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gingerly approaching my inner life

June 21, 2014

I have a specific health issue that’s been causing me distress for almost 2 years. In February, I read about a new-ish type of physical therapy that deals with these kinds of problems. I got in to see my primary care doctor in April; I saw the specialist she referred me to, in May; I began physical therapy in early June.

I’ve concurrently been looking for psychotherapists that incorporate bodywork into their practice. I was hoping I would find someone, a woman, that I would have rapport with, and whom I would not have to drive 3+ hours roundtrip to see. The one person I found near Baltimore is actually in downtown Baltimore City. Even if I were more comfortable with the city itself (and I’m not), the public parking situation stresses me out. Everyone else is much farther away. I contacted 2 people near the DC Beltway (a roundtrip 100+ mile drive); neither of them worked out. There’s a third location that does all sorts of bodywork-stuff, also near the DC Beltway, but it’s in a town where I’ve had 2 horrible experiences with public parking, so I haven’t tried them. I think I remember seeing 1 or 2 people in Frederick (65 miles 1-way). I think there’s also someone near Ellicott City (40 miles 1-way).

Physical therapy has been going well. I asked my therapist if she could refer me to a psychotherapist who uses bodywork. She said she would ask around, but that I was doing so well, I might not need it!

I knew even then she was wrong. When I first started having the problem 2 years ago, I thought it was just a physical issue. But once I started seeing doctors about it, it quickly became clear that there is some underlying implicit memory/unconscious/bodymind problem. Going to physical therapy is helpful — I’m learning cool stuff; the person I’m seeing is very kind — but it’s working with a symptom, not the actual problem.

Which actually became horribly clear with this week’s homework assignment. I was just supposed to repeat the exercise I had done in the session: lie on a bed, listen to relaxing music, and relax all of my muscle groups in turn. During the session, I had enjoyed doing that. (Although I wasn’t particularly successful at relaxing all my muscles. My personal “steady state” for muscles is clenched, which of course, contributes to the annoying symptoms I’ve been dealing with.)

Anyway, I had had no problem with my homework exercises the first week — diaphragmatic breathing. So I did not anticipate any problems this week.

But every time I thought about lying down on my bed, and relaxing my muscles, I started to have a panic attack. So I didn’t do it.

Yesterday, Friday, I was thinking miserably about the conversation I’m going to have to have Monday — that I didn’t do any of the homework, because I couldn’t. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt her (expected) disappointment. I felt like a bad person, who is deliberately not doing something that’s designed to help me. Even though I know I’m not deliberately refusing to do it. My bodymind is terrified of something, and because of that, I can’t do it.

I can’t figure out how I felt safer in the physical therapy session than I would feel in my own bed, but I’m hyperventilating right now just thinking about it. There’s a real problem here.

After I worried about talking to my physical therapist, this whole area of my body clenched up (what feels like) 10x as much as normal, and stayed that way all day, and all last night. That exacerbated the physical symptom to a distressing degree. But I can’t unclench. I’ve been trying, the whole time, and I can’t.

My body hurts. I’m scared. And I can’t relax.

Something traumatic is clearly trapped inside of me. I want it to come out, and be processed, so I can LET GO OF IT. But I’m afraid to try to do that, by myself. I need a professional, who knows what to expect, and who can help me survive this the second time.


I woke up twice this morning, both times with nightmares. (Both times, I noticed my body is still clenched to the point of pain.)

Dream 1

I’m (surprised to find myself) at Ghost Ranch for the 2015 AROHO Retreat. All the other women are milling around, that first day, when an announcement is made that one fellowship is still open, but the deadline for applying is in two hours. It’s for a woman who is “unlike other women”. I don’t feel like I need the fellowship — I did have money set aside for a trip to New Mexico, even though I wasn’t planning to attend the 2015 Retreat — but I think to myself, “I’m certainly ‘unlike other women’; maybe I should apply anyway. Even though I probably won’t get it”. [[As usual in these sorts of dreams]] I have a series of misadventures, that use up almost all of the allotted time. I’m finally sitting at my laptop, prepared to write, when I have exactly 10 minutes left. I think about asking for an extension, but I know no one will grant me an exception. So I just don’t write anything.

There is an interlude where I’m somewhere else: it’s like lawn seating at a concert, and there are people everywhere. I’m sitting with my laptop, and an older guy asks me whether it has some technical capability. We determine that it does. I say I think I’m a generation younger than he is, at the same time that he is saying he’s a Baby Boomer, but he doesn’t think I am. [[Which is correct; I’m Gen X.]] He and his much younger wife say they are from Washington. I naturally assume we are “neighbors” back home [Washington DC], but then they mention apples, and it turns out they’re from Washington state.

Then I’m back at AROHO. There are long tables set up for people to sit. I look around for women of color to sit with. I find a spot. I sit down, plug in my laptop, and feel ready for whatever’s coming. Suddenly, my friend LB shows up at the sidelines. She asks me to come sit with her. I unplug my laptop, stand up, and prepare to thread my way out. Just then, Mary Johnson announces at the microphone, “Mea, it’s 7:00, time to begin the program. Sit down, so we can get started.” Everyone is staring at me; I’m mortified. I sit back down, befuddled.

I realize the outlet for my laptop has been moved, so that I can’t reach it. I desperately want to plug it back in, so the battery doesn’t run out, but I can’t reach it. I’m jumpy with distress, embarrassment, frustration.

LB calls out to me, “we’ll catch up at dinner!” She probably intends to be reassuring, but I feel nothing but dread. She wasn’t supposed to be here. I didn’t want her to be here. Am I now going to be stuck with spending time with her all week?!? That will ruin everything!

< I wake up, distraught >

Dream 2

I’m living with my parents again, in their house (which is not one of the real houses they have owned), and sharing a room with my sister. I am my current age, 47-almost-48, and she is hers, 45. The room is tall and narrow. It has vertically striped wallpaper in tan, red, white, and maybe black. There is white crown molding. The style of the room is very severe — I don’t find it welcoming or comfortable at all.

My sister is painting something, and my parents are helping her. There are dropcloths and ladders and painting supplies everywhere, so that I don’t feel like there’s any room for me, even though I technically live there. I want them to leave, but of course they won’t.

I start crying, and yelling shocking things at my parents. One of them is, “why don’t you just hit me with a baseball bat?” I run out of the room. They and my sister pay no attention, continue doing what they were doing.

I wander through the house disconsolately, looking for congenial company. In this dream, my brother D is my friend and sometime ally, so I’m hoping to find him. Instead, I find my youngest brother N, whom I don’t know well at all. He says D is out for the day. I lie down on the trundle bed that is inexplicably in the hallway. N sits down on it, too, then lies next to me, but facing towards a television, which he is watching. I start telling N all these things, beginning with, “I think I’m having a breakdown”. Later I use the term “psychotic break”. I tell him I need to go somewhere, live somewhere else. [[I vaguely remember that I used to live with Spouse.]] I tell N it’s demeaning to be 47 and still live with my parents, subject to their rules, especially since they don’t value or like me.

I sort of notice that N is apparently absorbed in the TV show, but I can’t stop talking. I tell him I want to call some other relative, ask if I can live with them, but what would I say? And why would they care?

Later, N is driving me around. I’m telling him of my frustration that the room I share with our sister was supposedly going to be decorated in a way we both liked, even though we don’t agree on anything. And instead, it’s decorated to her taste, with nothing of my taste.

I start talking about the room in the basement (of my parents’ actual house), that was built for me, in 1983; N later lived in it. I told him the whole story about the decoration of that room. My original color palette was green walls, with peach and coral accents.

He asks what color coral is. I don’t know how to explain a color to a guy, but I settle on, “it’s a shade of pink. But closer to hot pink [in intensity, I mean, not undertones] than bubblegum pink.” I briefly wonder if he even knows what bubblegum pink is.

I go back to my story. Our mother vetoed the green I picked, said it would be “too dark”. So I picked a light spring green, which would’ve been so pretty. She vetoed that too. She decided the room would be peach.

I tell N, “even hearing the word ‘peach’ (referring to the color not the fruit) makes me want to vomit. All these years later, I still hate the color peach”.

I’m crying as I say, “I have money to pay for a plane ticket to get me somewhere else. But who would take me in? I can’t work. My savings won’t last very long. I’m useless!”

< I wake up >

The only 2 things N said, during my whole diatribe, were “D is out all day”, and “what color is coral?”


I’ve just realized I’m back down to normal levels of clenching. But my back really hurts.

I actually have dreams about not only living with my parents again, as an adult, and being really annoyed about it, but I have dreams that are specifically about the decoration of my room. Even when I’m (supposedly) given free rein to do whatever I want, there are always complications that prevent that.

My studio in the apartment we live in now is not really decorated. I’ve had all sorts of ideas over the years about things to hang on the walls, or from the ceiling, but somehow it seems impossibly hard to make any of them happen. Nothing hangs on the walls, or from the ceiling. The walls remain white (which I hate).

When we had a house, 19 years ago, I had a studio there too. I called it “my green room” because it had green carpet, which I imagined was grass and clover. I planned to paint the walls my own way, but Spouse told me he thought I should do a mural. I had 1,000,001 ideas for a mural, but worried they would all turn out horribly, so I never did anything.


I don’t feel like I truly inhabit my own body. I’m just a temporary resident, so I don’t have any authority. My body is like an apartment. Versions of me, as far as I know, are the only people who have ever lived in it . . . but somehow none of us “belong”. Wait, what?

How can that be right? Although it would explain a lot.

I don’t feel like my body is my own space. So I can’t decorate the inside [whatever that might possibly mean]. But what I can do is keep people out. And hey, I had vaginismus from 1985­–1993 (after I was raped in 1985). I’m pretty sure some of that clenching never stopped. But I’m also fairly certain that I was clenching other body parts (my back, my legs) long before 1985. What precipitated those things? For that matter, I have TMD [jaw stuff], but I don’t know when or how it started.

Right now, I’m clenching the muscles below and around my collar bones. And my shoulders.

My interiors remain metaphorical white walls, blank, but I have lots of doors, and they all apparently have deadbolt locks.

What the fuck is going on?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Siderea permalink
    June 21, 2014 14:42

    But every time I thought about lying down on my bed, and relaxing my muscles, I started to have a panic attack. So I didn’t do it.

    This is extremely common in trauma victims.

    My bodymind is terrified of something, and because of that, I can’t do it.

    The big obvious theme here is that you’re terrified of being invaded or trespassed upon.

    Is Spouse someone you feel safe around? If so, could you ask him to sit guard over you while you did the relaxation exercise? The difference might be that in the therapist’s office, you had her there to guard over you — a set of vigilant, alert eyes to take over the hypervigilance you use to keep you safe, and which you do not feel you can safely drop.

    • June 21, 2014 15:53

      You make a really good point, that I hadn’t realized. My physical therapist wasn’t actually in the room with me, but the door was closed, and I felt safe with her coming in and out to check on me.

      I feel safer with Spouse than any other person. But when I think of him “guarding me” in this context, it doesn’t make me feel better at all. I feel dread, and anxiety.

  2. June 21, 2014 18:52

    Spouse just spent ~20 minutes uploading software to my laptop. And I got confirmation of why I don’t want him watching over me as I attempt to relax — he’s very impatient. And when things don’t go fast enough for him, he gets annoyed (which stresses me out). If I’m working on something that I find very difficult, he is the last person I’d want “looming over” me, waiting for me to finish so he can Do Something Important. Ugh, no.

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