Monday, September 3, 2012

Nine years of numbness reversed with hypnosis

As I've mentioned in a previous post, hypnosis has been instrumental in helping me to overcome a dismaying numbness that my mind had created. And yet, how many people actually understand what hypnosis is? After all, some people seem to think it's just a way to make someone your zombie slave, while others say it's only an act.
` Of course, psychologists generally consider hypnosis to be a tool that can be used to change a person's perceptions, and which has a number of therapeutic and research applications. In this article I will cover only a few relevant hypnosis phenomena.

I had no real understanding of hypnosis until 2001, when I read a Scientific American article on the subject.  It explained that, while the Greek hypnos does mean 'sleep', one must contrarily be highly focused and alert in order to experience hypnosis. Although relaxation is commonly associated with hypnosis, I also learned that it can be induced while vigorously pedaling a stationary bike.
` The article covered some of the famous landmark experiments, such as blocking out the pain of plunging one's hand into a bucket of icewater. Part of it even covered the staff writers being hypnotized and made to experience such things as their hand seeming to 'levitate' by itself, and even the hallucination of a fly buzzing by one's ear.

Notably, at that point in time I was already recovering from a lifetime of post-traumatic stress disorder, and had thought that life could only get better from there. That all changed about two years later, when I experienced an even more traumatic incident than I could have imagined to be possible.
` After a long and astonishingly shocking ordeal, I couldn't remember who I was or even what I used to be like. Unfortunately, I had been wrongly prescribed several drugs, one of which caused my flashbacks to become increasingly vivid and more easily triggered, among other extremely terrifying, frustrating and embarrassing effects.

The panic attacks were soon joined by the alien feeling of "numb spots", one of them on my tongue where it touches the roof of my mouth. These spots would start out small, then spread, then slowly shrink again. One day, mental images of the terror were triggered so strongly that these spots expanded and multiplied, spreading from my fingers to my toes, and even my eyeballs.
` My neurologist advised that I was probably just hyperventilating, and that recovery was as simple as breathing into a paper bag. As it wasn't, I went to the emergency room, where precisely nothing was found to be wrong, other than these bizarre complaints.

Inevitably, I turned to The Mental Health Community For Poor People, where I was told that such experiencing of flashbacks meant that I was undeserving of treatment. I was shut out of therapists' offices when it was time for my appointment, was made to sing campfire songs with schizophrenics, and dozens of other surreal situations.
` This institutional abuse continued long after I'd moved to the West Coast and found myself thoroughly combing a mental hospital crowded with pungent hobos in the hopes that one of the jaded employees could or would help me.
` There, I could spend ten minutes telling someone about how some medication was so incredibly damaging to me, only to be shocked by the immediate response of, "Let me write you a prescription" for the exact same drug. Of course, if I didn't take it, that only meant I was too insane to know better.

For many years, I futilely complained about this absurd dance, yet some people told me to let these hack interns do the thinking and observing for me. Some others, however, encouraged me to escape this labyrinthine Morton's Fork.
` After all, a friend of mine told me that she had developed the same symptoms from a traumatic event and eventually recovered from them when she was sure that she was "ready to feel again." Therefore, it must be possible to recover from such a thing, right?
` By 2007, it was becoming clear to me that psychology classes and books had been far more useful to my well-being than talking to someone who thinks that 'being objective' means ignoring their subject. I was already doing most of my own mental health improvement, but would that be enough to resolve this particular difficulty? Was there any way at all?

A pivotal moment in class was learning of a malady called conversion disorder -- as in a "conversion" of anxiety into a bizarre deficit such as numbness, deafness, blindness, fits, paralysis, etc. Although it could last for years, I was relieved to know that it could be reversed with such treatments as explaining what causes the symptoms.
` Doubts kept nagging me about this, as I had already believed that an unconscious unwillingness to feel had caused this deficit all along, and five years had not been long enough to resolve it. Then again, I was still living in fairly stressful conditions, so perhaps the anxiety was staving off my courage to face this difficulty.

I didn't know it yet, but that class also taught me a potential solution -- and now we are back to hypnosis. This text is actually based on my abbreviated notes from a class lecture on the subject:
Hypnosis is when your attention is highly focused and you allow someone else to guide you through some inner experience. It can help to alter one's perception to the point that one can have surgery under hypnosis and not feel pain. [More on that shortly.]
When subjects are hypnotized to see the color on a pattern 'drain away', the color-processing areas of their brains 'turn off', and they report that the color has gone away. When they are given a suggestion to see color on a black-and-white version of the pattern, those areas of the brain activate despite having no color to process. [See Kosslyn 2000].
From this and other examples, I learned that hypnotism was powerful enough to alter one's subjective experience dramatically, and had made a connection between it and my condition. I might have actually pursued this line of thinking if I hadn't spent most of my college years living in continually overwhelming "survival situations" (which is why I don't recommend living in run-down conditions with assorted whack-jobs...).
` It wouldn't be until my return from The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012, after the insanity (and police visits) had a chance to drain away from my life, that I met an actual hypnotherapist. His entire job is to help people change their less-than-useful perceptions and various bad habits, or, as he puts it, "telling them to just stop doing that."

I had long assumed that a seemingly unconscious decision to not feel is actually a bad habit, so if that was my issue, he might know how to help. Then again, if this was just a habit, then why couldn't I seem to just stop doing that after almost nine years?