How Rachel balances her nervous system to overcome a lifetime of trauma

Rachel smiling to camera

The Apollo community is a diverse community who all share a common belief – that the human body is powerful and we have the capacity to heal. We'll highlight powerful stories from Apollo users and their causes through a series of member features. 

We recently had a meaningful conversation with Rachel, and we hope you enjoy.

Q: What role do stress and mental health play in your life?

A: I had a lot of trauma growing up. I had been to several psychologists and given various diagnoses: anxiety, borderline personality disorder, depression, PTSD, ADHD — the whole alphabet soup of conditions. On the day-to-day, what did this look like? Years and years of being unstable. At home, I would explode at the most minor thing. I never knew what was going to make me explode. And on a different day, another innocuous thing would set me off. Logically, I knew things weren't that big of a deal, but the tension in my body was impossible to control. A lot of this constant tension would result in really mean self-talk and calling myself names. 

I tried everything. I kept trying medications, transcranial stimulation, Ketamine treatment. I maxed out the solutions, and I still felt horribly unstable. I was embarrassed by it because I'm 51 and have spent the last 31 years in therapy, and I understood that my reactions were out of proportion. I hate the word 'over reaction' because it was my reaction. I logically knew the right way to deal with things, but my body was so incredibly tense it was impossible to access. Sometimes I'd find a solution that helped for a few minutes, but inevitably something would happen, and I'd go back to my less desired ways. I was a mess. 

Before Apollo, I spent a large chunk of my time feeling like a guitar string about to snap. Every time I was overwhelmed, I exploded. And I was easily overwhelmed.

I would try to avoid stressors, and I'd adopt an attitude of "I'm not going to let anything bother me." This wasn't sustainable. You can't do nothing, you can't create a life completely void of stress. I couldn't cater my life to avoid stress, especially as a mother. 

Q: When did you start to feel relief?

A: I read this article about an FBI agent with PTSD, and I connected with the way she talked about the constant state of adrenaline rush. I read about how she started feeling better from Apollo Neuro, and I was hooked to the idea.

I did a LOT of research on Apollo, and it was hard to believe it could do what I was reading. But I realized nothing I was doing was working — I needed something completely different. I saw wearables that would measure my stress in my research, and I'd think: I already know I'm stressed, that's not helpful. I need help addressing my stress. My boyfriend and I both agreed that while it seemed too good to be true, and looking at the expenses of past treatments if Apollo helps even a fraction of what it says, it'll be worth it. 

So I decided to try Apollo. My first thought was, okay, this feels good, but I didn't feel much. Fast forward to two weeks into wearing Apollo. Something to understand is that I'm highly reactive, and I have a low threshold for pain. I hit my foot on a piece of glass and was bleeding. I calmly called my boyfriend to help clean the cut. Whenever I talk about this, I get very emotional about it, and you should title this story "all I said was, 'ow.'" I repeat: all I said was "ow." In the past, I would have screamed incessantly. I would have said to myself, "You're an idiot. If your house were cleaner, you wouldn't step on broken glass." My calm reaction absolutely floored my boyfriend and my son. I still have a scar, and I like that. When I see the scar, it reminds me of the control I have over my reactions now. 

This controlled reaction wasn't a fluke or an exception; it was the start of the new me. Things just don't upset me in the way they used to. Or I should say, things still upset me, but they float away. I don't hold onto things and ruminate for days. It's now been six months with Apollo, and I find myself referring to "the way I used to be."

Q: What's the way Rachel used to be versus now?

A: There's a huge difference. I recognize my reactions and tension more quickly, and I can turn my attention to something else. I don't stay fixated like I used to. I used to keep going down a rabbit hole until I went to sleep. After the incident with cutting my foot on the glass, I thought, "is this how normal people get mad?". 

I worried I was in a honeymoon period, but Apollo has allowed me to look at the areas I need to work on without judging myself. I'm able to unpack all the stuff and look at the base problem to resolve that. There have been a few occasions where I've started to spiral out of control like I used to, and I stop and say, "okay, I need to stop. Now. I don't want to go there." So I don't. It's incredible. Apollo gave me the space to look at what was happening and decide how I will react for the first time in my life. 

I have a huge phobia of dentistry, and I need to have a tooth extracted. It took a lot to make the phone calls, and they couldn't take me for three weeks, and I needed the work done much sooner. My boyfriend shared encouraging words that we'd figure out, and I said, "okay, you're right. It's too much for me today; let's do it tomorrow." Last year, this would have resulted in me exploding.

Q: How do you use Apollo throughout the day?

A: It's important for me to use nearly all of the modes throughout the day. I don't use Clear and Focused or Social and Open quite as much. I use Energy and Wakeup every day. And Relax and Unwind and Rebuild and Recover are my secret weapons. I find the Rebuild and Recover patterns really calming, and it helps me be more mindful. Apollo is a tool that allows me to use the tools I was never able to use before. I used to know when my reactions were out of proportion or what I should do to step out of my spiral, but I couldn't do it because I was too tense, and my adrenaline was constantly pumping. 

I got an Apollo for my boyfriend, and my father bought one for my son. He's on the autism spectrum and has a DMDD (disruptive mood dysregulation disorder) diagnosis. And he's such a teenager. And yesterday he hugged me three times. He told me he always felt very irritable and tries not to show it, so he gets agitated and tense trying to control his irritability. After using Apollo a few times, he was hooked. He experiments with different modes a lot and feels so much better (giving me hugs!), and just yesterday he said, "if I could use this 24 hours a day, I would." He said he can see where the problems are and fix them now.

Borderline personality disorder has been a thorn in the side of psychology for decades. The immediate assumptions are that there's no physical cause, and it's impossible to treat. I constantly felt an automatic response of rage. Most people with a BPD diagnosis have out-of-proportion reactions, and they hate it. Now, I realize I don't have to be like that; my brain and my body don't have to react like that. I'm able to look at things more clearly. 

When I read about heart rate variability, I realized this makes so much sense. People with stronger resilience to stress feel better. It used to take me days to calm down from an episode, and I never really did calm down. Now, I'm treating my nervous system. I feel like the wrong part of my body was being treated all my life. I came to prefer being in a depressed state because I was calmer and more placid, and it was better than when I was highly reactionary.  

Q: Thanks so much for sharing so authentically on a topic that can be hard to talk about.

A: I feel like it's my job to get this out there so that other people know they don't have to suffer anymore. I am grateful for the development of Apollo. It saved my life. Apollo is a game-changer for a population that has always gotten the short end of the stick treatment-wise.