Abbey's Story: Stellate Ganglion Block Healed the Chronic Illness She Didn't Know Was Trauma-Related | All Points North

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Abbey’s Story: Stellate Ganglion Block Healed the Chronic Illness She Didn’t Know Was Trauma-Related

Written by Samantha Carter

Abbey experienced chronic illness for decades that was ruling her life. What she didn’t realize for so long was that her symptoms were rooted in nervous system dysfunction as a result of trauma. After trying countless medications and treatments, Abbey learned about stellate ganglion block through telehealth therapy services with APN.

Originally a nonbeliever in trauma as the root cause of her illness, Abbey’s world was turned upside down when she finally figured out the role it was playing in her life. Fortunately for Abbey, that meant a new and better life was possible. To learn more about Abbey’s journey with chronic illness, trauma, and healing, continue reading the article below or check out her APN podcast episode, My Chronic Illness Stemmed From Trauma: Recovery x Abbey.

Physical Issues That Started as a Teenager

As a teenager, Abbey traveled a lot with her family.

“I had kind of an interesting early childhood where I was in business with my dad. So that was just kind of odd because we had some notoriety for it and I was sort of marketed as this like child prodigy,” Abbey said. “When I was 15, we went to Ethiopia and I got really sick. I didn’t get any medical care until I was recovered from the initial illness which I lost a lot of weight [from]. I was like 78 pounds and 5’4” and then I started having all this swelling on my joints that was persistent.”

After that, Abbey’s life changed drastically.

“So I was seeking treatment mostly for symptoms of what was being called an autoimmune disease that was diagnosed when I was 15,” Abbey said. “It showed up in many different ways over the years but mostly as inflammatory arthritis and gastrointestinal problems.”

Another pivotal event occurred when Abbey was a teenager.

“When I was 16, my sister passed away,” Abbey said. “So that was obviously a huge transformative event in my life. That kind of stress is only going to compound everything that’s going on. It’s not going to help. That’s when I [started] doing therapy, but looking back I don’t think my care was managed well. To put a 16-year-old grieving teenager on birth control and Prozac probably [wasn’t the best thing].”

Chronic Illness Exacerbated as an Adult and Feeling Unseen by the Medical Community

Unfortunately, Abbey’s health only continued to worsen over the years.

“For decades I was chasing all these specific diagnoses and seeing all these different doctors and specialists who would do all these tests and could explain the minutia of every little dysfunction,” Abbey said. “[But even though they could explain] why every symptom was occurring, [they offered] no real long-term treatment plan [and] no cure [so] it was mostly just symptom management.”

Despite trying to advocate for herself and her persistent health challenges, Abbey was often dismissed by the medical community.

“The gastrointestinal issues were the hardest for me because I was really underweight and that’s not really seen as a problem by most doctors,” Abbey said. “They’re kind of like, ‘well you look great – what are you talking about?’ And then I think a lot of it was you know not being taken seriously when you’re kind of presenting more or less okay, even though there are these measurable, quantifiable symptoms going on–like your inflammatory markers are really high or you have diminished gastric motility, or you have all this fluid on your joints. It was still like, ‘but you’re managing; you look fine; you’ve got it all together; your life isn’t falling apart; so you know, what’s the problem?’”

Trying All the Things & Self-Blame

Determined to take matters into her own hands, Abbey was persistent in her efforts to try and improve her health. However, this also took a toll.

“Besides the stressors that I think maybe caused the onset of some of that stuff, just the management of it became its own huge stressor,” Abbey said. “Like conserving my energy and just figuring out how to get through my days managing different things and not wanting to be on medication and going into remission and then flaring up. It made me feel like in some way it was my responsibility or my fault when I had a flare-up that I should be able to manage it with my stress levels, my diet, my exercise, my sleep, and that I was doing something wrong if I wasn’t well.”

No matter how overwhelming it all got, Abbey never gave up.

“It [was] a lot. And the pain management and then trying different medications which all have their own set of side effects. Like for years I was injecting myself and I would get muscle atrophy at the injection site so I had like these dents over my body that looked like a little bite out of my muscle. Then on top of it [all], just trying to live a life and be a good parent and a good wife and friend.”

No matter how much Abbey had on her plate, she was always willing to try more if it meant a better life for her and her family.

“[I was committed to having] nothing toxic in our house. Some of it helped a lot but not entirely. I think my nervous system was used to operating in a certain way and I don’t know if without [stellate ganglion block] that ever would have changed.”

Throughout Abbey’s many efforts she was disciplined about implementing yoga, healthy eating, stress management tools, meditation, alcohol abstention, healthy sleep routines, breathwork, strength training, sauna soaks, cold plunges, therapy, and more. While Abbey claimed that these things helped, they were never enough to cure her underlying issues.

Chronic Illness Caused By Trauma

When Abbey first signed up for telehealth therapy services with APN, she wasn’t expecting anything more than a safe space to talk about her ongoing health challenges. Instead, her whole outlook was flipped in a big and meaningful way.

“I signed up for telehealth with APN and had my comprehensive intake assessment which I had never had before,” Abbey said. “I had done therapy off and on but I had never had that type of assessment. So they give you your scores after they screen for anxiety, depression, and trauma and anything over 15 is a ‘disordered’ amount of that feeling. So my scores for anxiety and depression were under 15 and my score for trauma was 52. I was like, that’s ridiculous! I have a great life and I’m so privileged. You know, I didn’t identify it with that. I did not see myself as a trauma patient or someone who had PTSD. So I knew of the stellate ganglion block treatment and I had seen it marketed as a PTSD treatment for veterans of war or trafficking victims. I never thought that it was something for me.”

As she reflected on all these things in hindsight during her APN podcast interview, Abbey pointed out how much she’s learned since then about the role trauma plays in peoples’ lives.

“My situation is not unique at all in that it was [all] these cumulative traumas,” Abbey said. “[That’s when I started] realizing that we all have so much trauma–just parenting through a pandemic or wildfires or you know just [being] discharged from the hospital. When almost all of our dysfunction is rooted in the nervous system, [it becomes clear how much of a role trauma plays in our health].”

Finding Stellate Ganglion Block

Once Abbey became aware of the possibility that her health issues were rooted in trauma and nervous system dysfunction, she was ready and willing to give stellate ganglion block a go. However, she could have never predicted just how much this therapy would alter her life.

“It’s a dual injection into your stellate ganglion cluster, which is a nerve cluster at the base of your skull that controls your autonomic nervous functions,” Abbey said while describing the procedure. “So your parasympathetic system is [all about] rest and digest [while] your sympathetic system is fight, flight or freeze. [I learned] that’s when your heart rate goes up, your digestion slows down, your immune system is on high alert. And I was like, holy shit this is me; this is describing me. Being stuck in that state for long term shut down my digestion, my immune system, [and] and my metabolism.”

While Abbey was hesitant to get too excited about the procedure – having tried so many things in the past that didn’t work – she figured she didn’t have much to lose.

“It [was] so easy,” Abbey said. “It’s a shot. It’s low risk. It’s a little drop of an anesthetic that is really commonly used as a nerve block in surgeries. You metabolize it in like 2-8 hours. You’re not on any medication long term. You’re not like changing anything biologically. But you’re resetting this nerve cluster. I have a video of my procedure where it shows this main artery that supplies that side of the nervous system and they show it being super restricted and barely getting any blood flow and then as they anesthetize the nerve cluster it just opens up and you just see it pulsing and just flowing freely and for me it felt like an absolute miracle.”

After that, Abbey’s life was never the same. Rather, it was better, brighter, and bolder.

“The stress was gone,” Abbey said. “I didn’t have to work through it. I didn’t have to process it. I felt no tension in my body. I felt no intrusive thoughts or stress or worry about the future. I just felt so such clarity and presence and it felt like peak performance–like exactly how you’d want to feel.”

From Surviving to Thriving

Like many other treatments Abbey had tried with mild success in the past, she was wondering if this new feeling was long term or fleeting. She went on to describe a stressful situation she had not long after her SGB treatment where her car broke down in the middle of nowhere while on a trip by herself. At the time, she thought she had undone all the work that had been accomplished during her stellate ganglion block session and that she would need to return for more.

“[About] five days [after this stressful event] I was at my local meditation studio for a sound bath taking extra special care of myself and I felt it unlock,” Abbey said. “I was like, oh my God. That was another transformative moment [when I realized] this stuff really does work and I don’t need to go get a shot every time something stressful happens. I can process it. I can manage it. My body can come back from it, like, we can function.”

While Abbey’s life isn’t perfect, it’s no longer shrouded by debilitating health issues.

“I [still] use all those [holistic] things [and coping mechanisms] to maintain that ultimate post-SGB-state,” Abbey said. “[However], before I was using them to survive. [But], when you have a clear baseline – [when] your nervous system is wiped – it’s like system reset. I knew exactly how I can and should feel. Then, when there was any stressful stimuli or anything that happened [I was] still [able to] live life.”

Abbey describes how much different her life is these days since having the stellate ganglion block treatment.

“It changed me. It changed so much,” Abbey said. “I didn’t realize [my problems were a result of] nervous system dysfunction. [Now], I don’t have motion sickness anymore. I can read a book in the car, which is unheard of. I can go on rides at carnivals and theme parks with my kids. It helps with sleep. It helped with my period–like regulated my period and I [no longer] have PMS symptoms or cramps, which I didn’t think was possible. It’s mind-blowing.”

Passionate About APN and the Potential of Neurotech

After living with debilitating sickness for most of her life, Abbey wants to share with anyone who will listen how much stellate ganglion block has changed her life and how much it can change the lives of others.

“I believe we’re just scratching the surface with the applications of the treatment,” Abbey said. “I think it can help so many people in so many different ways, and I’m just so excited that APN is able to bring it to people.”

Once a naysayer on the impact of trauma in her life, Abbey now hopes to impress how significant this work is.

“The reason I think the treatment I had can work for anyone is that it addresses the nervous system,” Abbey said. “I think [so many things] set our nervous system on its path. We have all these either catastrophic or minor traumas – or you know just any stimuli at all – [and] our nervous system is going to adapt to it. It’s going to change some of its functions, even when those protective mechanisms no longer serve us. Our body’s not going to shut them off. They’re now hardwired into how we work. So, for your whole entire life those are just being layered upon each other. [But something like stellate ganglion block can help wipe the slate clean].”

Abbey truly believes that anyone and everyone can benefit from this treatment.

“I am so excited about what other possibilities there are,” Abbey said. “I think all these new technologies that APN has adopted – this cutting-edge neurotech stuff – is so thrilling. I think that the potential is we don’t even know what the potential is. We’re not the victims of our circumstance. We’re not beholden to whatever our quote-unquote personality traits are. Our psychology is something that we can manipulate to our benefit a lot more than we realize. And I think that some of these technologies give us the boost to then maintain [our wellness] with the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, nutrition, [and healthy living].”

Enough time has passed now that Abbey can finally rest easy, knowing that she no longer lives in chronic pain. Now, she can enjoy life with her spouse and children while she helps spread the word about this groundbreaking therapy to others.

If you’re interested in learning more about All Points North and their recovery programs, stellate ganglion treatments, and/or other mental health treatments, submit our confidential contact form or call us at 855.934.1178 today. You never know how good your life can get until you address the underlying causes of your issues.

More From Abbey

Listen and watch Abbey’s episode of Recovery x APN below, and find more episodes on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.