[00:00:00] Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb, your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50] Welcome to Move With Deb The Podcast. This is episode 38 and I'm calling this one Ode To A Dorsal Freeze. First I want to say I know it's kind of silly to call my podcast, Move With Deb, the podcast, but I like it. It's kind of like staying Star Trek, the movie. Also it's my podcast. I basically do what I want. I have ADHD and I'm a random storyteller. That's a legacy from my mother that used to bother the hell out of me when I thought that I couldn't tell a straightforward narrative.
[00:01:30] My storytelling is as Swiss cheesy, as my memory, as is my ability to recall words and think during times of stress. Is that nature, nurture, trauma, neurodiversity? I honestly don't know. But what I do know is that understanding the relationship between the mind and the body can change our relationship to cognition, language, clarity and more. So today's podcast is going to be about two different experiences of mine of dorsal freeze. Now they're not the only two experiences of dorsal freeze in my life, that is so far from the truth.
[00:02:13] But now that I understand the nervous system framework, and polyvagal theory I can begin to see my lived experiences differently. I can see my depression differently, my overwhelm and emotional dysregulation during times of high stress differently. My lack of follow-through, my demand avoidance or my obsessive tendencies around control, and I'm going to label it toxic helpfulness.
[00:02:48] So here it goes. It's actually perfect timing. It's the 10th anniversary of closing my store in Brooklyn. I had a clothing store called Re/Dress NYC. It was a wild dream of a store, a plus size vintage and resale store in Brooklyn NY. It was glamorous, we hosted indie fashion shows, fat activist book readings and events. It was open for three years and dreamed of for many more before that. I opened a retail business hardly ever having worked in retail before. I was full of ideas, of hope, optimism, and looking back, I was kind of out of my mind a lot of time.
[00:03:33] So one time really sticks with me. It was before the store opened I was having a ton of issues with construction, getting permits, renovation. I was all in and I also bit off way more than I could chew. I often had this sense of urgency that didn't allow me to slow down and stop to think of solutions that weren't already the ones that I had decided were the right ones. Of course, I can see so much of that now. Hello hindsight, you are so sharp and clear.
[00:04:09] My partner at the time was super loving and encouraging, especially during my hot mess moments. And for some reason, I can't remember how we got into reading Jack Canfield's book, The Success Principles, probably because The Secret was popular or something at that time. She would read to me from this book and I remember one time just rocking back and forth and crying and in a complete state of overwhelm. It's a weird memory because I used to have so much shame about it. But also now I have a lot of fondness. I have a lot of fondness for that display of love and caring that she gave to me, to sit beside me when I was struggling and just keep reading. Probably worried, but also having seen me many times in this same state. At that moment, language was not available to me. My brain was turned off. Only tears and terror were really my most available feelings.
[00:05:20] And the rocking, that rocking movement that took me over, that held me while I was having this fear response. I can look back at that and think, oh my God, look how my body was caring for me.
[00:05:40] And I recovered. I did all the things. I opened the store. I made the gazillion decisions that needed to get made. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about like, had I known I was so dysregulated most of the time, I would've gotten more help. Or I would've done things differently. And yet it's also okay. When we're thinking about the physiology of this experience, we are talking about the threat of shame and fear to the self.
[00:06:15] I touch upon this a little bit. In episode five, the despair of disbelief. Looking back, my forgetfulness, my overwhelm, my lack of executive function, losing language, and the ability to think, were signs of a nervous system response. It's called a dorsal freeze response.
[00:06:36] Here is a description of the dorsal vagal shift or the freeze response from a website called Reich and Lowen therapy dot org. There's a lot of different explanations of polyvagal theory, of the discovery of the vagus nerve from Dr. Stephen Porges. And there's lots of different writings about it.
[00:07:01] It's kind of like a trip through a clothing store and where you're trying to like find just the right outfit to wear on a date. And then you try things on and you're like, Hmm, this one is okay, but not perfect. Like it's a very Goldielocks kind of experience. So I draw from lots of different people's descriptions of these ideas. Because I am a very fussy Goldielocks. And so the way that one person says the same idea, but using different words, it kind of just doesn't fit, right? Like it's a jacket that you're like, ah, I could go get it tailored, but like getting it tailored is going to cost like the same amount of money as the jacket itself, so I'm going to put that back on the rack because the person who's like five, six, it's really gonna fit better. And I'm going to keep looking for the jacket that's going to fit me. And so that's kind of how I like to use the internet is, all right. I have this concept let me go find the website or the person who explains it in a way that makes sense to me today. And of course, tomorrow, I might have a new and different and more nuanced or variation on a theme of understanding. And I like to describe this, this way, because for me, I'm looking for not just the cognitive experience of an idea, but how I listen and understand all the way through my body.
[00:08:44] That's some of what I practice with my clients when we're talking about creating shifts using language. That it's not just a cognitive experience of CBT, which I'm, I'm not a therapist, so I don't know that we're doing CBT, but we are often doing an activity of like language swapping and like feeling our way through different words to experience the feelings and then experience the sensations in the body. So I like to do that with finding resources. So this website I'm gonna read to you about the dorsal vagal shift or the frozen response.
[00:09:27] The dorsal brake is in contrast to the ventral vagal break in very different species, such as reptiles. The dorsal vagal system is responsible for the dive reflex and immobilization as a defense, like playing dead. In humans, such defenses are less useful, but they exist still. When sympathetic tone drives the body in an unsustainable way, physiology demands some respite and it often comes in the form of shutdown.
[00:09:59] Signs of dorsal shift. So they have a little chart. One says manifestation. One says mechanism. So manifestation freezing, this term is used when someone doesn't move. But the term implies also a drop in temperature. This is probably more than the peripheral vasoconstriction of sympathetic shift. It possibly represents a decrease in the production of body heat.
[00:10:25] Manifestations speechlessness. Mechanism, the organs of speech run by the ventral vagal system seem unable to coordinate when the dorsal vagal system is strongly dominant. That's something that I describe in both of these situations, losing speech.
[00:10:46] Dissociation. This is possibly just the psychological correlate of freezing. With no movement, thought and perception loses its anchor in the body, in the here and now. And there are some manifestations that are pretty extreme, involuntary defecation and involuntary urination. And these are extreme distress mechanisms.
[00:11:09] Here's the manifestation of fainting. Plain fainting, which is known as vasovagal syndrome. There is a large danger of injury from an unprotected fall. People who faint often feel fine afterwards. Fainting may work as an autonomic reset.
[00:11:26] Shock is a circulatory collapse. It is life-threatening. We also speak of emotional shock from hearing or witnessing something. It may be akin to fainting. Shock is usually notable for speechlessness.
[00:11:40] And then a manifestation of a Sense Of Effort. And this is the mechanism where the muscles and limbs feel heavy. And I think that that one is also really, really interesting when we start to examine how dorsal freeze interplays with movement. I will revisit that one on another podcast.
[00:12:04] My take home for you on this is that these nervous system states are normal and natural. They're built into us. And what we're trying to do when we heal is to be able to move from sympathetic activation, to ventral vagal, to dorsal, to ventral, to sympathetic, to dorsal, to some, you know, ventral, blah, blah, blah, blah, that we shift ourselves from one to another, without having to slam the emergency brake on.
[00:12:32] So that when we create a mind body positive, awareness informed, self loving relationship with our nervous system, we don't need that alarm bell to be ringing so loudly that causes all of the shutdown to go into place. If you ever watched like a scifi movie where somebody accidentally trips the alarm and then all these doors start slamming and shutting, and like, then the people are trapped inside the room. You want that to not be our primary nervous system response. We want to you have a more nuanced, gentle, fluid relationship between our different states. And when we recognize that we are tipping into overwhelm, that we are triggering our freeze response, even that can be met with gentleness, love and knowledge of what's happening.
[00:13:29] And then we have just enough brain left on, we can toggle between the body and the mind. We can even self witness. The self witnessing practice is toggling between the cognitive thinking mind, the prefrontal cortex and the body. We don't leave one behind. But we're like, I feel like I'm in danger. What is my actual threat? My threat is from an emotion, right? It's from a belief. My threat is from a fear. I'm feeling fear in my body. My nervous system response to this fear is to begin to shut down. I can self witness this. I can ask for help.
[00:14:12] I can ground myself in these somatic practices. I can use this beautiful practice of somatic tracking. I can use a practice of a somatic smile and just curl the corners of my lips up and activate the shift in my vagus nerve. I can take a deep breath into my body and let it go.
[00:14:35] Like learning how to fly a plane. Or drive a really complex car that's got lots of different buttons, we learn. And the more we do it, the better we get at it. Remember how hard you had to think when you first learned to drive a car and now you can drive a car with barely any attention placed on what you're doing.
[00:14:57] That's moving our learning process through the nervous system to a place of feeling so resourced, we don't even have to give it any attention. And then think about where are you giving your attention? That's going to be another podcast. I think I actually did that podcast. That's on the Star Trek view screen.
[00:15:17] But thank you, dorsal freeze. Thank you nervous system for taking care of me when I felt overwhelmed. Thank you, partner for sitting next to me and taking care of me and reading to me and being there with me. And understanding that this is my nervous system state. And being a loving witness to it, is what you had to offer and it's healing and is helpful.
[00:15:46] Fast forward to last year when I was designing my Fear Brain and Chronic Pain course. I decided to create it during a time of high stress. And when I was ill and suffering with general anxiety disorder. Or as I'm going to call it my glorious anxiety disco. It was a time of displacement, pandemic, elder care, all rolled into one and all of the fears of an unseen, viral threat.
[00:16:17] So not the most chill time at all to be building something new. I have a hard time creating online content. In the past, I've even done some EMDR for it that helped. And the more I do it, the easier I get. And that's a mind body practice. And I've talked about this a bit on the podcast, especially around creating this podcast. And I'm sure that I will keep talking about it some more.
[00:16:45] So at the time of creating this course I was working with an anxiety coach who helped me get going on the project that I was struggling with. I thought, well, why not film myself and share that with people so that they can know that they're not alone when this is happening, but also to show how quickly I was able to move from a freeze state back into something that felt more like ventral vagal, resourced and calm. I think I was surprised at how easy it was to move through it. Once I let go of the fear and the shame about it. I'm sharing these experiences with you to show you that it's possible to shift nervous system states pretty quickly and easily when we know and understand what's up. When we take the fear and the shame out of the experience of having a nervous system reaction, we have more ease in moving through it quickly, and we can get back to the brain on, cognitive function and accurate neuroception ventral vagal state.
[00:17:52] So I've got that clip for you here, and I'll post a link to the video of it that lives on Instagram.
DEB INSTAGRAM VIDEO - (note I didn't speed up the dialogue, so it's slow because my thinking was slow. Sorry if it's kind if annoying in the podcast with the large gaps....) https://www.instagram.com/tv/CFpWpO_Btgi/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
[00:17:58] Oh, I don't want, I don't want to make this video, but I'm making it because I am finding myself not being able to write or share these tools that I am using and creating to help me manage my pain and anxiety. Um, because when I think about doing it. I immediately go into like a freeze shutdown response, which is what this is. Um, so one of the things that's happening is my body feels very shaky. I clearly am very like the emotions, the tears come very quickly. The tightness and pain that I've been experiencing in my neck has just returned. My breathing is shallow. Um, my stomach is all jittery and my brain is just blank.
[00:19:35] This is my friend Lionel, he's very soft and he's here to help me. So in exploring this work first off, the idea is that I know like to get into the thoughts, the subconscious thoughts that I'm having and recognize what you know, that they're just stories that I'm telling myself. And that they kind of like turn on my fear response. Um, stories like I should know better. I should be, I should, this should be easier.
[00:20:27] That's like a really common thought of mine. This should be easier is like, a thing I think all the time, but it's not easier. And that is okay. But the thought that it, should be easier is the, is the thing that is leading me to feel shut down. So it is what it is. It's okay. This is just my nervous system doing its nervous system thing.
[00:21:05] And my, and the trick is to know my nervous system is fluid. And that by changing my relationship to that self judgment and then creating a new belief, which is, I mean, there should be easier, or I don't know how to do things. Those are not true stories. Right they're like my fear brain delivering me messages to keep me safe. And that is survival. It's not what I want. I mean, I want to survive, but I, I want to be able to do this work because it's been essential for me and my healing. So even in talking about this, even in recognizing. That I identified the thought this should be easier. And then separating myself from that thought, my throat doesn't hurt anymore.
[00:22:20] Like these symptoms are, are not that they're going away. They're my anxiety symptoms. But, um, I am practicing now this new belief, right? This new experience in it. So, and I am like literally bringing myself back from this poly vagal freeze. I'm unfreezing myself. Um, and I'm moving myself into more ventral vagal state.
[00:22:55] Um, so. I want to talk more and more and more, but one of the things I'm really working on doing is I'm trying to keep things simple. We have thoughts and we have feelings. Our feelings are generated by our thoughts. Our thoughts are created from like our entire history of ourselves as humans is our, our families, the society that we live in. Thoughts are not facts.
[00:23:36] Right. But our nervous system we've respond to these conscious and subconscious thoughts that we have going on in our mind. So, um, to navigate that is to first start to create awareness about what it is that we are thinking, and then feel the feelings that arise from those thoughts and allow feelings to be a part of our human process.
[00:24:12] And then we can build a practice to think new things on purpose, and then we can generate new feelings, but we can't, you know. Part of being human is to just feel things. We have a relationship with all of our senses. That's how our nervous system works. We have this beautiful vagus nerve that touches on every part of our body. It is there to keep, to wake us up, to get organs going. And, um, I don't know. I could say a lot of other things. See, I really want to make, I just want to go on and on and on.
[00:24:53] I'm not going to let myself do that right now. Um, but I'm going to be really vulnerable and post this video for myself. You can watch it. You can not watch it. I'm doing it for myself because I am creating the relationship in my nervous system, between the idea of doing something and doing it and, and allowing the resistance and the fear and the anxiety to be there and to keep practicing showing up anyway, not forcing myself, right not like overpowering myself, but to be there through these things with my anxiety, being willing to sound like an idiot, being willing to make mistakes, but literally I have now moved myself out of, um, a freeze moment. And in my body, I am not experiencing those same physiological symptoms. Like my throat feels a little tight, but not what it was before. My belly feels fine. I'm a little fluttery in the chest. I could take a deep breath. I am not crying. I love crying by the way, but I am not crying. I am smiling. Am relaxed. I just am showing up and being who I want to be.
[00:26:49] And I'm going to post this on the internet, which feels a little scary, but I'm going to do it anyway, because I'm want to be an example of what's possible. That, to show that dealing with pain and anxiety does not have to be complicated. It may not be easy, but it isn't complicated. So I want to share that because that is a thought that gives me a sense of possibility. And I love possibility. I see it in me and I see it in you. And I see it in Lionel, so I'll say goodbye, thanks.
[00:27:40] I want to honor myself for its nervous system response of a dorsal freeze. My fear might have been unfounded or illogical, but the physiological experience of fear was a hundred percent real. It was felt in my body and that's what my body mind felt like I needed to do to survive.
[00:28:02] I look back and think about that memory with all the love that I want to generate for that part of Deb who just shut down. For that me who couldn't cope in that time. It's okay to not be able to cope sometimes. It's okay to not be okay. We can let ourselves be okay not being okay. And when we do that, we also change our physiological experience. Which then allows us to move through our nervous system states and see that they're dynamic and that they come and go. And that an emotion is a temporary sensory experience. When we have it, that it leaves us. We have a different one that it leaves us.
[00:28:54] We can, we can kind of create a treasure map, like a old pirate map. We mark our way towards sensations or experiences that we would like to have finding our way towards teaching our brain how to pay attention to neutral or positive sensations or emotions. And say yes, please. I would like more of that. At the same time, holding ourselves in grace and beauty and love and care for whatever emotion we find ourselves in.
[00:29:28] We can let shame and fear be a trigger for love and compassion for ourselves. For the nervous system state that we find ourselves in currently.
[00:29:39] Thank you for listening. I am taking a little break from having an open calendar for consults. Um, but it will magically turn back on in the new year and I will be happy to start working with people again, one-on-one in my eight week pain recovery program but please follow me on Instagram. Listen to my podcast. Take any lessons here that sound helpful to you and start to begin to apply to your life, to your nervous system, to your mind, body experience. With the question, how is this possible for me? What can I learn to experience differently, and then see what happens?
[00:30:22] If you have any questions, pop in on Instagram and ask me questions in the post related to this episode, happy to answer and share whatever thoughts I might have . Thanks so much.