Somatoform: My Experience
What Is Somatoform?
Somatoform disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to feel physical pain when experiencing anxiety or being triggered by memories or smells. There is now evidence of actual association with somatoform symptoms and past distressing life experiences.
The main symptoms in identifying somatoform disorders may include:
- Persistent abdominal pain, headaches, joint pain (for me a choking sensation and feelings of anger and panic)
- Poor concentration, dizziness and moodiness, depression
- Loss or disturbance of motor functions
Symptoms can start in childhood or early adolescents.
My Early Memories
My earliest memory of realizing that something was wrong when I was 12 years old. I was in the care of social services and living in a convent children's home. I had gone over to the convent to have my weekly guitar lesson with one of the house nuns.
During the lesson, I noticed she was making odd throat noises which I found upsetting and stressful. I put this situation down to the stress of my lesson. I remember that I had experienced pain in my abdomen area, which spread to my throat causing me to experience a choking feeling. I did not mention this experience because at the time I did not feel that the staff team and social worker assigned to look after me would understand or supply me with any support.
This situation occurred in the days when counselling support for loss or bereavement were not offered by social services or the care sector. I was aware that my family had their own issues: My Dad was a distant person and my mother had died when I was three years old.
Psychiatric Hospital Admission
I then went on to attend a boarding school for girls (privately funded). I mention this because I was the first girl in the care of social services to be paid for to attend a private boarding school.
My noise problem persisted but was worse because I was constantly in the company of hundreds of girls and living on a dormitory which provided little privacy. The school sought help for me via a psychiatrist from York.
After an initial assessment, she suggested I spend time in the hospital. I was either naïve, or I was not presented with the correct information because I envisaged sitting in a hospital bed revising for my up and coming O'Levels. When they admitted me to the adolescents psychiatric unit I was shocked. The hospital resembled a normal house, the nursing team wore normal clothes. I slowly became to realise what kind of establishment I was in, when a young girl my age ran screaming into the lounge area where I was waiting, then threw herself under my chair claiming an airplane was hunting her down to shoot her.
After a short time, I asked if I could ring my sister only to be told that I was allowed one phone call in and one phone call out per week. I refused my evening meal so was sent to my room. I fast realized that all of the windows only opened approx. 6 inches. I then started to become afraid and panic. Shortly afterwards 2 female members of staff came to my room. I pleaded with them, stating that I was not meant to be there and asked for help.
They both approached me with arms outstretched as if I was going to cause them harm. I banged on the wall out of frustration but it turned out to be a window. I briefly knocked myself out and caused a gaping wound to my arm from the glass. The staff rang my psychiatrist, who put plasters on my open wound and instructed the staff to remove all my possessions and then to place me in a little yellow room. The yellow room resembled a cell, and I was to be in this room for 8 weeks with 24-hour staff to watch over me.
After my release 3 months later I was diagnosed with depression, nervous exhaustion and loneliness. My fear (phobia) of certain noises was not diagnosed.
I can be in the company of friends or strangers. If someone makes a particular noise ( a throat noise), I can become agitated, starting with an immediate (!!) pain in my solo plex area then rapidly rising to my throat giving me a choking sensation.
If the noise continued, I would then become angry. Depending on the noise, my emotions would rapidly turn to rage. I have to leave the situation, whether it be in a restaurant, on a bus, in a company or waiting area. If I didn't leave, I would lose control.
My Life After Leaving The Care System
It was many years after leaving the care of social services that I again sought help for my 'noise problem' I hesitated to seek help after my frightening experience of the psychiatric hospital. I still felt like a freak and thought that no one would understand my problem.
I attended many counselling sessions to no avail. Some counsellors put my situation down to 'blocked memories' which at the time I felt was right. I did recall a situation when I was alone with my Dad, on a settee, with a blanket over us. I remember wearing only a pair of knickers. I was 3 years old. No amount of counselling would help me remember the incident; I only remembered someone coming into the room, but could not see their face.
After many more years, I tried hypnotherapy. This experience was a revelation. Under hypnosis, I went back to this upsetting situation only to recall it was my mum who walked into the room. My dad, who was hidden under the blanket, rapidly left the house. I remembered raising my arms to be comforted by my Mum. My dad's angry face appeared outside of the living room window, I slipped from my Mum's arms as she left the house.
I recalled climbing the stairs and looking out of a bedroom window watching my mum walking down the street. My Dad appeared suddenly in the house upstairs and was rapidly dressing me. This was my last recollection of the incident.
How I Got My Diagnosis
Five years after my divorce, I met my husband to be. We worked hard to make a good life for ourselves. He understood my problem with noises and would, whenever necessary, leave situations that were hurting me.
For years I tried different methods of counselling in order to help me with my problem. I was still unable to remain in certain environments i.e Restaurants, social events, theaters.
I then sought private medical counselling. I underwent a very lengthy assessment. I was diagnosed with Somatoform disorder. I took me to secretly look at my medical records to be informed of this disorder. I asked my GP for an explanation of this problem. He was very vague but prescribed me with antidepressants.
I Finally Got the Help I Needed
After trying many forms of antidepressants to no avail, I was in a position to access private medical support through a well-established organization that had an excellent reputation. I underwent 18 months of intense therapy. My therapist used a variety of methods to help me remember and recreate abusive childhood memories.
This was a remarkable experience. Not only did my therapist know of the disorder he had helped others overcome their pain. I no longer felt like a freak, I had a label ! which helped me enormously. I was confidently able to state what my problem was. In time I dealt with most of the noises, with the exception of one noise we could not get to the root of.
Although I am not entirely cured, I no longer feel like a freak. I have somatoform! I can now tell people what my problem is in the hope that they understand and make allowances for me. I often say it is like someone who has a broken arm or leg to help people better understand why I need accommodations sometimes.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.