This is a three-part series from Annaliese Train, J.D. whose career practicing law and working in corporate America took a radical turn when she was diagnosed with MS. In the following entries, she shares her experience from multiple disheartening diagnoses through discovering the benefits of SE and developing a new theory about MS and trauma.
It felt like a one-two knockout of my mind, body, and spirit. First came the diagnosis in 2008 that I had an autoimmune disease called Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Having MS, as I learned, means my immune system was mistakenly attacking my own central nervous system: brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. My energy reserves and emotions were paying a very heavy toll, not to mention the physical strains. It went from bad to worse in early 2009 when I was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome. This meant that now my moisture-producing glands and connective tissues were under attack as well, adding a whole new arsenal of worries and discomforts. Was this the universe's way, I wondered, of telling a fast-moving corporate go-getter to slow down and pay attention to her body? If so, then the universe could sure be one tough mother. But so was I.
Truth be known, I hadn't been feeling consistently well for a long time. I had visited many specialists over the preceding two decades about a variety of what I thought were random health issues. They had ultimately manifested in a cacophony of bizarre symptoms including constricted breathing, unbelievable fatigue, burning feet, dry eyes and mouth, random yet continuous body sensations, twitches and tremors, intolerance to heat, numbness to my waist, and a dropped foot which made walking a challenge. In addition to the physical strain, all these mystery symptoms had been jeopardizing my cognitive and emotional world as well. Diagnoses had trickled in over the years identifying non-life-threatening irritations like Raynaud's Disease (a circulatory disorder) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But identifying my MS and Sjogren's was a completely unexpected shock.
Who is ever prepared to hear they have two autoimmune diseases that are intent on shutting you down? Limiting your mobility? Making you go blind and use a cane or wheelchair? I certainly wasn't. I was in the prime of my life, prime of my career, running my own business, and dreaming of starting a family. Attorney turned corporate girl, for years I was a hired gun living on Starbucks, skilled at launching new products and closing just about any type of sale. I lived in a very competitive world and felt that I was sitting comfortably atop the pile. Well, perhaps comfortably isn't the word.
I'd gotten really good at ignoring my body. Basic needs like sleeping, eating routinely, stretching, even taking bathroom breaks were shelved in pursuit of business. There was always another call, another client or contract to negotiate, another drive or flight or somewhere, or something seemingly urgent that needed to be done. My body was suffering. It finally gave out.
The pair of ominous diagnoses I received in 2008 and 2009 led me quickly into the pharmaceutical world of western medicine. Welcome to the land where pills and shots were a significant part of my new autoimmune life. I was in denial and planned to pop the prescribed pills and keep working. Throughout 2009 and 2010 prescriptions for my various “chemical cocktails” kept growing and shifting till it felt like I was falling into a pharmaceutical rabbit hole. By December 2010 I was relapsing again. At my neurologist's advice, I finally conceded the point and stopped working. We upped the ante with the introduction of monthly infusions to try and hold the line. As a result, I lost my identity as the bread winner and simultaneously was growing more fearful of the permanent neurological damage my body was experiencing.
Around that time I knew I needed to expand my horizons if I were truly going to outsmart these diseases. I reached out to my yoga teacher who encouraged me to read Dr. Peter Levine's books. What I read rang many bells inside me and made so much sense. I discovered that my body had much to say: I had a tiger within me, too! So many stories in my body! Within minutes of reading In an Unspoken Voice I knew I would attend training. I jokingly say that it was only after I “stumbled and bumbled” my way into and through my first Somatic Experiencing® class in Colorado that I was able to start connecting some dots. I was determined to make sense of why this had all happened and heal my mind, body, and spirit. I also aspired to help others facing similar challenges. Finally, there was hope.