How my mind and body have learned to cope with trauma

When you think about it, the human mind and the human body are amazing things. I’ve been thinking about this more lately, as the topic of connecting (and disconnecting) from my body have come up in therapy quite a bit lately.

I think of all the ways that my body has dealt with trauma. In response to damage in my foot, my body built bone on top of bone to strengthen what was already so weakened and damaged. When I had surgery two years ago to remove some of the excess bone, the doctors discovered a mass hidden underneath. The bones had literally formed a protective cocoon around it in a way that my doctor had never seen before.

I also have extra bone in other parts of my body, in response to fractures that were never properly treated. When they get really noticeable, I would give them names. Before it was surgically removed, I lovingly called the cluster of bone spurs on my foot “Humphrey”. As the same thing began to grow on my opposite foot, I called it “Humphrey II”. I have a palpable spur on my hip that I call Hipsley. It seems rather silly, and probably not quite normal, but it helps me not think about the damage that led to these growths in the first place.

To tackle the physical, sexual, and emotional trauma I endured as a child, my mind fractured to help me cope, leading to the development of DID. Many people don’t really understand DID, but it is truly one of the mind’s greatest coping mechanisms. It helped me get through childhood and the early part of my adulthood. It kept me alive and able to function without coming completely undone. If I never dissociated, I don’t think I would have been able to handle the trauma that had been occurring every day of my life.

Some of my mind’s and body’s coping skills are not so safe in the long run. My therapist and I have talked quite a bit over the last couple of months about my disconnection to feelings and sensations in my body. Sometimes, I can feel. Other times, I am completely numb and oblivious to any sensation.

There are times when I don’t feel hunger even when I haven’t eaten for days. There are days when I don’t feel any pain, even though I know that I have problems that should be causing me to feel pain. I also have periods when I cannot feel the temperature. It’s something that has been occurring for awhile now. It actually served me well when I was working in a warehouse in somewhat extreme weather conditions (100+ degree weather, below zero temperatures). I was able to work in the loft, where temperatures reached well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and not feel the heat at all. My coworkers used to joke that I didn’t even break a sweat – they were right. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference if it was 110 degrees or 50 degrees.

I had (and still have) the same issue with the cold. There were days where I’d go to work in a tee shirt in the middle of winter in freezing temperatures. I didn’t feel cold at all. Other people were concerned, however, because I would turn blue and red from the cold. I couldn’t feel a thing – cold or hot. I just didn’t feel. I still have this problem. Last week, I was waiting outside of my work for the manager to come. A coworker said I could wait in his car to stay out of the cold. I told him it wasn’t cold and that I was okay. Except that the temperature actually was cold. It was 12 degrees outside, and I was wearing a hoodie. But I felt fine, because I couldn’t feel anything.

I had an incident several years ago while cooking. I leaned over the front burner, forgetting that it was on (I was reaching for something in the cabinet above). As I was fiddling about in the cabinet, I heard someone shout, “move, you’re burning!” I didn’t really understand what was going on because I hadn’t put anything in the pot yet. Then I looked down and realized my shirt was burning. I quickly patted out the fire. My shirt was completely ruined, half of it had disintegrated from the burning. I had a coil-shaped burn across my abdomen. And I didn’t even know it was happening. I was so disconnected, I didn’t even realize I was burning.

It may seem like not being able to feel is a great thing. I assure you, in the long run, it’s not good at all. I try to make an effort and check the weather and dress appropriately, even though I may not feel the temperature at all. I’m always afraid of overheating in the summer, because I’m not connected with my body enough to know when it’s reaching a danger point. When I broke my foot a few months back, my mind blocked out the pain and I was able to walk on it, even though I shouldn’t have been. I ended up causing even more damage. I’d rather not accidentally set myself on fire again.

For the last six months, I have been experiencing pain off and on in my tailbone. I appreciated the days that I was able to block out the pain completely and move around like nothing was wrong. Some days, I can’t block the pain and I feel it intensely. I use those days when I can’t feel pain to rationalize that nothing is wrong with me on the days when all I feel is pain. I feel like if I were to go a doctor and tell them that I feel great some days, and horrible other days, that they would minimize the pain just as I do. Doctors won’t understand that cutting myself off from feeling is how I have learned to cope with trauma.

My therapist suggested that my disconnection from feeling is related to my history of trauma. I am so used to it, that I never really thought about the reasons why I am that way. It makes sense. I just wish there was an easy fix. As much as I’d like to not feel anything, I also need to eat like a normal person, to fully experience my environment, and to feel when something is wrong with my body. Right now, I can’t do that fully. It is something I need to work on, along with the 8 million other issues I have thanks to life.

4 thoughts on “How my mind and body have learned to cope with trauma

    1. for one so young, arthritis may still be a possibility, especially after an injury. Sorry for your pain.
      I do get being disengaged from one’s body. And that can happen in ways or depths that one’s body or psych needs in order to cope with the level of trauma/torture.

      Like

  1. It makes sense that, to protect you, your body would turn its pain sensors down to “extra low.” In the process, it seems like temperature sensors got turned down too. It’s a brilliant survival mechanism in the face of what you went through, but as you say, it doesn’t serve you now. I don’t know if this would be helpful for you, but for me, meditations has shown itself to be very helpful in my healing. Through slowing down and attending to the breath, I learn to notice what is happening in my body in ways I didn’t use to. I hesitate to offer any advice or suggestions, because you are doing an incredible job learning to meet your own needs. So maybe just consider it as sharing my experience…

    Liked by 1 person

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