Do you believe in body memory—the idea that our bodies can subconsciously remember and recall a traumatic event, even if we don’t? Many people think there is no strong evidence to support the theory that our memories are stored on a cellular level. However, believers in the phenomenon often point to the fact that our body is deeply connected to our brain in mysterious ways not entirely understood. Everyone probably has had an experience where they pick up something they haven’t done for years, one of the prime examples being riding a bicycle or playing an instrument, and some kind of muscle memory kicks in so it comes back to you even though you couldn’t sit there and think about how to do it. Muscle memory is a different concept, but still demonstrative of the way your body can remember what your brain forgets.
I’ve just recovered from a bad physical illness, it’s finally sunny and gorgeous and sunny outside in Chicago, I am on school break and finally have a chance to tackle some projects and catch up with some people, I have been doing some painting, and I also just got a little unexpected cash infusion in the form of a school refund. In fact, there are multiple reasons for me to be happy. So why do I feel kind of….bad? Not intensely bad, just a little sadness in the back of my brain, like something’s wrong even though there’s nothing specific I can really point to.
Pondering over it some more, I remembered this is pretty much exactly the time, four years ago, that my bipolar depression finally spiraled out of my control after a couple of years of trying to treat and contain it. This led to a break in reality, suicidal impulses and ideation, and hospitalization. A believer in body memory might say that I was recalling this event on a subconscious level in the back of my mind even if it set me on the road to recovery and I’m maintaining a much more stable existence now. There may have, in fact, actually been triggers in the sudden and almost complete shift in the weather and the mood swing initiated by my illness, where I was also confined to bed most of the time. The illness caused me to miss a couple of social events, something I was routinely doing due to my overwhelming depression in May 2018. So there are even aggravating factors that could have potentially stirred up that latent body memory other than the mere fact of seasonal timing.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I don’t feel especially bad right now, and especially nowhere near as bad as I felt then (which is good). I just feel like—there’s something there. Kind of a shadow looming in the back of my mind. If you do accept the science of body memory, it seems somewhat discouraging because it is deep and difficult to control. However, much like other conditions we have little to no control over, many people believe we can “talk back” to body memory. Once we become aware that it is the source of our stress or trauma, we can work to separate it from our current mood and what is happening now. Perhaps most importantly, we can remind our bodies that the traumatic event is over. It’s a memory of something in our past that we survived and are recovering from, and in that sense body memory can actually become a source of strength.