Fibromyalgia: The body holding on to past trauma

“The traumatic moment becomes encoded in an abnormal form of memory,  which breaks spontaneously into consciousness, both as flashbacks during waking states and as traumatic nightmares during sleep”, Judith Lewis Herman

Trapped in our psyche, past traumas wind themselves into the body and present as a multitude of physical symptoms. Pain, extreme crushing fatigue, intestinal difficulties, severe itching, rashes, tingling of limbs- the list seems endless. We seem not able to control our anxiety about when or which kind of bodily experiences will be next. We are constantly on guard, judging past and possible future symptoms… was this pain the same a few minutes ago? Will it become worse? If I do this or that will it harm me? What is this new symptom about?

I realize that hurt does not mean harm, but my brain does not seem to register that fact. My central nervous system is always on alert. The term ‘central sensitization’ is now a term used more happily (or less dubiously at least) by physicians and other health care workers, so I rarely use the stigmatized word of fibromyalgia anymore. I believe it is PTSD, but I don’t mention that either. I can reflect upon my childhood  and young adult life and pin point the traumas that etched themselves in my central nervous system. I wish the neuroscientists would ask for fibromyalgia volunteers for their PET scans and fMRIs.  I would love to see these images of my brain. I know how many major traumas have affected my mind/body.

This book has become my source of hope and courage. I urge my readers to read Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book from cover to cover. It is only through at least a cursory understanding of the neuroscience of the brain that we can get a handle on the stored memories of pain that are reactivated with a fibromyalgia flare up, or the nagging constant symptoms that have become chronic. One of my favourite lines in the book discusses ways to regulate our own physiology :” breathing, moving, and touching” (p.38), themes I have been advocating throughout these blogs. It is about letting go, which isn’t easy.

Bessel Van Der Kolk’s thesis is that after trauma we are left with a different nervous system and we are trying to control our inner turmoil. He writes: “These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases”(p.53).

Dr. Van Der Kolk has introduced the diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder in the Appendix of his book. It is a useful guide for those of us who are hypervigilant, highly sensitive, inundated with unpleasant bodily sensations, fearful and yet willing to change the brain and “befriend the body”. He writes “Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard”, (p.102). That defines fibromyalgia.

We can begin to reconnect with ourselves; it isn’t a hopeless scenario. We can begin with Talk Therapy  but then progress to Mindfulness Meditation , yoga, mild exercise, and touching or being touched in a gentle non-threatening way. These are the ways to begin healing.




12 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia: The body holding on to past trauma

  1. Ursula

    It is a strange coincidence that this article was in my inbox today. I had read the very same book a while back, and found it extremely helpful.

    I am currently reading a book by Mark Wolynn which builds on the work of leading experts in PTSD, including Bessel Van Der Kolk and am finding it very helpful indeed to make some sense of what my body is trying to tell me.

  2. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thanks for the tip Ursula: I will look up this author, Mark Wolynn! You are right. The work of the neuroscientists are telling us how our brains inform our bodies and past trauma is stuck like a scar! BUT WE CAN CREATE NEW NEURAL PATHWAYS AND THAT BRINGS HOPE.

  3. Robyn Brown

    Hello everyone, I’m Robyn , was diagnosed with FBS 15 years ago it has been long and tedious journey . I am so sorry for all of your pains. But so glad that I can read and learn about my symptoms from somewhere. My teeth are my struggle now . I went through months of root canals on three teeth . But for no reason these same teeth have now got cracked roots or absesses on the roots. So please be ware after root canals if you still grind your teeth it results in a cracked root or the root can adsess . I had no choice but to pull them. Now I am trying to get my gums to heal up o have had dry sockets on two of them. Our gums just do not heal normally . And also I have so much pain all the time . That I didn’t realize that the teeth were infected I just new my FBS was in a miserable flare. My face started swelling on one side that is how we figured out the problem. Just please becarefull ladies with your teeth. I love you all and God Bless.

  4. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Hi Robyn: many of us can relate to your intense pain after dental work! I certainly can. Yours is a sad story, yet keeping our teeth in good shape is necessary. Grinding in our sleep is common for those of us with poor sleep patterns so we get hit with a double whammy! Root canals are among the worst, second only to implants.
    Best wishes,

  5. Mari

    Wow! What a coincidence, I’ve been given this same book for my birthday and reading it at the moment. I always wondered if the traumas I experienced as a child is related to the fibromyalgia. Very interesting!!! Thank you!!!

  6. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Happy belated birthday Mari! Yes, yes, yes, trauma in early childhood certainly is a contributor to developing fibro.
    Take good care of yourself, exercise lightly, do mindfulness meditation and avoid stress as much as possible. Quiet that central nervous system!

  7. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Shanon: Millions of us world wide suffer from central sensitization (fibro). You are definitely not alone as the hundreds of comments on this website attest to! Best wishes to you in your daily challenges that we all face,

  8. Kay

    Reading everyone’s comments helps me to know that my problems aren’t only my own. I’ve learned that my itching and some of my stomach problems are from FIBRO. I’ve lived with depression for many years which hasn’t helped with the fibromyalgia. I stay so tired and drained I rarely leave home except for the doctor appointments. After years of this I feel as though I am not a person anymore. My family don’t
    even care or don’t believe how sick I am. Kay

  9. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Kay: You are so right. Your problems are what we all face on a daily basis. Fatigue and pain are our daily companions. But, we can’t give in to these struggles and must get out even though the challenges are tremendous. Walk for even 1 minute a day outside, gradually increasing it until you feel you have mastered this tiny accomplishment. Involve a family member who seems to care and have her/him walk with you. We just can’t give up. Practice one minute of mindfulness meditation a day, followed by the walk. It sounds Pollyanna-ish but it does work. We won’t be running marathons but walking outside has to be an aim for all of us. Those in the family who don’t believe you should read some of the comments on these blogs. We do not have a disease but a dis-ease. Talk therapy is important as you reflect upon the past trauma you have experienced and consider yourself to be a brave person who is a survivor!
    Very best wishes with challenges which cannot overtake you. Tell yourself you are capable of far more than you now think:-)

  10. Cindy S

    I have spent the last couple hours reading through your blog. It has been validating for me, but also depressing to know there are others out there, suffering. I am just entering the world of FM, although I’ve had an intense history of trauma, abuse, repression, and anxiety. I had myofascial pain in my twenties, then in the last year figured out I was having trigger point issues… and when I told my doctor i couldn’t find one trigger point on any of the charts that I did NOT have, she started discussing FM with me. I am not surprised. I am well aware my body is the journal of my traumatic past… but then what? I have done much work with emotional release, trauma bonds, and muscle testing along with therapy. I feel my head is healthy… but why isn’t my body improving? Very frustrating.

    Just getting finished Gabor Mate’s “When the Body Says No”. Recommend it,

  11. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thank you so much Cindy! Gabor Mate’s book exemplifies my own view on fibromyalgia cause as well as chronic fatigue, PTSD and a host of other conditions. Your own history of trauma, abuse, repression and anxiety is similar to others who have FM. You are right; it is depressing to know there are others out there suffering like we are and have been. Sometimes I feel hopeful and other times despair. The way you have described the body as a journal of past trauma is right on! There is hope for life after FM though. If I had only known in earlier life what I know now about the strategies to employ to help quell my hyper aroused central nervous system I would be in better shape in my old age.Still, I keep on keeping on with pool walking, meditation, light exercise, and a social life. Talk therapy has been very helpful and hearing from people like you keeps me focused (at least when I am not experiencing brain fog!).
    Best wishes,

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