Reflections From Within -- A Comparison of Some Recent Neurological Findings With Observations of Patients Who have Reexperienced Convulsions

The following is an article written by a woman who is involved in primal therapy in Denver and also works as a secretary for a local psychiatrist. In her position, she sees much both of the discrepancies and the similarities between what is being said by the medical/psychiatric establishment and what is being said in the primal community. She is going to write some articles in the next few issues of the journal comparing what she has read in the literature with her own and others' personal experiences in primal.

She wants it made clear that she is writing her observations from a layman's point of view and has no pretensions to more than a cursory knowledge of neuro-physiology.

-- Editor, The Denver Primal Journal

Every morning the mailman brings to my office anywhere from two to a dozen different medical and psychiatric journals and newspapers. Before distributing them I look through them for articles of interest to me. I am aware that there is increasing interest in research on intra-uterine life in the scientific community, and whenever I run across a report of such research I jump on it. What I am looking for is that validation by science of what we here in Denver are learning from deep inside our own bodies about intra-uterine events.

Generally, the psychiatric establishment seems either ignorant of or chooses to ignore this very relevant data that is beginning to emerge. This is data which supports one of our basic understandings, i.e., that intra-uterine life and early infancy is a major causal period for the development of psychopathology.

Historically, medicine has been loath to consider change and innovation especially if that were to challenge hallowed precepts. It's time now for the medical profession to prove history wrong -- that they do not always have to be the last to know that which has become obvious to others.

Actually, the effort to document fetal activity in response to stress is not new. In July 1867, The British Medical Journal published an article by James Whitehead, M.D. entitled "Convulsions in Utero." In it he describes a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy who was seized with severe abdominal pain of "paroxysmal character." It occurred every three to five minutes over a period of five hours.

The physician, upon examination, noticed that there were violent plunges of the fetal foot into the uterine wall followed by a quivering motion. At the same time, the fetal head could be felt to be rotating rapidly from side to side. Each seizure would last about two minutes, during which time the fetal pulse would accelerate to be sometimes uncountable and the maternal pulse would drop to below 60.

Even the administration of an anesthetic (chloroform) had no effect on the convulsive activity. It was the author's conclusion that this state of affairs of the fetus in utero was precipitated when the mental system of the mother became unbalanced by violent and sudden shocks of anguish or by prolonged and severe anxiety, as in the case described.

More recently, the February 21, 1977 issue of Brain-Mind Bulletin reports on convulsion-like phenomenon called kundalini. At the Max Planck Institute in Germany, subjects reported "electrical sensations, tingling, inner lights, even convulsions usually followed over a period of time by a moderation of 'symptoms' and apparent alterations in the central nervous system." The kundalini phenomena typically occurs after a period of meditation in a setting that is non-threatening.

The report goes on to compare kundalini with the kindling effect in laboratory animals. The kindling effect is produced by stimulation of the limbic area of the brain causing the animal to convulse. According to BMB, this causes "permanent changes in the neural circuitry."

It seems important to remember that the only way the kindling effect can be precipitated is to stimulate the limbic structures of the brain. (The limbic system predates the development of the cortex or "seat of intelligence" in the developing brain of the fetus. It concerns itself with emotions).

The common denominator in each case is early pain, pain laid down before the brain has completely developed; in the fetus, in the laboratory animals, and most significantly in those meditating. While meditating, the individual tries to arrest all thought or cortical activity. In these circumstances the activity of the evolutionary more primitive areas of the brain tends to assert itself. I suggest that those who experienced the kundalini phenomenon were actually reexperiencing some early pain but were not connected to what that pain was for them and thus it could manifest itself as described above (tingling, lights, etc.). . .

A fetus has a limited range of responses to pain. A convulsion is something it can and does do -- a response to an overload of pain. His brain can no longer integrate the pain so it disconnects and discharges or seizes. It is not uncommon for a primal patient to experience convulsions at one time or another. In his therapy. One 38-year-old woman describes her experiences like this:

For a year or two, when I first began primal therapy, I would wake up in the night and find myself moaning and thrashing around on the bed. I had no idea what was going on except that I'd frequently get up in the morning with what felt like a bad hangover. I began to realize that the thrashing and the hangovers were associated with each other.

I eventually realized that my body would go into convulsions when my defenses were lowered during sleep. Shortly after that I began to convulse during a primal session. I manifested most of the characteristics of a grand mal seizure but never lost consciousness. For about a year of my therapy, whenever I'd drop to a certain level of pain it would be like a switch was flipped in my brain and I'd convulse. It was all my body could do -- had done in response to the trauma of tremendous pressure in the womb (I was four weeks overdue.). Now, I'm able to feel much of the deep pain that triggered those seizures, and they rarely come up in my sessions and have not occurred in my sleep in over a year.

* * *

The following is an interview with a 35-year-old man who is a primal therapist. He came to this country from Australia to do the therapy, starting out at the Primal Institute in L.A. before coming to Denver.

Q. What I'd like to know is your experience in therapy with regard to convulsions and convulsive activity.

A. I always used to think of convulsions as weird. People who had convulsions were weird specimens who had some terrible affliction, and now it seems to me that convulsions are really as natural as crying -- that the kind of natural release that the body gets from crying when it's hurt or damaged or frightened is the same kind that the body gets from convulsions. It happens maybe at a different stage of development, on a deeper level in the sense that it's much more of a life-and-death situation when convulsions come up rather than crying.

It's very natural for me to convulse in response to what happened to my body. I remember when I first started this therapy that I always used to say, "If only my mother had just held me and let me cry and cry and cry and cry, sooner or later I would have stopped crying and had a little space to live. And it's because I was never allowed to cry and get that kind of release that it all got choked up and I could never open up, I could never talk, I could never do anything.

If I'd been allowed to cry, just being in touch with myself to that extend would have given me some freedom, some space to live. It wouldn't have taken away the pain that caused the crying. . . . The same thing goes for convulsions. I really think that as a kid if the atmosphere had been right, if I'd been allowed to go into convulsions, I think I would have had them as a child . . . that my body really needed to have that release. Even though having the convulsions doesn't take away the events that caused them, it is a natural response to them.

When I first came to this place, I was reexperiencing a lot of feelings that went back to birth -- a lot of tremendous pressure, choking, gagging, spluttering, writhing around, incredible body tension. For a long time I had the feeling that my body wanted to shake, just shake to pieces. Sometimes I would feel it inside my hands, or inside my legs, my head, or my neck -- some part of me would shake for awhile. But as soon as it would start to happen, my body tension would multiply ten times. I would lock up like steel, and that would stop the shaking straight away. And for months and months I went through that where I'd shake a little bit, and once again the body tension would clamp down and I couldn't shake. Gradually, I could let more and more happen until my whole body would be shaking uncontrollably all over the place, which is what people call a convulsion or a seizure.

It feels like that struggle between wanting to convulse and not being able to -- the body tension stopping it form happening -- it feels like something like that really happened to me inside my mother, like during birth and lots of times before that in the womb. Things were happening to me that made my whole body want to shake or convulse, but I stopped it myself with the tension in my body. It feels like I really had to make it stop. It feels like there were lots of times when I was really close to dying and that if I had let my body convulse then that would have finished me off. The last energy, the last everything would have gone in that convulsion and that would have killed me. It feels like the tension I used to stop the convulsion -- I had to do that to save my life.

Q. Are you aware of any events that triggered this in you?

A. Yes, each time I have a convulsion, there's something different about it. I come out with a slightly different way of looking at it. The way that I happened to choose at a particular moment is just that way of looking at it. It isn't by any means the only way, or the only way of describing it, or the only way of relating it to my life. But the only way that seems to come up over and over again is that when my body gets in that state of feeling like I have to shake or convulse, it feels as though there's one set of signals coming up from all the organs of my body going to my brain. I can feel it in my brain like electric shocks. I can feel it going through me.

One set of these signals seems to be telling my brain that I'm dying, that something terrible is happening to me. I'm in pain -- I've got to do something -- to do anything to get more oxygen in. It feels like that's what happens -- I'm not getting oxygen in and my heart is stopping and my brain keeps sending electric shocks down to try to start it again. It's not that I'm not getting blood in -- it feels as though I've got a lot of blood, but there's no oxygen left in it. It's like now it's poison -- there's no oxygen left in it. I feel poisoned all over -- like the waste products in the blood. . .

There's so much going on at one time. It feels like my whole body is going berserk with panic, and electric signals are going everywhere to try and do something, anything, to stop this. One lot of signals is telling my body to move and do something, anything, to stop this and another lot of signals is saying the opposite, "Don't move. Go rigid, because there's no energy left. You move and you're dead." These opposite signals fells like they're the actual impulse that makes the convulsion. One lot is saying, "Move!" One lot is saying "Don't move!" And they're alternating so fast. It feels just like being hooked up to the mains and having an alternating current go through you.

Q. Can you relate this story to your life in the present?

A. When you started to say that, the first thing I thought of was something which is related -- to do with my heart. Sometimes I feel myself really, really tiny -- like an inch, half-an-inch long, and my heart is the whole of my chest, and I feel it leaking. Somethings burst, and the blood is leaking out into my chest. It's instant panic because my heart's leaking and I'm going to die, but at the same time I can't show the panic.

If I start moving then it's going to open it up worse and it will never heal and I'll die for sure. So I'm left in this kind of frozen panic. That's kind of how I would describe my life most accurately in one phrase -- frozen panic -- that's my life. The things that are happening to me are so awful, so close to killing me, and yet I mustn't show them -- mustn't show any kind of reaction to them. I feel as though I can't enjoy anything in life -- I can't show any kind of enjoyment. Even if I'm enjoying something, I've got to keep it hidden. It all goes back to that thing -- if I I show any kind of feeling it's going to kill me. . . . It's those kinds of impossible alternatives that always seem to be central in my life. I couldn't verbalize this before -- I didn't know it before.

All the time through my life, through my childhood and through my teens, I've never been able to talk to anyone. I've never been able to show anyone about me really, because the only thing I've really wanted to show is the tears. I wanted to cry, I want to convulse, I want to tell them what I'm really feeling inside. And because I can't say that, I can't say anything. So I've had a lifetime of silence. I've said nothing to anyone -- that's been my whole life's pattern, saying nothing, sitting on the sidelines.

Q: Is that changing?

A: Oh, yes, very much, incredibly.

Q. Do you feel like it's related to the feelings you've been in that you just described?

A. Yes, it's made all the difference in the world. I can talk to people. I can relate to people, make decisions, and occasionally enjoy my life.

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