For a long time, and still to a certain extent, I considered my body separate to me.
When my pain was bad I would get angry with it for not letting me do what “I” wanted. “I” being my mind because of course what my body wanted and needed was compassion, rest and care not to be forced to enact what my mind wanted.
This disconnect has been with me a very very long time. I see it in my self harm, I see it in my eating disorder, I see it in my language, in my actions. I see it in my disassociation. I see it in my inability to understand emotions which are played out in my body, physically. The racing heart of anxiety, the lunging stomach of fear. I am just starting to see these as what they are. For a long time I didn’t even feel them, let alone recognise them.
My body frustrated me, and if I’m being honest it still does but less so. My body doesn’t do what I want it to – I can’t exercise or dance or go for long walks in the countryside. I managed to stay in work all through my mental health issues and then I had to retire because my physical health wasn’t up to it. I’ve often felt like my body has betrayed me. My body is the reason I have to have other people shower me and dress me and at times feed me. But my body is me.
I remember the day I realised my body was me. I had been to the sea and had to leave earlier than I wanted because my body, my pain was playing up. I was heading home, in physical pain, mentally telling my body how much I hated it. It was ruining my day, my life. It was stupid and horrible and I was angry with it. I felt let down by my body. I don’t know why, but just as I was walking up to my flat, I realised that my body was me. I have often been at war with myself in my mind but here I was at war between my mind and my body but they were the same. They are both me.
This disconnect ran deep. Realising it was a long way off from feeling as though my body and mind are one. But the impact it was having on me was huge. Over time I realised that my poor self care, my lack of respect for my body when it was in pain, pushing through the pain, not feeding it well, not medicating it well, were all in part down to this disconnect.
And not being connected to my body meant I was missing out. How can you experience the wonders of the world if you are numb, if you are not engaging or listening to your senses?
How can you care for your body if you treat it as a shell, as a slave, as something unattached to you?
I didn’t trust my body. Growing up, when I was ill, I was told to stop faking it, stop being dramatic, stop putting it on, stop attention seeking. So it’s no wonder what I didn’t trust what my body was telling me. It would say “we’re in pain” and I would interpret that as me being attention seeking, dramatic, I would doubt my (sometimes quite severe) pain. I’d think I was making it up. And so I wouldn’t treat my body the way I should have. I’m still only just at a point where feeling high pain levels link in my mind to painkillers. I still have days where my pain is less bad and I think that I must have exaggerated the pain on other days, that I’m not as bad as I think or say I am.
I have tried to both numb my body, my physical self and connect to my body through self harm and eating disorders. Needless to say, neither worked particularly well.
To some extent I think it’s understandable that we disconnect ourselves, especially those of us with chronic pain. If your body hurts, you want to get rid of that feeling and if you have ongoing pain, you can’t and thus one way of surviving the physical pain is to detach yourself from it. The same goes for disassociating yourself from your body when you are going through trauma. It’s protective. It’s your body’s way of making it through this. But it’s not sustainable. It gets you through a crisis and then you have to return to being mind and body not mind vs body.
With my anorexia, part of the cause was that I felt too much (which I interpreted as too big) for myself. I felt like I was bursting out at the seams. I felt too much inside and making myself physically smaller was one way of coping with this. I feel this feeling of being too much still, regularly, sometimes its a feeling of anxiety and sometimes its because I’m filled with ideas and creative energy and passion. But without getting in touch with my body, I can’t tell them apart. And how awful would it be to miss out on that exciting burning creative desire because I’m not paying attention to my body?
I am still very much a beginner when it comes to experiencing my body as me but I didn’t want to write all this and then leave anyone reading it high and dry. So here’s the limited list of ideas I’ve tried to help me heal this division. Some have worked for me, some haven’t, as with most things, experiment and if you have ideas, share them with me please!!
- Mindfulness – getting this one out of the way as I know someone will suggest it. It’s the NHS’s current cure all fix and I know people who have found it amazingly helpful. But it’s not for me, it makes my physical pain feel worse. If you do want to try mindfulness, then the body scan is one way of feeling your body.
- The Helen version of the body scan – I experience poor proprioception which means there are times when I really struggle to know where my limbs are and I get very anxious and uncomfortable. To help with this, I mentally wrap my entire body in bandages, paying attention to the details, so wrapping up each toe etc. I try and imagine myself doing it in a nurturing, kind way.
- If you can, rubbing body lotion etc all over your skin would probably have a similar effect or massage, something which involves touching your body.
- Exercise or dance might work for you if you can.
- Take a deep breath and describe what you are experiencing with each of your senses, at least three things per sense. As an example, right now I am feeling the breeze on my bare knee, the pressure of the chair supporting me and the soft carpet under my sock covered foot. Detail helps. Also a great warm up writing exercise!
Half way through writing this post, a blog post from Jessi Huntenburg popped up on the subject of the mind body connection in tarot.