Therapy for PTSD has come with some weird, uncomfortable physical side effects. After I finally finished working through my first traumatic memory using EMDR, I spent the following week super thirsty no matter how much water I drank, and completely exhausted.
“Your body is naturally detoxing!!” one friend exclaimed, fascinated and delighted by the clear link between mind and body.
My husband, on the other hand, has been less excited about the upsurge of physical symptoms. We hold hands a lot (because we’re adorable that way) and I love it, and I hope that never changes. But oh my gosh, the sensation of him gently rubbing his thumb on my hand is like an electric shock — and not in a good way!! That kind of overstimulation is pretty typical of PTSD, as far as I know, but it’s a new symptom for me.
The first two times I did EMDR, I came out of my appointments with headaches that lasted the rest of the day, just from trying to keep my eyes focused on my therapists fingers going back and forth.
So when I felt a little nauseated after my last therapy appointment, I didn’t think much of it. My husband has a lot of stomach issues related to his anxiety and depression, so we’re very familiar with that sort of thing at our house.
And that night, I woke up violently shivering. Great, I thought. Now PTSD therapy is messing with my temperature regulation. I cuddled closer to my husband and asked him to get big blanket at the foot of our bed. And without being asked, he went all the way downstairs and turned up the thermostat for me. (Awwwww.)
The next day, I added lightheadedness and exhaustion to the list.
None of this surprised me terribly. We just started working on the traumatic memory that lead up to my suicide threat. So, you know, it’s a BIG DEAL. Why not have terrible somatic symptoms come up, to go along with the terrible trauma resurfacing?
So I texted a friend for help. “I’m having pretty terrible physical symptoms after doing EMDR yesterday, like lightheadedness and such. Any chance you could take X for a few hours?”
“Awww I’m so sorry you’re not feeling good! But we’re fighting fevers here today!”
Wait a minute…
Then another friend called me. “Could you cover for my babysitting gig for me today? I spiked a high fever last night.”
And then, some more symptoms started, which culminated in me throwing up the Sprite and saltines I had for dinner.
So the moral of the story is, sometimes therapy causes weird and uncomfortable symptoms in addition to all of the awful things that come with PTSD.
…And sometimes, it’s just the stomach flu!
EDIT: As much as I wanted to write this post poking fun at myself for attributing too many physical symptoms to therapy, I find I just can’t.
For one thing, I don’t think my symptoms lasted even a full 24 hours. For another, no one else in my family has caught it (even my husband, who gets sick really easily — thank you, anxiety and depression.)
And the fact still remains: I’m having a showdown with the absolute darkest moment of my formative years.
I don’t think anyone can say with complete certainty that this illness was or wasn’t a response to therapy. But I can say, firmly and without hesitation, that our minds and our bodies are much more connected than we realize. By being gentle to our bodies, we offer gentleness to our minds. By addressing the ways that we are mentally taxed, we prevent physical ailments that are just as depressing.
I started therapy because I wanted to learn how to be kind to other people. But I’m realizing, that starts with being kind to me, too.