I know, I know – usually it’s written as “the mind-body connection”, and not the other way around. I’ve referred to it before too. But in this case I really mean body-mind, because my body is giving me a clue about what’s going on in my mind.
I’ve had canker sores ever since I was a kid. In fact, I think I spent years with canker sores. These are also known as apthous ulcers – sores on the inside of the mouth and tongue. They’re not to be confused with cold sores (herpes virus) or chancre sores (syphilis).
More than you ever wanted to know about mouth sores, I know. There’s a reason why this stuff can only be shared on a blog – and not with any potential new friends while chatting over a muffin.
As a kid there were times when I had so many sores – on the insides of my cheeks and the sides of my tongue – that it literally hurt to talk. So I didn’t. For hours and hours and hours. And when I finally opened my mouth to speak, it would be so painful that I would cry. And not want to talk for another several hours. Forget about eating.
This would be a problem, yes, for an emotionally healthy 10 or 12 year old who wanted to connect and interact with the world. But oddly enough, in spite of the pain, I didn’t really see it as a problem. I guess maybe I was content with spending countless hours in my room, doing jigsaw puzzles, and not talking. After all, it allowed me to lay low and not draw any attention to myself. My older sister and my parents were always in these psychological tugs of war that I found exhausting and painful to observe. So I crawled into my shell. And no one came to check on me, or ask me if I wanted to talk, or wonder might be going on with these canker sores.
Do emotionally healthy kids in emotionally healthy families spend SO many hours alone, not talking, with their mouths glued shut from canker sores? I suspect not. But my dad got the canker sores, and we chalked it up to genetics, and no one ever thought about what my awful sores might be saying about my mental or emotional health. We knew that these sores could be triggered by stress, but that couldn’t be what was causing mine. Right.
I think sometime around college-age, I stopped getting sores so badly. Oddly enough, as I write this, I realize for the first time that the sores faded away when I moved away from home. When I was no longer hiding out in my room doing jigsaw puzzles. Occasionally the sores would resurface, but we all marveled at how great it was that I had grown out of them.
Or at least I had mostly grown out of them. I’ve had a very stressful month or two (or three or four, but who’s counting?) And for the first time in years, I’ve gotten one or two sores. But life is busy, and I’m tracking a million other mental health related things, so I noticed it, yes, but didn’t pay it any attention. It didn’t fully register until this week, the day that my parents were arriving for a visit. Seemingly out of the blue, two hours before they were due to pull into the driveway, I found that I couldn’t open my mouth without pain from a canker sore. It hurt to talk. It brought tears to my eyes – and memories of a kid doing puzzles.
And there it was – The A-ha Moment. The one where the Universe smacks me upside the head and mutters about how I’m so slow at picking up on these things. But in my defense, I didn’t recognize the whole mind-body thing because it was working backwards. Body-mind instead.
Despite my feeling reasonably okay with all of this stress recently, my body has been telling me otherwise – one little canker sore at a time.
So now I’m paying more attention to my body – to make sure I’m tuned in to my head. I think sometimes I get so used to juggling all of this swirling and chaos in my head that it becomes background noise – and I forget that it’s there. But my body is telling me otherwise. My body is saying, “Helloooooo!!! Over here!!!! Canker sores – remember those????? Pay attention!!!!!”
I can sit down and write a rambling post about mind-body and body-mind, but I’d really much rather discuss this as an academic exercise and not because I’m still trying to get the hang of it all. I wish I didn’t have to get these damn canker sores to make me sit up and realize that this stress is taking more of a toll than I thought. But I do, and it is, and I just have to manage it the best I can.