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The Body in Mental Health

Sheena is a Facilitator at BecauseYOU , Founder of Mindful and Body and a trauma-informed Mindfulness Practitioner. This post shares an account of her mental health journey and insights on the relationship between the body and mental health. Please take care of yourself as you read this blog.

There’s a measure called ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences that corresponds to traumatic events and sources of stress that people may encounter in their early life, before the age of 18. It can have an effect on wellbeing not just during the lived experience but also have long term effects on their mental, psychological, physical health. It can result in addiction, violence and risky behaviour, and have repercussions on their education, employment, and other achievements.

When I first saw the ACEs chart several years ago, I counted that by my teens I had experienced or witnessed all ten.

When children experience trauma, they come up with intelligent ways to protect themselves because the harm is often ongoing. For one, by the age of five, I would faint anytime I was afraid. In my teens, I became severely paranoid of being in an explosion outside the home — it had nothing to do with my own experiences but somehow it felt easier to focus on.

In all other circumstances, I learned to dissociate. I became so good at disconnecting from my feelings and memories, I felt like a floating cloud. If I was at home, I was really only in a daydream. I was physically in a classroom but I was not really there. I was intelligent and had experienced the rigour of the Indian education system before I moved abroad as an adolescent, so got by with little effort. But I was in a permanent fugue state.

When I first went to therapy at the age of thirteen, referred by my school, I sat across from a psychiatrist and a counselling psychologist with an absolute straight face, emotionlessly describing some of the devastating experiences of my childhood like I was describing picking up bread on the way home. I was called resilient, diagnosed with mild depression and sent on my way sans treatment. It took another thirteen years for me to even begin to find healing.

I only noticed my body existed because it began hurting. For no apparent reason. I was a physically active child, rounding up all the neighbourhood kids to play every evening, and then having immigrated to a new country, playing for the girl’s football team at my school.

After my body started to hurt, it never stopped. At 11, I was first diagnosed with rheumatic fever, and given a scary dose of 16 painkillers a day and instructed to have regular echo-cardiograms. Engaging myself in physical activity wasn’t easy because I never felt properly recovered or rested. But the time on the field, breathing cold, fresh air, sitting on the grass was the only time I wasn’t daydreaming. In my early 30s, I was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia.