Accepting TMS is crucial in your commitment to recovery
At first, when I learned about TMS and mind-body disorders, I knew that this was definitely what was going on. The fact that my mind was affecting my body made SO much sense to me, I was annoyed that I knew so little about it. However, had I learnt about this earlier on in my life, I’m not sure I would have been so convinced.
Not everyone's story is like this. You should always see your medical doctor for a full examination, to rule out anything else going on in your body. This can be a conflicting time, as my doctors SHOWED me abnormalities in my back, but I later came to understand that these abnormalities are NORMAL abnormalities, apparent in the majority of people my age, most of which don't experience pain at all...
Nothing I tried ever worked
Believe me, I had tried every trick in the book. Every test, every type of doctor, every physiotherapist, osteopath, every chiropractor, every exercise technique, back-braces, every type of drug you can think of including steroid injections and all sorts of frightening prescriptions.
Everything except surgery (thankfully) and NOTHING had worked. I was so afraid of potentially having to live my life in a wheelchair with no hope for recovery, that was the peak of fear for me. I had spinal MRIs which showed scoliosis, a bulging herniated disc and disc degeneration, but even my doctors said that I shouldn't be having this much pain. I was admitted to the ER frequently for valium injections, which instantly worked. In hindsight, this should have been a big red flag to me that this wasn't caused by a structural abnormality problem if it could be remedied with a muscle relaxant. But what did I know!? For that moment I was out of pain, and high, and honestly I didn't care...but not for long.
Treatments made me worse
My symptoms spiralled, and I retreated even further into despair. The stress and overwhelming fear of THIS being my whole life made the pain skyrocket, I was UTTERLY DESPERATE and I was only in my mid-thirties at this point!
Around that time, I was thrown a lifeline that would change everything. I was recommended one of Dr Sarno’s books, 'Healing Back Pain' from a friend of a friend. What did I have to lose? To cut a long story short, I was finally faced with what was actually going on, I saw myself on every page of that book and just KNEW that this was what was happening in my body. I was so relieved and SO excited.
My belief wavered
Especially when my symptoms changed, I then started to get really bad headaches that lasted for months at a time, so bad that I was convinced I had a brain tumour…so I had MRIs and cat scans...which showed nothing.
I was yet to understand that the changes in my symptoms and the appearance of them elsewhere in my body were actually good signs and served as further belief later on...
Sometimes I thought 'I must have an injury or my herniated disc must be hurting me and maybe it's just my fear of TMS that's just lying on top of that', but again I was wrong. When I look at the symptoms closely (hindsight for the win!) my pain wasn't in the disc in my back, the pain was in persistently contracted muscles around that area, that I sometimes felt in my hips and into my buttocks too. I have a theory on why back pain is the most common area for TMS symptoms, I'll post that soon.
Unfortunately, doubt, fear, confusion and wavering belief is all part of this journey, you could even call it a symptom in itself. I wish I had known this in the beginning. Not for everyone, but for most. It’s really hard to believe that stress and fear and emotions can do this to the physical body and make you feel like you’re literally being stabbed in the back with a hot machete. But let me tell you, HAND ON HEART, this is real. I know it sounds completely crazy and I've lost my mind. But this is more real than you could imagine.
Your body is literally BEGGING you, SCREAMING at you to take notice of the emotional pains you’re stuffing away inside...
Am I expecting you to believe that by addressing your emotions and mindset can cure you of what feels like a terminal illness? Yes, I know it's a hard pill to swallow, but it works better than any pill I ever swallowed, I promise you.
Stop treating the physical symptoms
The mind is the key player in TMS, not the body. Addressing your emotional self, instead of your physical self, as difficult as that is when you’re really suffering, is crucial to this work having a positive effect on your symptoms.
In order to teach my brain that my problem wasn't in my body, I stopped ALL physical treatments. This is a key part of Dr Sarno’s methodology and essential part of TMS recovery. For me, that was a big step and so I expect it will be for you too. I didn't miss the costs of these treatments though, so that was a small positive to get me going!
Going cold turkey
I was so into it all, stopping everything was a huge decision and leap of faith. No more daily shiatsu massager, (that I was using so often I had calluses on my back!) no more chiropractor, no more physiotherapy, no more heat packs, no more specifically targeted back/core strengthening exercises, no more steroid injections, no more valium, no more hypnotherapy for pain relief. I still took over-the-counter painkillers fairly regularly when I was really bad, but nothing else. I took control back and got myself moving again with a very different hopeful perspective.
I totally relied on these treatments to maintain my sanity, but all they were doing was subconsciously reinforcing the message to my brain that the physical symptom was the issue that needed treating directly.
I felt a little better straight away, just from stopping all these things and KNOWING I had the power within myself instead, frankly it was a relief. I had put so much meaning and fear into each treatment, that I expected them to fix me, every day. And although they had given me some relief, it was very short-lived and usually followed by a fear-fuelled flare-up or general worsening of the pain going forward…
Basically, I was feeding my symptoms with fear and ignoring my emotional self. I put so much emphasis on fixing the symptoms that I was constantly reinforcing my physical diagnosis whilst exacerbating them in the process.
Even though I knew I had TMS, I still waived into thinking these things could help me cope with the symptoms. If only I had properly understood this key element and followed these simple instructions earlier...
So, if you’re exercising for your general health, then perfect, if you’re going for a massage to feel amazing overall and not to try to fix your symptoms then great. Just try not to rely on external treatments to alleviate your pain...because let's face it, they probably aren't anyway.
Where to next?
The first thing that Dr Sarno recommended to do is to STOP fearing physical activity and resume normality as you were before your symptoms hit you.
Click here to continue to the next section (Get Moving)