This is the conclusion of a three-part series. In Parts One and Two, Annaliese recounted how being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Sjogren’s Syndrome sent her spiraling into “a pharmaceutical rabbit hole.” After frustrations with traditional western medicine, she experienced major benefits from SE® and began developing a theory that MS and trauma are interrelated.
Jump to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Like any good alpha-personality with a task-oriented mentality, I found going slow was the hardest and yet the most crucial part of the work I was facing. My Type-A personality wanted to address every issue and be done with the past. I had a future to enjoy. Stealing a line from one of psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek’s Guided Imagery CDs, I was ready “to return to my strongest self” and help others cope with their life issues. I was definitely ready for the next chapter of my life.
I quickly found a local Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner (SEP) and proceeded with private sessions in addition to my formal SE training. Between the two, I was covering a fair amount of ground. I must say, that my SEP was excellent. There’s a certain flow to somatic work and she held the line so that I could adjust to the proper pacing and ultimately get the results that I was looking for. I know I was not the easiest client to work with. As I mentioned previously, many of my symptoms were listed in the Somatic Experiencing manuals. I felt like a walking, talking poster girl for what we call Global High Intense Activation (GHIA). Note to other aspiring poster girls: this is NOT a poster you want to be on!
Our sessions were diverse and elicited a variety of responses from my system. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I cried. And I remember talking a lot at first (this won’t surprise those who know me best). But sometimes I didn’t and just let my body communicate for me. One thing I found recurrent was the need to rest afterwards, almost as if my system was in healing mode and needed some time to reboot. I didn’t love this feeling because it reminded me of my MS fatigue. But I learned to accept it as a part of the process.
After almost two years of SE sessions, I can honestly say that I now understand the importance of the SE techniques of titrating (dealing with small portions of the event at a time) and pendulating (moving back and forth from the event to a calming resource) ever-so-slowly in order to give my sensitive nervous system the chance to assimilate and recover. Through these specific SE techniques, I noticed parts of me were coming back, both physically as well as emotionally. You can’t rush SE.
All that hard work I was doing each week with my own personal SE therapy sessions and two years of training was really starting to pay off. As my system renegotiated outcomes or released trapped energy I felt healthier, stronger, and more resilient. Subtle changes were occurring as well as larger energy shifts. The fruits of my labor became increasingly obvious— even to others. People reported that I looked healthier and seemed calmer. My breathing was deeper and more natural. I noticed that I was able to better sustain eye contact and not cringe with loud noises— two indicators that my system was more regulated. I laughed at myself. I felt more open, settled, and connected with the world. I hated to admit it, but I had been a hot mess when I started this journey. But that sense of shame gave way to kindness and empathy for myself— and for others who were dealing with their own forms of trauma.
Equally important, even when not in a session, I found myself knowing how to resource myself when I got “activated” and I showed more interest in what my body was telling me (versus trying to ignore it). I had learned to ask: “What is it my body is trying to tell me?” My behaviors had changed. I felt I had absorbed SE to the point where I was living it, not merely practicing it.
I wasn’t perfect, though. Despite all the training and private work, there was one time when I went too deep, too fast, and felt the repercussions of asking too much from my nervous system. During one particular session, I remember that the subject matter was definitely serious. We’d been discussing it for a day before I sat down to have a break-out session so I was pretty activated to start with. Going back to the scene of the crime proved to be too much too soon. I left the session feeling as if I had been drugged and in the subsequent weeks found myself spiraling down into a major “brown out”— no energy, concentration issues, overly emotional, body sensations spiking, and isolating myself until I finally asked for some help. I was seriously scared. I thought I had triggered an MS relapse and visited many of my doctors and people on my wellness team.
Ultimately, my SEP and I felt that the fight-or-flight response that I had experienced had exceeded my capacity, or threshold, and I was in what we call overwhelm (which for me looks and feels a lot like a relapse). My SEP resourced me and focused on getting my system to a place where we could start chipping away at the event, only MUCH slower this time. This was an immensely valuable lesson to learn at this early stage of my SE career; and it has helped me be a better practitioner for others who are equally zealous to get to the root of their issues. Trust in patience. Less is absolutely more when it comes to this work.
I’ll be honest: there have been days when I wondered if I was stretching the MS/SE connection. Perhaps MS was just a disease that had nothing to do with trauma. I kept reading things online and continued to make myself a guinea pig in pursuit of answers. I tried to find others who had MS and were using SE as part of the healing process. I found examples of chronic pain and other medical conditions, but I was not able to find anyone addressing my particular situation.
That led to another thought: wouldn’t it have been helpful if any of my neurologists had asked me about chronic stress and trauma in my past? What if they had introduced me to SE to be coupled with traditional western medical approaches when I was first diagnosed? We could have also discussed chiropractic care, acupuncture, myofascial massage, guided imagery, and other holistic practices instead of numbing me with muscle relaxers, antidepressants, and other pharmaceuticals. Please know that I’m not saying all drug therapies are unnecessary: I, for instance, will always have a neurologist on my wellness team. What I am saying is that there is also a place for somatic work in the neurological/autoimmune world. More importantly: It’s up to each of us to get the word out.
At this point, I am happy to report that my body is quieter, I’ve got more sustained energy, and I find that I deal with life stresses in a much healthier way. Am I completely cured? No, there is more work to be done. But I’m definitely beating the odds. In general there has been a dramatic decrease in body “static” and the symptoms within me. I no longer take any drugs except for my monthly infusion of Tysabri for my MS. I am not as angry or scared of my MS and Sjogren’s Syndrome as I once was. I firmly believe the body wants to heal itself— sometimes it just needs to be heard. I’m prepared to listen. For as long as it takes.
Two years into my SE experience and training, I can unequivocally say that connection is real. SE has the power to help restore the central nervous system— make it more resilient— and therefore contribute to the healing of MS. I eagerly await the day when it’s routine to see somatic therapy used in conjunction with other current traditional protocols used to treat neurological disorders. The potential for healing is limitless. I’m living proof.
P.S. I’d love to hear from others in the SE community who live with (or work with others who have) MS or other neurological disorders. How has SE helped? What have you learned? Did you alter your sessions to slow things even more than usual? Please share below. Thank you!
Author Annaliese Train‘s career practicing law and working in corporate America took a radical turn when she was diagnosed with MS. She has launched an SE®-based consulting practice called Healing Strategy and is writing her first book.
Photos courtesy of the author