The Case of the Missing Body is the true story of Lily, who has no sense of her body. That was, until she began working in a gym with Patrick the physiotherapist.
As a child Lily was diagnosed with ‘Clumsy Child Syndrome’ and with being ‘Double Jointed’. ‘Double-jointedness’ – joint hypermobility syndrome – with its loose joints and array of physiological and psychological symptoms, is strongly associated with proprioceptive dysfunction. Proprioception tells us what position our body is in, and how we will react to incoming stimuli. Without looking at every step, we can climb a flight of stairs with ease because our proprioceptive sense has responded to receptors in the skin, joints, muscles and tendons that provide knowledge about the body's position in space.
‘Clumsy Child Syndrome’, now generally known as dyspraxia, involves problems with planning movement to achieve a predetermined purpose. Dyspraxia can result in co-ordination and perceptual difficulties, including problems with large and small movement skills. A poor sense of proprioception contributes to these problems.
When she reached her forties, Lily found that it was her shoulders now flipping out of place. She would then go to her physiotherapist for another round of helping a body part to recover. It was never easy. She was hopeless at learning exercises, and once they were working in the body zone, she found it hard to talk.
After another shoulder injury, Patrick the physio suggested that Lily might like to try working with him in a gymnasium. The aim was for her to strengthen the muscles around her joints, potentially preventing unwanted movement.
One extraordinary day, near the beginning of their time in the gym, Lily discovered that she had shoulder blades. That was the first miracle.
The Identity Issue
Lily, as the astute reader might have guessed, is me. In the gym, I was often disconnected from my body and my surroundings. Proprioception deficits, anxiety and difficulties remembering movements, permeated each session. Gym experiences could be unexpectedly gruelling. I was unable to write about it in first person. I had to step back and view it from a distance.
In the introduction of the Body book there is a sentence where I own up to being Lily. ‘Coming out’ like this was done at the suggestion of the editor. At the time, I wasn’t too happy about my cover being blown. I’d given everyone else pseudonyms, sure that they wouldn’t want to emerge from the protection of their false identity. And if they had protection, why couldn’t Lily keep hers? After all, in the book there’s a lot of personal information that provides the context for events that follow. I didn’t want people to know that these revelations were about me. What would they think? And in my mind I was writing this as a physiotherapy training tool; an educational opportunity from real life for students to discuss and reflect on. What emerged in the gym was too unusual and rich to go unused, and students had no need to know who the writer was.
It would have been much safer to stay as Lily. Yet, if I truly believed in the worth of my book, I had to reveal myself. I understood that. Today, as I write this account of the body discovery, I’m finding that I can’t sustain Lily’s voice. For the first time, I have to write her in first person. Another miracle has occurred. The awakening continues.
Back To the Gym
Until she felt her shoulder blades, Lily had always thought that people only felt their heads, with thoughts inside or trailing along behind them.
Until I felt my shoulder blades, I thought that people only felt their heads, with thoughts inside or trailing along behind them. There’s a painting by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser that depicts it perfectly. It’s called Burning Face.
The decision to record the gym events was made after my third session with Patrick. It was one of the worst sessions. It was also a turning point. Patrick was teaching me core exercises on the mat. I decided that it must be hot in the gym and went to take off my hoodie. What happened next was so bad I still shudder at the memory. It was Patrick’s response that conveyed his centre of goodness. His willingness to continue flawed me. I’m sure that some physiotherapists would definitely have given up at this point. That Patrick didn’t, and that his professional philosophy was very much based on a compassionate, whole person approach, was the motivation for me to begin a diary of our sessions. As an educationalist, I was aware that some greater good could result from sharing the unexpected.
The Body and the Mind
There were some strange things happening to me in the gym. Some were quite scary so I went to see a psychologist I knew. This was the beginning of the second dimension to the search for the body. Buried in the underground were all kinds of body barriers that have taken some time to mine through.
I began to realise that the potential target readers for the book could easily include psychology students. Even registered psychologists. Or medics full stop. Body and Mind are a single package. Bodymind. Mindbody. Mindbodyspirit? Yes. I like that. Mind the body’s spirit. Take great care of it.
The practice of Mindfulness has been helpful in developing a sense of control of emotions, and an internal feeling of the body through specific meditations. I was totally sceptical of the possibility of this for a year of perseverance. The first time I entered the inside of my body was yet another shock. Another miracle.
I have learnt that we feel our emotions in our bodies. The list of discoveries goes on.
Back to the Gym
The Case of the Missing Body doesn’t only contain the diary of my gym sessions. There are the ‘Inbetween’ times that have relevance to the detective work. There are sections recalling aspects of my childhood. One is factual (as factual as memory can be), and the other begins that way but gets slightly waylaid in style.
The vision of the OUP editor broadened the overall content of the Body book to appeal to a more general audience as well as having the potential to inform health professionals.
There are sections that include research as I attempted to clarify and understand some of the emerging issues. To realise that you have no body, after all these years, is flabbergasting.
To realise that I had no body, after all these years, was flabbergasting. Until I felt my shoulder blades, I didn’t know that I couldn’t feel my body. Or that you could.
Take Two a)
Or that I could.
Not a Conclusion
Time-wise, the book has a natural conclusion just before Christmas of that year. I wasn’t sure what would happen in the New Year. Would I work with Patrick or a personal trainer? What did happen is that I carried on working with Patrick in the gym. It was quite a different path. Unexpected challenges arose and we had some differences of opinion. If you’ve seen tv programmes about neighbours from hell, well, I think I was probably the client from that same place.
Did I record those sessions? Yes. Do I know what to do with them? No. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
I work out in the gym with a personal trainer. Patrick is there in the background if I need to consult him. Mindfulness informs what I do. Miracles continue.
Oh, and guess who launched the book? ‘Patrick’.