far I would fine myself drawn into the care of those whose illnesses originate not int he body ,but in the mind.”

In modern society we like the idea of thinking ourselves well.  But society has not fully awakened to the frequency in which people do the opposite- unconsciously think themselves ill.

Before you get upset at that statement, realize that the symptoms and the pain is REAL for many people, but the problem is how it manifests is not so well understood, especially in that of psychosomatic illness.  These illness cause real distress and disability, but they DO NOT obey any rules.   Almost any symptom we can image can become real when we are in distress-tremor, fatigue, speech impairment, numbness, ANYTHING.

There are OF COURSE medically unexplained symptoms that are not necessarily psychosomatic. There will always be diseases that can stretch the limit of knowledge we currently have at any given point.

To first understand this phenomena, it’s good to know that these disorders are physical symptoms that MASK emotional distress. Our minds, when overwhelmed with sadness (or anger, etc.), can trigger physical symptoms.  If the root of these problems are so overwhelming, people cannot bear it, it turns into something very physical.  I can think back to a handful of past clients that had intense physical symptoms because of emotional trauma, many had a hard time figuring out what the trigger was and just as many knew what it was, but were unwilling to accept/deal with it.

Seizures

If you have seizures, you usually get an EEG to definitively test consciousness. It shows if a person had a loss of consciousness during an event.   If  healthy person faints, it’s dehydration or overheating and the heart kicks into action by pumping harder and vital blood is drawn away from the brain. This is how you can pass out…which I did once at West Point, while standing in formation.  My blackout, was the first and only I have ever experienced. I can say that my heart rate did increase before it happened, but I can also state that I was under extreme stress at the time….probably the most extreme I’ve ever faced to date. I had a cadet in charge of my squad, who had a brother who committed suicide while he was in school and he decided to become a monster.  Since we could not lock our doors at night, I had to stay up at all hours, concerned for my physical safety.  It all worked out in the end when I told the captain in charge of our regiment.

Blackouts can occur in the brain itself, just like seizures.  If your heart tracing is normal, your seizures are coming from your brain.   If someone is being monitored for seizures medical professionals will usually look at the pattern of the brain waves and decide if you are in a unconscious pattern.  If you are unconscious, completely unaware of your surroundings, with brain waves looking normal, you have a real psychological manifestation (like my blackout due to stress).

Physical manifestations of unhappiness are something we all experience and they are NOT personality flaws.  We all go through bad stuff.  We manifest in different ways: cry, complain, sleep, drink, eat, get angry or suffer with physical PAIN.

MS- Paralysis

Suzanne talks about a patient, who after testing with an MRI for white spots (“inflammation”) in the brain and spine, also tested the integrity of the nervous system and when all tests checked out, she had to talk to him about psychosomatic illness.  It’s not that she didn’t believe his symptoms were real- THEY WERE, it’s where they were stemming from had to be talked about.  Her patient spent many years trying to diagnosis himself, never taking into account his emotional well-being.  It didn’t go so well at first, but later he decided to visit a psychologist who was able to describe to him what was happening in a way, that made sense to him. Part of the recovery for this individual, was understanding the root of the problem. Sometimes, you just have to be made aware, so you can make changes.  A people have a very hard time accepting the power of the mind over the body.

Suzanne says, that “psychosomatic paralysis is the loss of ability to recruit  the necessary motor pathways to make paralyze limbs move.   This does not necessarily mean that there is a disease present, but suggests the existence of a learned inability to move.”  Disabilities that arise in the subconscious rarely obey anatomical rules.  Just as one symptom appears, it disappears and another merges somewhere else (just as if someone had “MS”).  Another phenomena is the storing of emotions in body parts, this is not something the article discussed, but it’s a real thing.

“Ancient Greeks thought the uterus wandered about causing symptoms, but it is not an organ that wanders, it’s sadness, looking for a way out.”  Just as someone’s hand shake when they are publicly speaking, or in my case, I get real sweaty. It’s all because of emotions (fear in this case).

Facebook

If you go on Facebook, at any give time, you can see people who are really lonely.  They talk nothing but how bad they feel constantly. What’s so bad about this, is that their illness is helping them cope with their loneliness.  Just look at how many people comment and interact on posts that talk about suffering, while posts that are educational, funny, uplifting, etc….get a fraction of the attention.  Post anything about having success or trying hard to do something successful, and you get virtually nothing.  No comments, not likes, not interaction, etc.

When I was sick, I filtered everything coming in and disconnected in a big way, so I could focus on solutions and REST.  I was also very lonely during this time, but I consciously made a big effort not to get sympathy from others.  I did not want attention, because it was too much of a reward.  It trains us all the wrong way…because being sick, often means you feel lonely.  You just can’t feed your illness by getting attention.

For people who comment, it’s perfectly good to have empathy (very important for society to be like this).  Just remember that if you are sick and want to be well, you have to be mindful of your company.

Laughter

One of my favorite things this article mentions is what happens when you laugh really hard.  I know I have so many moments with my husband, where we laugh so hard we collapse. Its not anything you can control when you are laughing hysterically at something. It’s probably why I married him.   The different facets of laughing, have very REAL physical symptoms associated with it (like crying, or bending over uncontrollably, or collapsing in my case) and people accept that.  Society should accept that the body can do even more extraordinary things when faced with more extraordinary triggers.

 

I just grabbed the first stuff in my FB feed. I didn’t go picking out the best ones with the most likes, etc.  This is really just to show awareness of our society and the physiological aspects of getting attention from illness.

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