My name is Tessa. I am a teacher, a dedicated auntie, a yogi, a soccer player, a traveler, fun-seeker, and an avid hiker. But for almost my entire life, I lived with an invisible illness – well, many invisible illnesses. I suffered from MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities), EHS (electromagnetic sensitivities), chronic headaches, digestive issues, food sensitivities, fatigue, chronic anxiety and panic attacks, and brain fog. I was called a ‘canary in the coal mine’. I suffered silently, I suffered alone, and I was eventually told that my conditions had no treatment. However, I refused to believe that my life would be a whirlwind of constant suffering, and I took matters into my own hands. I set out on a mission to heal.
My symptoms affected all different parts of my body: my stomach, my head, my upper back, my legs, my chest, my lungs, my eyes, my balance, my sensitivities, my energy, my emotions, my heart, my mood, etc. I went to dozens upon dozens of doctors, all of which told me that my body was healthy. But how could my body be healthy? Every second of every part of my day was filled with pain, exhaustion, discomfort, and panic. My body did not feel even close to healthy! Doctors could not find answers in any of my blood work, allergy panels, or in my genetic make-up. They were just as stumped as I was. But I intuitively knew that although doctors could not trace my health conditions to anything tangible, they were there.
The answer came when I began to see the connection between the severity of my symptoms and the level of current stress in my life. I went online and I researched other people’s stories. I also looked at online forums, I searched for supplements, treatments, and anything that might connect the dots. Finally, after days and weeks of research, I found a program that gave me my answer, and came to realize that a series of traumas and stressful periods of time in my life had created a brain injury within my limbic system. The brain’s protective mechanism had backfired, and was wreaking havoc on my body and brain.
Part 1: Seemingly-Innocent Childhood Trauma
The reason I wanted to include this part of my life is because I know that a lot of people who develop limbic system dysfunction can attribute their dysfunction to childhood trauma. Some even trace their limbic challenges back to being in the womb! I believe it is important to know that trauma does not have to mean that there was violence or neglect. Our traumas as children could be as seemingly- innocent as a severe storm, as in my story.
When I was around the age of 8, I was at a friend’s house playing in the back yard. Out of nowhere, the sky changed from a bright blue to a deep gray, and as the wind picked up, the town’s tornado advisory began to blare. I was excited! A storm! This was great! As my friend and I ran inside, her father screamed at us to get down into the basement. Her family and I ran into the basement as the hail pelted the outside of the house. The ice sounded as heavy as baseballs, and as the storm continued, the hail began shattering windows, and rain started pouring into the house and basement. Every person in the family was crying, screaming, pleading with God, and in a state of sheer panic. I was just watching, wide-eyed, wondering how my world had been flipped upside-down. My family has always loved storms, so I was perplexed as to why this family seemed so terrified. Storms are supposed to be fun, aren’t they?
As the storm came to an end and it was safe to go back outside, I skipped home to see my family. I do not remember being upset as I reached my home, and I never led my parents to understand quite how frightening being with another family during the storm had been. In that moment, I was completely unaware how traumatized I had been by that experience at such an impressionable age. However, that night, I would quickly find out. That night, we had residual thunder storms from the storm system that had created the tornado, and my body involuntarily went into a complete state of panic. I immediately made myself sick, was hysterically crying, and had no idea why. The next 4 years (from the age of 8-12) were a blur of anxiety attacks, panic, fear, exhaustion, sickness, and silent suffering. My fear, actually my extreme phobia of storms, spread to other areas of my life.
Because of that original trauma, I became a hypochondriac, I became germaphobic, I had obsessive compulsive tendencies, I was afraid to eat any kind of food that could possibly make me sick, and I had anxiety attacks daily. But I did not connect my new phobias to that original trauma, and I did not want to tell my parents because I was ashamed, and did not understand what I was feeling or dealing with. I became a child who looked completely normal on the outside, but was silently suffering on the inside. I was trapped inside my own body, and had no idea how to get out.
Part 2: The “Lights Dim”
I dealt with these fears and anxieties until I was in 9 th grade or so. And I never told a single soul. Not even my parents. There were times when I would have panic attacks that I could not conceal, and I remember my dad comforting me, but he had no idea the anxiety and fear I was dealing with on the inside.
After 9th grade, my life took a turn for the best – at least for a few years. I actually overcame a lot of my anxieties, had worked through my hypochondria, and my OCD. It was like someone had adjusted the “dimmer controlling the lights” on all of my challenges. Through high school and college, the dimmer was kept pretty low on my anxieties. I believed I had overcome the most challenging times in my life.
During my last year in college, I contracted mononucleosis. In addition, I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship which led me to become a shell of myself. On top of the exhaustion from the mono, I started having panic attacks from the stress of the relationship, and soon found myself very depressed.
Interestingly, I never made the association between the way I was currently feeling, and the way I felt when I was a kid.
Following the mono and the abusive relationship, I had a really difficult time functioning in everyday life. My anxiety was debilitating, I woke up in the middle of the night in a complete state of panic and fear, I slept as much as a sloth, I had a challenging time getting out of bed in the morning, leaving the house was a struggle, socializing was next to impossible, and I was losing weight quickly because it seemed that many foods were no longer agreeing with my stomach.
I watched as all of my friends continued to do everything normal college students were doing. And all I wanted to do was sleep. All I COULD do was sleep. Again, I kept my struggling internal, not really sharing what I was truly feeling with any of my friends or family. I wanted to deal with this on my own. I wanted to overcome this without any help. And in the short term it actually did work, and I found ways to cope again. AGAIN, I was able to ‘dim the lights’.
So in 2010, I moved to Italy. I thought, I have all of these fears, and I am going to overcome them! And for the most part I did. I lived for about a year and a half pretty happy. It seemed like I had overcome my anxieties and fears. I felt normal for once. I was able to go out without fear. I traveled from country to country with not one panic attack! But even in these times where it seemed like I did not have many symptoms, I actually did. I just did not have the knowledge to identify them. I had major perfectionistic tendencies, I had obsessive compulsive tendencies, I had many obsessive thought patterns, and I had social anxieties.
Part 3: The Tipping Point
In retrospect, I had put a Band-Aid on my symptoms once again. But unfortunately, it did not last for long. Shortly after, I had a chemical exposure, and I was right back to where I had been a year and a half prior. To my already primed system, that was all it needed. This sent me into a tailspin that I could not overcome on my own. Scents became intolerable, my anxiety was through the roof, I could not tolerate many foods, and I became very depressed. I was also in a foreign country so I had no idea where to receive help. I went to the school nurse who had NO clue what I was talking about. I told her, “It’s like the man with the cologne is actually INSIDE my nose!” She looked at me like I was crazy and just said, “Oh Tessa, you are fine.” Nobody understood.
So I tried to fix it myself by searching the internet for what other people in my position had done. I detoxed, I took all KINDS of herbal medicines, did salt cleanses (not recommended and not fun), paid for online doctors who had no clue what I was talking about, and I went to Italian specialists who told me I was allergic and intolerant to all chemicals. Fantastic. Now I was not only sensitive to chemicals, I was allergic to them! So I became a recluse. Any and everything chemical-related became wired with fear. I lived 24/7 wondering how I would make it until the next day.
The next 3 years were again, a complete blur. I had debilitating anxiety, numbness in various parts of my body, heart pain and palpitations, perfectionistic tendencies, OCD, suicidal thoughts, obsessive thoughts, electrical sensitivities, brain fog, memory issues, and various other symptoms. I struggled through every single day. And unlike when this happened to me when I was a kid, I was now more self-aware, and had more of an ability to self-diagnose, to analyze, and to cognitively assess what was happening. I also could no longer hide my symptoms from the world because the world had turned against me. I thought that if I have to live like this for the rest of my life, I would rather not live. I slept a lot. Pretty much anywhere I could!
I began visiting specialists, seeing every doctor I could find with a connection to environmental sensitivities, and of course, paying countless amounts of money for the best treatments. I spent every waking minute blaming the environmental condition of the world, and blamed other people for their greediness and unnecessary gluttony. I despised them for being so uneducated. I was angry at my friends for wearing perfume and cologne. I went on the internet and found every piece of evidence I could find to prove that my condition was caused by chemicals in our environment, and I set out to change the world. I began educating all of my friends, I organized speeches at the two schools I worked at so I could educate the staff on the dangers of chemicals in our society and in our schools, homes, and buildings. I made every child I taught VERY fearful of chemicals so that they would be educated on the matter, and I even educated complete strangers. And I know I did some good during that time because chemicals are NOT healthy for our world. But what I wish I had focused my energy on the true root of the issue I have since learned: my limbic system went into a maladaptive state due to stress and trauma over time, and was distorting sensory information.
Part 4: My Cure
I continued my search for a cure and through an online forum, I found the Dynamic Neural Retraining System DVD Series (also online). I immediately bought the DVDs and as soon as they arrived, I popped the DVD into my computer, and cried harder than I had ever cried. I could not BELIEVE there were other people like me. Other people suffering, other people who felt hopeless, alone, isolated, and terrified. I listened to Annie’s voice as she explained limbic system dysfunction and its role in my mysterious illness. I had found it! But then, overwhelming doubt washed over me. How could this DVD program possibly help me overcome all of these symptoms that I am feeling all over my entire body? How could a program based on the BRAIN possibly influence my incapacitating anxiety, my obsessive thoughts, the tingling, my digestive issues, and my sensitivity to everything and anything? I had physical symptoms that could not possibly be related to my brain! And in addition, I had been told by doctors that I was allergic to chemicals, that I had too many heavy metals in my body, and that I had an anxiety disorder! There’s no way. I could not believe it. This must be a scam like every other treatment I have tried.
I felt alone, desperate, and afraid. But I did not have much of a choice because I had no other options. This was it. So I put in the DVDs again and I listened to what Annie had to say. As I continued to watch, every new section of the DVD gave me a little more hope. And then I found myself feeling optimistic. I smiled a real smile, which is something I had not done in a very long time. I was starting to believe, and I was starting to understand the connection between my limbic system dysfunction and ALL of my symptoms. My brain was in a fight or flight loop, and had been since I was a little girl.
Part 5: The Results
The first symptoms to shift were the depression. I felt happiness again! I did my practice every single day, and as the months went by, the pain I was feeling in my chest, the numbness down my arms and fingers, and then my anxiety all subsided. The anxiety and my digestive issues seemed to go hand in hand, so the food sensitivities unraveled as my anxiety did. My heightened sense of smell normalized over a few weeks, and after losing it and then finding it again, I found myself able to go out into society! Walking past houses with dryer sheets no longer sent me into a fit of rage and anxiety, and I was able to walk during busier times of the day. I went into department stores without fear, and I felt a sense of calm that had possibly never been a part of me!
Some symptoms were still present. I still had residual pain down my arms, some numbness in various places, and I developed some new symptoms as well. At first, this made me nervous because I felt like I had come SO far! But I knew this was normal from listening to Annie, and kept training the way I had been training.
Much to my disbelief (if you had asked me when I first started the program), most of my symptoms had lifted after a few months and for the first time in a REALLY long time, I felt content. I felt peaceful. I could sit on my couch and my heart was not racing! I could breathe slowly again. I could be around a scent without feeling dizzy. I could focus! I was able to think of words I had not thought of in a really long time. I felt like the clouds and all of the rain had cleared, and the sun was now shining through. I was able to be kind to people about their own personal choices in life, which was really big for me. I was no longer judging them! And for once in a really long time, I could be present without that constant feeling of worrying about symptoms in the back of my mind. I could actually focus on what another person was saying and give them my full attention. I was present. This was such a new and wonderful feeling. I had such a deep appreciation for that ability, and I still do.
I started getting back into some hobbies that I had had to neglect for many years. I began playing indoor soccer in a rec league, I started going to yoga in a STUDIO! I began traveling again and acting like someone my age should have the ability to act. I went back to working in a school with children, and I was able to focus on their needs instead of only being able to focus on my own. I am so grateful to have found the DNRS DVDs (or online), and so thankful that I picked those DVDs up again after feeling doubtful and cynical. As you now know, my world has been flipped around… more so than I could have possibly imagined prior to discovering DNRS. I am now grateful for my experience with limbic system dysfunction, because I would not be the person I am today without the challenges I experienced.