Other I feel cold as pain. Anyone else have altered sensation?

Tickety-boo

New Here
I don't know how to talk about this without a bit of discussion of what happened, so stop reading if that will bother you (involves torture)...

I had someone pretend to flay me (they convinced me this was what they were doing - I couldn't see). I had ice-cold, soaked towels placed on my back and thighs to make them very cold, then they were removed and replaced with hot towels just below scalding temperature that were 'poured' over these areas with lots of extra water (which I was told was boiling water, and it sure felt like it after the ice-cold towels). I didn't know the towels were there, I thought it was just water that had been poured over me. They then used ice blades (which I was told were just regular knives) to cut and peel back the hot towels, which I thought, and was told, was my skin. Two fans were blowing on me so as the hot towels were removed my wet skin became very cold again, which I thought, and was told, was my now-exposed muscle and bone. I don't think the ice blades hurt, they were just cold, but in that moment my brain was absolutely convinced that what I was feeling was pain, and that the cold I was feeling on my now-exposed skin was actually the exposed tissue under my skin, and so I interpreted that as pain as well. Decades later, I now always experience cold on these areas as pain. There's no other flashback or anything going on when this happens, it just literally feels like pain, and only on my back and thighs. That can cause a flashback occasionally, but they're not linked. Like, my knee will just feel cold, but right above that on my thigh, it will feel like pain (I've experimented). Has anyone experienced altered sensation like this? I wonder if it can be reprogrammed somehow? It affects me in numerous ways - swimming in the ocean or lakes or rivers, having a cold glass touch my thigh, having a cold hand put on my bare back, and sometimes I've been teased when someone puts an ice cube down my shirt or something, that kinda thing. It's awkward and embarrassing and I don't want to tell anyone about it because I don't want to explain why that happens or talk about it at length, but it comes up from time to time (like every time I get a massage therapy treatment and the therapist has cold hands) and I'd just rather be 'better' and not have that happen. Thoughts?
 
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Sideways

Moderator
Can I ask why you distinguish between the sensation of pain and flashbacks?

Can you give examples of when your legs get cold and you feel pain? My initial thoughts would be a slow process of exposure therapy...

Mod Note:
I've removed the trigger warnings from your post. We don't use them here as every thread contains potentially triggering content, and sufferers come here precisely to discuss ptsd which very often includes discussion of their trauma. For more, check out the Community Constitution .
 

Tickety-boo

New Here
One person I told about it thought I meant the pain was experienced like a flashback, a very real-feeling recollection of the pain as opposed to something I was actually feeling in the moment.

Example - If I am in the shower and turn it to cold water and start going from my foot up my leg (the shower head is on a hose) it feels cold up to my knee, above which it starts feeling like pain from there up to my goin/stomach/chest where it starts feeling just cold again. Once the water gets up to my shoulders and runs down my back it starts feeling like searing pain again. There's a vague awareness that it's not real pain. I can't quite describe that. But it makes me feel like it's my brain interpreting it wrong as opposed to a change in the nerves themselves. Some of my reading found that there are cases where nerves other than pain nerves can be co-opted as pain nerves (nociceptors) so movement or pressure can be felt as painful, but I don't intuitively feel like that's the case with me. Not sure though. There's definitely a feeling of panic associated with it, but I'm not sure if that's related to a trigger or just because any time you're in a lot of pain you feel panicky. I'm overall more prone to feeling panicky due to CPTSD so it could just be that. Hope I'm describing all this well! Just wondered if anyone else has had something similar and, if so, if there's a way to fix it. I've tried a bit of desensitization but not a lot and it didn't seem to help at all. I didn't have the willpower to keep going with it as it's very unpleasant. There seems to be a threshold of cold that switches from cool to painful and it's a narrow threshold. Right at that temp it feels like crawling tendrils of pain alternating with cool. As my skin gets used to the temp I can gradually make it cooler. Like if I'm at the end of a hot shower just slightly cool water will trigger it, but then I can slowly turn it colder and colder. As long as the sensation is one of coolness I'm ok. But as soon as I feel cold I feel pain.
 

Tickety-boo

New Here
No, hadn't thought of that. I thought that was seeing numbers as colours and stuff like that. When searching for synesthesia and pain I don't come up with anything similar to what I experience. However, just from my reading now, I came across "mirror touch synesthesia" - where you feel touch on your body when you see someone else being touched. I have this combined with a weird, strong sense of what others are feeling beyond what I could gleen just from looking at them. I'm a massage therapist and if I ask someone how it feels and get them to think about it, I immediately do whatever they were just about to ask me to do - like if I'm right next to a knott in their shoulder but not exactly on it I'll shift to being right on it (works more with some people and less with others). I can also do this to a limited degree with taste - if someone tastes a sauce or soup I'll be like "Oh, it needs more salt" or "Hmm, too much garlic." and they'll be like "yeah I was just going to say that!".

Unfortunately, the person who did the mock-flaying (among other things) had VHS tapes of people really having done to them what he was saying he was doing to me. So I was feeling what they were feeling, either right before or during what he was doing to me. He would also be talking about what they were feeling at the same time, which amped up the effect. Mirror touch synesthesia explains why I feel like everything I saw happened to me, only worse because I know it happened to someone else and I couldn't do anything to help them. This is actually the worst thing he ever did - make me watch those videos. So the synesthesia thing might not quite explain (though maybe?) the cold/pain thing, but it did help me a lot with understanding that experience since I now know about mirror touch synesthesia! One of the main reasons I went into massage therapy was I hate seeing people in pain and so my practice is completely focused on rehab type work. It's healing for me to do this kind of work, like I'm countering the people in the world causing pain by being someone who's taking it away.

I haven't talked to a neurologist. I'm worried about getting someone who doesn't "get it" and reacts weird, asks questions I don't want to answer, is dismissive, that kind of thing. That's why I was checking google and asking on here so I can get answers without seeing someone in person.
 

joeylittle

Administrator
Just wondered if anyone else has had something similar and, if so, if there's a way to fix it. I've tried a bit of desensitization but not a lot and it didn't seem to help at all. I didn't have the willpower to keep going with it as it's very unpleasant. There seems to be a threshold of cold that switches from cool to painful and it's a narrow threshold. Right at that temp it feels like crawling tendrils of pain alternating with cool. As my skin gets used to the temp I can gradually make it cooler. Like if I'm at the end of a hot shower just slightly cool water will trigger it, but then I can slowly turn it colder and colder. As long as the sensation is one of coolness I'm ok. But as soon as I feel cold I feel pain.
I've got a few physical reactions that sort of work like this....they are also connected to things that were done to me that I was not able to see, but had been given a very strong suggestion of a whole lot of pain coming my way, and there had already been a fair amount of that, but my fear was at such a high level... Now - after doing work on some of these events in therapy - I can see the intense state of suggestibility I was in.

I think that if a person is in a torture situation, and especially if the captor's power to inflict physical pain has been established - basically, if they are fully in charge of what is going to happen to you, and you believe they have no limits - it's not a huge leap, to have legitimately experienced the pain of what you went through as something far more grotesque than what it turned out to be. And it also doesn't seem surprising that those would be some of the most difficult aspects of the traumatic event to process and eventually recover from.

So - that's a lot of words for validating that what you're describing makes sense, in the context of trauma, traumatic memory, and how pain and fear can get physically/emotionally/psychologically trapped in ourselves, running this loop called "the PTSD (trauma) response".

I have had some success using exposure therapy techniques on this stuff, but only so long as I had someone (therapist) helping guide my plan. Consistency of both physical experience AND thought-reframing are key, along with validation/positive reinforcement. You might be skipping over naming the sensations, then framing them for what they are (instead of what they remind/recall), and doing that BEFORE you've gone far enough to instigate the physical trauma response. There's a weird line between desensitization and reality-checking....pure physical desensitization without the right mental re-frame will not quite do what you're looking for. It'll teach you/your body to tolerate the pain - but in your case, that's not the goal; the goal is to untangle the past from the present, and teach yourself that what you're feeling NOW (physically and mentally) is no longer connected to an unresolved traumatic event.

I haven't talked to a neurologist. I'm worried about getting someone who doesn't "get it" and reacts weird, asks questions I don't want to answer, is dismissive, that kind of thing. That's why I was checking google and asking on here so I can get answers without seeing someone in person.
This is the sort of stuff that neuropsychologists live for. I can guarantee you, you won't get a weird look or a lack of willingness to empathize with your situation. BUT - a full workup is definitely something you'd want to research, in terms of your provider options, and obtaining a referral from your primary care physician or psychiatrist (if you have one); and, even with insurance, if you're in the US it's not cheap. All of which just sucks.

How's your PTSD, otherwise? Like, when you feel that physical pain/memory, does it come along with emotional upset?
 

Tickety-boo

New Here
Wow, joeylittle, that's awesome advice! Thank you! I'll have to read that a few times, but you're very insightful and you write very well! I'm excited to try some of your suggestions! When I tried desensitization on my own I definitely wasn't going about it the way you suggest - it was embarrassingly basic now that I read your suggestions, and it's pretty obvious now why it didn't work.

My PTSD is mostly doing very very well, thanks. There are still some issues, mainly emotional flashbacks - just suddenly feeling emotionally like I did when being tortured/abused but with no other aspects to the flashback - nothing visual, no physical sensations for example, and I know where I am and what's going on and that I'm safe and everything, but the emotions are all fired up anyway. I also have these weird micro-panic attacks that get triggered by emails or mail or text messages - my brain will read something wrong, like the letters get fuzzy but my mind thinks it's reading something really bad, and then that starts to trigger panicky feelings, but I know what's going on and if I concentrate I can force myself to read it properly and then once I do and see it's not the horrible thing I thought it was I calm down again - happens in less than 10 sec usually. I was tortured mostly on my feet so those are quite triggery to have touched but that doesn't really ever come up. I don't have night terrors or nightmares hardly ever anymore. I feel calm and confident and balanced and grounded and happy the vast majority of the time. There's a combination of having dealt with a lot of my issues and also having a life that hardly has any triggers. It does make the remaining stuff almost that much more annoying. I can almost forget I went through all that and then, pow, something reminds me of my past again. I'm getting there though! Thanks again for that advice!
 
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