Friends, I don’t normally put out articles within a week of each other. I like to give my articles time to breathe (and I don’t want to overload your inboxes with my email blasts). However, based on the events of the last few weeks, I feel moved to share the positive experiences that have occurred to me and my family. This article is a direct follow up (a coda if you will) to the article I recently published (you can read that one here).
I. A headache THIS big
My daughter has given me permission to share with you, kind reader, some of what has been going on with her. She has a complicated medical history going back her whole life. She is diagnosed with Eosiphilic Esophigitus (EE) which is an allergic condition that causes inflammation in the gut (rather than in the lungs and sinuses like typical allergies). This leads to chronic vomiting. We have had this under control, but my daughter came down with a stomach virus that went around our area. Where most people got over this in about 24 hours, my daughter never really got over it. Her stomach started spasming and she couldn’t keep food, medication or water down. This is what ultimately led to her being admitted to the hospital.
In addition to the EE, my daughter suffers from migraine. Yes, that is not a typo… I said migraine. Three years ago in October, she got a migraine headache and it NEVER WENT AWAY. On a pain scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain you can imagine) she spends most days at a 5 or 6… with 4 being a good day. She spikes several times a week to an 8 or 9. Can you imagine that? Despite all the stomach and head issues, she’s been able to maintain good grades and make the honor roll consistently for years. She is a remarkably resilient and strong young lady.
Finally, last year, she developed symptoms related to the migraine where she would “zone out” sometimes falling out of her chair or losing track of time. She might sit in class and remember nothing that happened. Her teachers would literally have to shake her to bring her back to present.
No amount of medical treatment seemed to help. We tried every treatment the neurologists at the headache clinic had to offer (they eventually just said she was depressed and said we needed to give her Prozac). We didn’t accept that diagnosis as it was weak and did not really address the issue (her depressive symptoms were a result of the pain not the other way round… NOT depression). We tried alternative treatments including chiropractic, acupuncture, and cold laser therapy. We watched her diet… nothing worked. Finally, we got referred to a rheumatologist who said she had Reflexive neuromuscular dystrophy and got a treatment consisting of physical therapy and neurofeedback. This got us some relief… but the headache still didn’t go away.
II. Putting the pieces together in the hospital
So, in the hospital, we had to put my daughter on a feeding tube. This was an uncomfortable and painful process for her. She spaced out four times after the procedure. For the first time, medical professionals were present to see what we were reporting. Neurology was back in the picture and wanted to keep her another few weeks to do sleep/wake EEG’s to try to capture absence seizures. We decided to hold off on that treatment and give our daughter a break from the hospital. We took her home to heal the feeding tube/gi issues with the intent to follow up schedule the EEG soon.
I got some interesting data from the hospital though. All four of her zone outs were preceded by great stress and a spike in her migraine (8 or above). Her blood pressure also spiked for the entire length of the episode. She had no memory of what occurred just prior to and during the episode.
I started questioning how we were conceptualizing this case. This was due in large part to my recent training in a trauma treatment called EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). RND (the pain condition we figured was behind the migraines) is a disorder that arises from trauma. My daughter is sensitive (wouldn’t have EE otherwise). What if her zone out episodes weren’t so much medical as they were psychological. What if she was dissociating? In trauma work we see this quite often, where a person “goes away” in some fashion to protect themselves from pain and hurt arising from a very stressful situation. What could be more stressful than having a headache that never goes away? I know I would want to get away from that in any way possible.
The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became that maybe some of my daughter’s symptoms were best explained from a trauma perspective. I put this to the test the next day after she got home She was in a lot of pain and hurting. I decided to try some Alternating Bilateral Stimulation..hereafter called ABS (a core treatment in EMDR) along with some resource installation work.
III. … Then a MIRACLE happened.
Honestly, I figured my daughter’s headache might go down a couple of points. If that was all that happened I would have been ecstatic! However, that’s not what happened. After a few minutes of ABS, her headache was at a 7. Pretty soon it was a 6. Here we were, sitting on the couch watching Halloween Wars on Food Network and her headache was going away. Another round and we were at a five. I then had my daughter do some acupressure tapping and we did another round…down two more points to a 3. I then had her create a mental container to store her worries and headaches in until such time as she could deal with them and had her put the rest of her headache in there. That did it… another round of ABS and her headache was gone.
Let me repeat that…a headache that she had for three years…that resisted all sorts of expensive and complicated medical treatments was gone. She healed it herself. My daughter started crying… my wife was crying… hell I was balling like a baby myself. It was amazing!
Her headache stayed gone the rest of the night. When she woke up, it was back, but at a 4… eventually I got her to sit down with me for another ABS session and within a minute her headache was gone again. It has yet to return as of this writing.
IV. Lessons learned
What’s the take away from all of this?
- The body/brain has a remarkable healing capacity. The trick is stimulating it to do this.
- It’s important to never give up on looking for solutions, even when the experts have done so.
- Good therapy often means the therapist simply needs to get out of the way.
- There is no better feeling than the sense of relief you get as a parent when your child stops suffering.
- It is hard to put pieces together (I was thinking about my daughter’s condition as medical and that was separate from my knowledge of trauma…it was not until I put these to disparate things together that the way to a solution became clear).
V. You can do this too!
Would you like to try out Alternating Bilateral Stimulation? It’s easy. Try this exercise.
- Give yourself a gentle hug and hold it.
- While taking nice deep belly breaths, gently tap your arms or shoulders (right, left, right, left…)
- While tapping and breathing… scan your body from head to toe. Take note of any pain or discomfort.
- Maintain the breathing and tapping and just note the discomfort. Let it melt away. You can even tell yourself you don’t need the pain anymore.
- Repeat as necessary until you feel better.
Why does this work? There is a logical explanation that goes beyond the scope of this article but I will address it in a future trauma report. Just try this out and see if it doesn’t help you settle your mind and maybe mitigate some aches an pains.
©Erik Young, M. Ed., LPC