“We must cultivate the courage to look deeply, with clarity and courage, into our own suffering”, Peter A. Levine
I have read Dr. Levine’s work for many years, as a world’s leading expert on the study of stress physiology. It was in 1969 when he began his work on the mind/body healing approach which developed when a client came to him who had panic attacks, agoraphobia and fibromyalgia. When words came out of his mouth and he said to her: “There’s a tiger in your chest. Run.”, he was surprised by his own language. Fortunately for me my physiotherapist a few years ago suggested I buy the book Waking the Tiger and I have not looked back since. Levine is the originator, developer and Director of The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. His work resonates with me.
I often have a tiger in my chest, or, to be more specific it is in my head, that is, my brain. Luckily the brain is highly changeable and can be transformed from the overly alert, hyper-vigilant, ruminating organ of those of us with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other medically unexplained syndromes. But, what have these brains of ours done to our bodies in the meantime, generally as a result of trauma in our early personality developmental years from which evolved we highly sensitive persons?
The brain controls our physical functions and sensations. It affects our balance, and coordination. It processes and sends out messages to different parts of our bodies and those of us with fibromyalgia who suffer from chronic fatigue, pain, digestive upsets, loss of energy, dizziness and exercise intolerance, suffer because of the fear messages from our brains. We have brains that are overly reactive and suspicious of many daily living experiences like weather changes, loud noises, bright lights, unusual smells, large groups of people, excitement of any kind, pleasurable or not, resulting in becoming overly cautious about even ordinary things of the world. We live with excessive anxieties/fears. In my view we are people who have a highly sensitized nervous system and that is what causes fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. But, there are others who think we have an actual disease, rather than a dis-ease. I believe we have converted our extreme anxiety into bodily sensations. They are real, extremely painful at times, causing generalized fatigue, and an inability to exercise strenuously so much so that exertion of any kind often exhausts us and can cause a flare-up. This condition is called ‘conversion disorder’.
Does that suggest we are malingering, hysterical, weaklings? We cannot label ourselves negatively but must have self compassion as our pain is as real as if it was caused by a virus, bacteria, microbe or any other physiological actual disease. Conversion disorder might seem like a negative label but I think that having such a name encourages us to explore our own mind/brain for the ways in which we have handled past trauma in our lives and to view ourselves kindly as highly sensitive persons. In fact, we are as Elaine Aron has described canaries in a coal mine. The world needs more empathy and sensitivity and we have plenty to share. Unfortunately, we have so much that we are over extended. But, there is hope for us. We can’t completely eradicate fibromyalgia from our highly sensitive selves but we can exercise moderately as movement is crucial.
Meditation and quiet time are highly recommended. A hobby that is creative and new to us tames our brains and leads to new pathways as the path to the pain center is overly worked. Over medicating is not the answer and is usually highly ineffective.
We are the experts of our own lives and must have a great deal of compassion for ourselves as we find so often that others do not.