What the body knows

We’re encouraged to think of body ailments as symptoms to be managed, and as a nuisance to fend off. We have a vast array of pain killers, stimulants and tranquilisers available to make our bodies behave in prescribed ways. What we’re not encouraged to do is to assume that if something is awry with our bodies, there may be a perfectly good reason for this. We are not encouraged to seek those reasons out, much less tackle them.

Sleep deprivation is widespread, with many people not getting the 8 hours minimum our bodies need each night. Many of us have stressful, sedentary jobs but don’t have the energy to release that in physical activity. Stress gnaws away at us, creating anxiety symptoms that crop up randomly, to be drugged into submission, or ignored. Exhaustions breeds depression symptoms as our bodies try to reduce energy output. Missed meals, poor diets, lack of food education and the greater availability of poor quality food, all contributes to reducing health.

Then there are the issues of what the body knows. We take in a vast amount of sensory information all the time. We filter out most of it because it is more than we can consciously handle. Sometimes less conscious bits of our brain are still chewing on that input, and eventually respond to it. Our bodies learn to throw up if we eat something we’re allergic to. Sometimes they also learn to throw up in response to people who are emotionally toxic as well.

There are patterns of behaviour that cause me bodily panic. At first I felt uncomfortable about this. It was socially awkward. What panics me is people whose words and actions manifestly don’t fit together. Historically, this has been a danger sign for me. Having taken the time to pin down why I panic, I realise that serious emotional dishonesty is not something to take lightly. People who make grandiose statements they do not mean are not emotionally safe for me to be around. I will be forever mislead, always having to second guess, never able to trust and that’s no kind of relationship. I eventually concluded that my body is right, and where I get those reactions in future, I will quietly step away.

Some of it is less rational. The sound of footsteps on the stair in the flat makes me edgy. Rather than ignoring this, I worked out it stems from a time when the sound of footsteps on the stair really was a thing to be edgy about. A warning of impending unsafety. These days it isn’t, so when I feel that fear I remind myself that things have changed, and my body calms. It is becoming less of an issue. Sometimes we hang onto triggers long after they are relevant, but its only by taking them seriously that we can find out what they mean and then gently unpick them.

If we do not take ourselves, and our bodies seriously, we are easily manipulated. If we are not allowed to trust gut reactions, or to draw breath and figure out why we are uncomfortable, if we have to keep calm and carry on, we are vulnerable to mistreatment. Our bodies know things. Millions of years of evolution have shaped our fight and fight responses to help us stay alive. Those tap into office politics as readily as they do to possible tiger attacks. There is wisdom in our bodies, but only if we take it seriously, and listen to it.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “What the body knows

  • Argenta

    This is something I struggle with on daily basis. On one side, I get literally and horribly nauseaus at the mere thought of having to do my job. On the other, I am told, it is only a weakness (and laziness) which I have to learn how to beat, if I want to survive. The soft ones don’t. (Besides, I am supposed to be happy to have job as a single parent in a crumbling economy.) Having been on the verge of not having anything to eat, I can see the sense in that. So, who to listen to in such circumstances — when the very thing that is killing me is saving me?

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a hard one. What can you do to offset? Is there something you can be doing at another time that will help your body to cope? What’s causing the nausea? Anxiety is a likely candidate, but what exactly triggers that? Is it all of the job or some part of it? I think it helps to know, and sometimes there are ways of making things just a bit easier for yourself. You can respect your body and take its responses seriously even if you can’t entirely act on them – that feels better than rubbishing yourself or beating yourself up on top of everything else. I really hope things get better for you.

      • Argenta

        Two things cause it, as far as I can tell. One is personal — I am a very introverted person and it is difficult for me to have to stand every day in front of students, smiling, watching what I say and do, all the while being scrutinized by them.

        The other part is my employer — they keep people literally hanging by the thread, never knowing when their contract will be cancelled and for what mistake. It’s how I came to the current position: someone effed up and was replaced in a twinkle of the eye.

        I do what I can to relax — meditate, write, walk, drink tea… and it does help, since I manage not to fall apart, but that’s about it.

        Thank you for the kind wishes!

  • literaryvittles

    thank you, thank you, thank you. You would think this type of reasoning would be common sense, but apparently not.

  • Nimue Brown

    Argenta, that’s a horrible position to be in and I hope it turns out to be only short term and that something much better comes into your life. In the meantime, best of luck in just managing this as much as you can.

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