“All passengers with disabilities are welcome to pre-board,” the TSA officer announces over the intercom system.
I smile to myself as I gaze out the magnificent windows in Jacksonville International Airport, watching the sun climb higher and higher in the spring morning sky.
Up until now, I gladly accepted the offer to pre-board. Besides, I was quite used to life with Postular Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system disorder with symptoms ranging from pre-fainting spells to extreme dizziness and fatigue. Symptoms could be triggered by the simplest activities — like standing in line or even sitting under fluorescent lights — and I diligently worked to minimize them at all costs.
But today, I joyfully remain seated. I am healthy, unfazed by the fluorescent lights and airport hustle and bustle that used to drain my energy in no time. I know I will be fine standing in line, just as I know I will be full of energy when I arrive back in my apartment at Rutgers University. After four long years of struggling with POTS — conventionally considered a chronic illness with no cure — I have reclaimed my freedom.
How is this possible? What changed?
Let me tell you.
I rewired my brain.
I was blessed to stumble across the Dynamic Neural Retraining System. DNRS is a fascinating cognitive rehabilitation program that views POTS and a host of other conditions — from chronic pain and fibromyalgia to anxiety and OCD — as manifestations of an overreactive threat response in our brain.
The impairment is thought to reside in the limbic system, which is tasked with filtering all sensory and emotional input and sounding alarm bells at any perceived threat. Obviously, this is a very important job! Problems can arise, however, if the limbic system becomes stuck in a chronic alarm state and shouts, “DANGER! DANGER!” in response to innocent stimuli. Repercussions echo throughout the entire body as the limbic system plays a key role in regulating hormones, immunity and — most crucial for me — the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls essentially everything our bodies do without us thinking about it…