Today I was going to go into deeper detail concerning Borderline manipulation, but I’m having a hard time shaking thoughts of something I’ve been dealing with a lot this past weekend.
What happens when what’s “all in your mind” begins to physically manifest in your body? When you experience physical pain but nothing is apparently wrong? When you experience physical illness but your body is actually healthy?
What is Somatization? Somatization is defined as the tendency to experience psychological distress in the form of physical symptoms.
Have you ever been so anxious about something that you’ve felt physically nauseous? Some physical diseases are believed to have a mental component derived from the stresses and strains of everyday living. This is often the case, for example, of lower back pain and high blood pressure, which appear to be partly related to stresses in everyday life. I doubt it would surprise anyone to hear that stress can have physical effects on the body or that mental distress can exacerbate, say, ulcers. It also wouldn’t surprise me to hear that most people don’t think about it much beyond that.
From Psychology Today: “On one level, of course, the brain and the body are intimately intertwined, the brain sending out innumerable signals and instructions to the body every second, the body receiving them and sending back perhaps just as many. In Buddhism, the mind and body are considered "two but not two," a concept meant at least partially to reflect their complex interdependence. Further, evidence is beginning to mount that our physical brains and our subjective experience of them---that is, our minds---are also "two but not two" (as I discussed in a previous post, The True Cause Of Depression), so the idea that an emotional disturbance could be translated into a physical symptom shouldn't be too surprising.”
It’s very important to understand that just because there isn’t a physical origin for these symptoms, doesn’t mean that the symptoms themselves aren’t real. You can’t tell me that I’m not nauseous and close to vomiting just because it’s due to anxiety and not the flu. Either way, those physical symptoms still exist, but treating yourself with anti-biotics instead of anti-anxietals isn’t going to do you much good. Like any symptoms of illness, it’s important to discover what is actually causing the physical symptoms in order to get the proper treatment.
Something I haven’t paid much attention to in the past, were these kinds of physical symptoms. I was in a position this weekend to notice an interesting effect though. I’ve cut down on my drinking. A lot. Maybe once a week I’ll have “a couple” drinks with friends, but I’ll be a little sneaky about it, and re-fill my glass with seltzer water instead of wine. Mentally I’ve been in a better place and my desire to drink and drown my problems with booze has been next to nil. I haven’t had such an intense need to escape my own mind, and physically I’ve felt a lot better without having the toxic juice pumping through my veins. This weekend however, was psychotically stressful for me (You’ll get the full run down in this week’s Lucid Analysis). I woke up Friday morning feeling headache-y and mildly nauseous. I was extraordinarily uncomfortable with my surroundings, incredibly anxious about my physical appearance/dysmorphia, freaked out and ready to flee from a very emotional confrontation the night before, and I had no means of escape to a better environment because we’d gone out of state and I didn’t drive. As the day went on my fatigue, headache, and nausea worsened. For about 7 hours I dealt with feeling miserable and ill.
Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon I gave into the need to mentally escape and had a drink. Almost instantly I began to feel better. By the time I finished my second glass of wine my headache was gone and I no longer felt nauseous. This coupled with the fact that I had actually just been sick a few weeks ago and on a lot of antibiotics, which logically would have knocked out any origins for physical disease and the fact that alcohol seems to have “cured”** my physical symptoms, it made me stop to consider that it was my stress and anxiety causing my sickness. This is by no means the first time it’s happened I’m sure. Because I’m now at a more self-aware and educated point in my life, this is a correlation I now recognized.
Something else I was reminded of this weekend. I have some obvious PTSD issues when it comes to letting other people drive during adverse weather conditions due to a very bad car wreck I was a passenger in years ago. My knee jerk reaction spasms aside, my anxiety shoots through the roof, I get tension headaches and if the person takes a turn “too fast” or doesn’t slow down fast enough, my stomach churns, I get nauseous, and I will physically feel the need to vomit. Clearly I’m not contracting a sudden case of the flu. It’s definitely due to anxiety, but I’ve never thought much about it having the potential to be specifically a psychosomatic issue.
This struck me as something that could have a lot of relevance to Borderline Personality Disorder. As a group we tend to live with an incredible amount of emotional distress, stress, and anxiety. I honestly and truly believe these levels of stress and anxiety are what cause(d) or at least contributed and intensified my insomnia for so many years. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear how many of us with BPD are often physically fatigued, have vague feelings of illness, headaches, ulcers, shooting pain in the stomach, intense nausea… with no physically identifiable disease after careful medical examination.
From what I’ve read these symptoms can be situational or chronic. Depending on the kind of somatoform disorder the psychosomatic symptoms can be anything from fatigue or mild nausea to incredibly severe issues resulting in paralysis of the limbs and inability to speak. The origins of somatoform disorders and symptoms are often the result of some very traumatic event where the mental pain is so intense that it physically translates to the body. Body and mind working together, but not to a result you’d want. Considering that people with Borderline Personality Disorder often (not always) have a history of abuse and trauma it seems logical to me that this could be a very real issue for many of us.
This could be especially important to consider for people that have repeatedly sought medical assistance only to be told their bodies are perfectly healthy. I’m not saying this is definitely the problem (I’m not a doctor and need to cover my butt concerning any kind of medical advice) but it could be something to consider. Regardless, getting the mental condition under control so that our mental distress doesn’t manifest into physical distress is important and worth investing the time to work on.
The first steps aren’t that difficult either. Again, I’m not a medical professional, but I think it’s safe to say that eating a healthier diet, getting some exercise and movement into your life, taking a little time to meditate or de-stress in a hot bath, and getting adequate amounts of sleep can contribute to a better mental state, and by extension contribute to the manifestation of fewer psychosomatic symptoms. Obviously mental healing isn’t always that easy, especially in the case of intense trauma and mental disorders, but those things can contribute to and speed the process of longer term healing.
It's taken me a few days (yes, days), but getting myself into a healthier environment, eliminating as much stress as possible and living in my usual healthy way, has made me feel physically and mentally better.
** I don’t recommend, nor do I think alcohol is a “cure” for psychosomatic illness. In this particular example it helped me recognize what was making me feel ill in the first place. Alcohol is never a “solution”. I did recognize that putting myself in a better environment, working out, and taking a nap would have been better for me, unfortunately they weren’t viable options at the time.