Saturday, September 1, 2012

Braced for Impact, Part I

I was having a Rosen session a few weeks ago, and I was lying on my stomach, eyes closed, feeling myself sink into the massage table, and thinking I was pretty goddamned relaxed.

I mean I was literally thinking that. Like, "Wow, I am pretty goddamned relaxed right now. This is awesome." I was feeling noticeably, notably relaxed.

Shortly after that thought, I was more than a little shocked to realize that my legs were so tense that they were not even touching the table in some places.

Um. So... not relaxed, then.

After a few moments of being completely gobsmacked by that discovery (how the bleeding hell could I feel relaxed when half of my body was nearly levitating with tension?! How could I not know that?! WTF?!), I thought, okay, well, I've noticed it now, so I'll just relax my legs.

And then I realized that I couldn't do that, because when I went to send a message to my leg muscles along whatever internal circuit such messages travel, I discovered that I could not locate that circuit.


Imagine that for a second. Looking at a part of your own body, willing it to relax, and not being able to do it because that part might as well belong to someone else for all the connection you have to it or say you have over how it behaves. 

Well. That sounds dirty all of a sudden. But you know what I mean.

At that moment, Catherine, who is a very perceptive woman, said, "What's happening? Where have you gone?"

I told her what I just told you. And that I was trying to find the path to get the message to my legs to relax and wasn't finding it. I could get bits of my legs to hear me: my ankles. Toes. Calves. After a moment, I located those. But my quads and hamstrings were nowhere to be found.

"Just notice that for a moment," said Catherine.

"I HAVE noticed it, and I'm trying to relax now," I told her.

"Don't try to relax," she said. "Don't try to do anything. Just... notice."

Easier said than done for a claustrophobe who's just realized that she is once again trapped within her own body and unable to move when moving is what she wants to do. My inner alarm was roaring load and clear at this point.

I tried to just lie there, noticing stuff, but that is really not my style, so I started trying again to locate and relax, locate and relax, locate and relax.

I kid you not, it took a few minutes to make anything happen, and even then it was more peripheral muscles than actual muscles that I was able to target and feel.

I have never noticed this before. As soon as I did, I realized that this has been going on for years and years, and I never noticed until that moment that my brain and my thigh muscles do not communicate the way they're supposed to.

After a quick inventory, I realized that this could also be said for parts of my arms and back, too. Nothing about this feels right. Something is terribly wrong with my wiring. How could I not have seen this before? How long has my body been going rogue on me? How much control do I actually have? How is this even possible?

Just notice,  says Catherine. Don't judge. Just observe.

Yeah. Sure. Easy for you to say.

The next night, I told Dr. Oz about my discovery.

"Which muscles?" she asked. "What was your body doing?"

I looked down at my legs, and suddenly felt that my feet were already pressing into the floor, and the heels of my hands were digging into the sofa cushion on either side of my thighs. 

"This," I said. "I was doing this. I think I'm always doing this, and I only become aware of it every once in a while. My knees are straightening, my feet are pushing into the floor, my arms are doing the same. I'm all stiff, and I walk around like this all the time and don't notice."

She looked at me, took in my posture and white knuckles, and said, "You look like you're bracing yourself. You're braced against something, like your body is still expecting an impact."


It's true, and it's true all the time. I keep catching myself doing it now, as I type this post, sitting here in a coffee shop, relatively relaxed. Relatively, I say, because while I feel relaxed if I don't think about it too much, when I do think about it I notice that my mid-back aches from tension and a migraine is building at the base of my skull because i'm holding my shoulders so rigid.

And my quads and hammies are coiled, ready to spring. Spring where? Don't know. I'd ask, but we're not on speaking terms at the moment.

"What are you bracing against?" asked Dr. Oz. "What's coming? What are you protecting yourself from?"

I hate questions like this because I never know how to answer them. I'm not in touch with my fucking thighs, and I can look right at them: a physical fact. How am I supposed to be in touch with something as abstract and elusive as an emotion, a fear, a figment of imagination? The answers to questions like this always sound so cliche and forced, and I am immediately skeptical of such answers, even when they are mine.

This time, the answer was the most cliche of all, but it felt absolutely true both before and after it came out of my mouth:

"Life," I told her. "I am braced against living my life."

Braced against life. Yes. Holding myself still, apart, resisting immersion, resisting impact, resisting, resisting.

Safe. Safe!


This is what I've been doing, to some degree, since I woke up in that hospital bed with a hole in my skull. Keep me safe, the body demands, and the lizard brain responds by going on permanent lookout, watching, bracing, expecting the worst, walls up, head down, focused on nothing but surviving what's coming... 

And it is coming, whispers the lizard brain. I know it is... aaaaany second now.

Once again, I am astonished by the utter lack of imagination it requires to see the connection between this state of perpetual bracing-for-impact and the car accident that caused it. And also the connection between the physical condition of my body and the figurative condition of my approach to the world.

And the Dr. Oz said something that sent a few hundred little wheels and dials in my head clicking into place: 

"You're braced against whats coming, because your body still believes this is your last moment, and bracing is the last thing you'll ever do."

And suddenly, a whole bunch of things made a whole lot of sense, and I saw for the first time how and why the girl who got hit by that drunk driver became the woman who sits here in this coffee shop, writing this blog.

I think I get it now. 

And I'll tell you all about it in my next post.


  1. Not being able to relax your muscles -- even once you're aware that they're tensed up -- sounds awful.  This is small potatoes compared to that, but I often find that I'm tensing muscles in my arms.  To stop it, I tense all the major muscle groups, one after another, and then let each group unwind.  But what do you do if they refuse to unwind?  I wonder if this is something that will become easier with practice, especially now that you're aware of the issue.  

    Catherine's emphasis on observing -- not judging or freaking -- sounds very constructive.  A therapist / bodyworker like that is a real find. 

  2. I remember being on the outside looking in on that terrible time. I'm interested in seeing where this goes, sista. And every once in a while, I think back on that accident, and I'm still amazed...amazed and thankful!

  3. KateTheGirlWhoLived07 September, 2012 22:13

    It was a surreal experience. I just tried the tensing thing, but it's the same story-- can't access the muscles that need it. This doesn't seem possible. There is obviously SOME sort of pathway between my brain and my legs, or I wouldn't be able to walk. But I'll be damned if I can find it. It's sort of an "it's on the tip of my tongue" feeling, like it's almost- but not quite- within reach.

    Oh man, I just realized as I typed that sentence that this was the same feeling I had with my vocabulary for the first couple of years after the accident. Words were just beyond my grasp all the time, and I could talk around them and describe them, but couldn't recall the actual word. Once I got a word "back," it was permanent, like that particular road had been plowed or whatever and the path was now clear. 

    I wonder if this is something like that, and it's taken me all this time (?!) to notice?

  4. KateTheGirlWhoLived07 September, 2012 22:17

    So nice to see you here! Welcome! 

    I suspect the people on the outside experienced it much more viscerally than I did at the time. I'm glad you guys were there for my sister-- it must have been scary. 

    Apparently, I was saving my experience for 20 years so I could have it now. :/ I've always been a late bloomer... ;>