One too many losses leads to anxiety and tics

This is a case history about an 8 year-old boy who developed tics related to the illness and subsequent death of his mother.

Jonathan's father brought him to see me when Jonathan was 8 years old to see if CranioSacral Therapy (CST) could help with some nervous habits he had developed.

Jonathan was a planned C-section and weighed 8 pounds 8 ounces at birth. He was born with fluid in his lungs (transient tachytnea of the newborn) and was in ICU for a week. His mother was diagnosed with a potentially fatal condition when he was 1 year old. She struggled with this illness for 5 years and died when Jonathan was 6 years old.

About 6 months after his mother died, the house he and his father were living in was tested and found to be contaminated with mold. Two months later, he and his father had to move out of their house for several months while the house was completely renovated to eliminate the mold. Around the time of the temporary move, Jonathan started developing a tic of licking his lips to the point of causing redness and irritation on the entire skin surrounding his mouth (upper, lower and sides of his mouth). Several months after this, he started exhibiting grunting periodically, another tic symptom.

After the tics started, Jonathan could go for months without licking around his lips. He had noticeable flare-ups when he took trips with his father that year and the following year to visit his grandmother. These visits were associated with both his mother's death (she died on a trip with Jonathan and his father while visiting her in-laws) and his grandfather's death (he flew up with his father for his grandfather's funeral 2 days after his grandfather died).

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) evaluation indicated a symmetric but very weak cranial rhythm. His diaphragms and whole body felt very tight and compressed. CST modalities used included the 10 Step Protocol, energy cyst release, regional tissue release and SomatoEmotional Release. Jonathan did quite a bit of licking around his lips and grunting during the first session, but he would stop when I pointed out what he was doing. After treatment, he reported a strange “calm” feeling, as it was not usual for him to feel relaxed in his body.

Jonathan's father said that a few days after his first CranioSacral therapy session, he started talking about his fear of getting old and dying. Once he brought up this subject (which he hadn't done before), he didn't want to talk about it anymore. His parents had been very open about talking about his mother's illness to Jonathan and the chance that she may die from it. It appears that this was a delayed SomatoEmotional Release from our first session. During the second session, Jonathan did much less licking and grunting and needed fewer reminders that he was doing this.

The frequency of licking and grunting progressively decreased over sessions 3 and 4 and were not present for sessions 5 and 6.

Areas that received attention during CST sessions included the sacrum, L5-S1 decompression, all diaphragms, thoracic inlet, regional tissue releases on his right shoulder and arm, and the hyoid/throat area which tended to hold a great deal of tension. The majority of restrictions were found in the body as opposed to the cranium, but several cranial issues were addressed including the cranial base as well as restrictions of his frontal bone, parietals and temporal bone. Balancing the heart protector meridian produced a calming effect.

Two months after his last CranioSacral treatment with me he went for a trip to see his grandmother and was symptom free. Six CST sessions were the only treatment Jonathan received for the tics. I spoke with his father 5 1/2 months after his last session and he had not had any tics since concluding the CST sessions.

For most of Jonathan's life, he lived with the fear of losing his mother due to her illness. This would be extremely traumatic to any child, and one would expect some type of ongoing behavioral acting out or emotional outbursts, neither of which Jonathan displayed. Being temporarily displaced from his house due to the mold remediation seemed to be the last straw in terms of Jonathan not being able to suppress his anxiety any more. Jonathan then began to deal with his anxiety by somatizing his distress in the form of the tics of licking and grunting. CranioSacral therapy was able to release this stored accumulation of distress, which freed Jonathan from his tics. His father subsequently remarried and Jonathan has a good relationship with his stepmother, who is providing him with the maternal love he needs.