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How Interstitial Cystitis Is Changing My Relationship With My Body

When I was first diagnosed with interstitial cystitis in October I came across a book I devoured: “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. van der Kolk. The book was filled with the author’s experience encompassing over 30 years of treating trauma and understanding how trauma can be stored in the body. Reading this book inspired me to attend a trauma-sensitive yoga class because I was not ready to go back to a studio when I graduated from physical therapy. I didn’t feel safe in my body, and unlike many times before when I have been uncomfortable with something, I wanted to change my relationship with my body. I was curious how this type of yoga might provide a safe platform for me to get to know my body, to track sensations without commentary of “good” or “bad.”

I ended up loving the teacher and feeling like this type of yoga was exactly what I need husband kissing wife on the forehead right now. Last week in class, she mentioned if sensations in the body get overwhelming, to bring your attention to the tops of your hands or the bottom and tops of your feet.   These areas of the body can be referred to as “islands of safety” — a lot of times when one starts to feel overwhelmed the vagus nerve is overstimulated, and so this technique brings attention away from the core of the body.

When she said that cue I realized how little I feel sensations in the tops of my hands. My attention is generally so focused on my core and what my abdominal muscles are doing that I have not practiced feeling sensations on the tops of my hands. So I have continued to practice bringing my attention to these little islands of safety over and over since that class. Usually I don’t feel the tops of my hands, and my job is to not attach any story or meaning to that lack of feeling.

This week has been rough. I haven’t slept much and neither has my husband, Adam. The other night I just kept asking him to take me away, to take me back to Colorado. I slept well when we were there, and I love to play in the mountains. So he understood me, he understood I am losing patience with myself, he understood I needed to rest and play. It is hard to rest in a body that doesn’t feel “safe.” I have been thinking about “islands of safety” in my body, in my house, and in the world.

What is the state of safety? How do I create more of that in my life and really let go of this story that my body is the enemy? Because it is not the enemy; it is communicating with me and I don’t speak the language very well. I just started learning about it. Seems strange to say that I am 35 years old and just starting to listen to my body now.

When the time is right Adam and I will head back to the mountains to give me a bit of respite and maybe help me really understand what “safe” is to me right now. Because I believe I am safe, I am taken care of, and I am OK; sometimes I just don’t feel that way, and I really don’t like the way I feel.

I appreciate the idea of “islands of safety.” It is useful for me to have that phrase in mind and to look for that when I feel like I am drowning. It doesn’t make the pain stop. Sometimes it doesn’t make me feel less stressed. Sometimes I freak out because I don’t feel the tops of my hands. Still I continue to bring my mind back to this idea of “safe and calm.” I might have to do it a hundred times in a minute — the mind wanders — but it helps me look for an anchor, to change my focus even if the effects are not measurable.

Lead image via Thinkstock.

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