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Insomnia & Grief

Insomnia & Grief

Martina, aged 55, had had a few periods of sleeping problems in her past but they had not become chronic nor had they lasted for an extended period. So when she began having difficulties with sleep, she thought it would pass. The difficulties began gradually over a winter and by the summertime the dreary pattern of her insomnia was well established and she was deeply concerned as well as exhausted and depressed.

Martina lives on her own, having been divorced some 20 years previously. Her regular pattern was that she went to bed by 10pm, occasionally earlier. She would manage to get to sleep without much problem but would always wake around 1.30 – 2am, feeling refreshed and as if it were time to get up. Once awake, with the brief feeling of refreshment, she was unable to get back to sleep and spent many, many nights tossing and turning in frustration. By 6 or 7am, she would feel very tired and drained but, of course, needed to get up and get to work. She had tried various remedies but they weren’t helping the problem.

When asked if she had any anxieties or stressful situations in her life, she said she supposed that she did, really. She then reported that 6 years previously, she had lost her son to suicide. He was then just 25 and had taken a wonderful new job in Australia. He had been enthusiastic and excited about this adventure so it was with uncomprehending shock that Martina learned that he had taken his own life. Now, she would find herself awake in the night replaying his last days in her thoughts and trying to understand what could have gone so wrong.

Martina also reported that she had had breast cancer three years previously and had a mastectomy. All was fine now but she saw a lymphoedema nurse for check ups at her local hospital to control that problem.

Martina was meeting regularly with others parents who had lost children and they acted as a support group for each other but, of course, were also a constant reminder to each other of the loss they had all endured. In addition, Martina had long been a volunteer for the Samaritans and had decided to use her sleepless nights to some good, so once a week, she would take the middle of the night shift and answer the calls that came in.

So, Martina had borne up with strength and courage in the face of heavy, heavy grief for quite a long time and this insomnia was taking a heavy toll on her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Her lymphoedema nurse at the hospital had recommended that she try some Bowen treatment to see if this would help shift the pattern and help her come to some terms with the griefs she had been through.

She had her first Bowen treatment on 1st March and at the second treatment on 7th March, she reported that the first few nights after the treatment, she woke at 3am, so she had gained an hour or so of sleep. The morning of the treatment, she had slept through until 5am, which was a marvelous feat.

When she came for her third treatment a fortnight later (22nd March) she reported that she was now sleeping through from approximately 9.30pm to 6.30am. She had only awakened once at the old 1.30am, but had gone to sleep again. She reported that she now was feeling a daily deep tiredness, so that she was often having an hour’s nap after work. She was amazed that the treatment had had such a profound effect on her emotional state.

A few months after this, she rang to make another appointment as she was beginning to experience a few mild episodes of insomnia. Since then (now over 18 months) she has been fine.

How is it that Bowen can do this for people? It seems to lie in the fact that the body so often bears the burdens of the non-physical griefs, problems and anxieties that we have. For a while, we manage to hold ourselves together and get through what we have to get through but finally, the body will manifest a pain, a disease, a dysfunction, a depression, an insomnia, that acts as a demand for help – a ‘wake up’ call. Bowen, as a hands-on therapy, primarily addresses the physical manifestations of the problem: the painful back, the stiff neck, the churning stomach, the breathlessness, etc. What we understand to be going on physiologically is that Bowen can achieve a considerable degree of balance in the autonomic nervous system. In a significant small study undertaken by Dr JoAnne Whitaker and others in 1997 , it was documented that patients with myofascial pain and other clinical symptoms of autonomic nervous system dysfunction experienced mild to marked relief following treatment with the Bowen Technique. Significantly, the autonomic nervous system, which was dysfunctional before Bowen, was partially balanced following treatment.

© E.C.B.S

from Today's Therapist Issue 54 by Janie Godfrey

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Sarah Yearsley

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