Key lessons I learnt and pitfalls to avoid
Recovery from a stress illness can make you feel quite apprehensive, not knowing what will happen, when, and why. My Recovery Journey Roadmap is a good place to start understanding TMS if you're not yet doing any of this mind-body work. I compiled this list from my own experience and from listening to others, these points are important to understand as they will prevent you from fighting against the way that TMS recovery typically flows.
Hopefully, this will answer some of the questions you might already have and settle your mind if you're experiencing fearful uncertainties.
Everyone's recovery will be different
Some people will understand TMS really quickly and find relief relatively fast, others may not. Some have decades of trauma to unravel with years of compounded stress and multiple debilitating symptoms to overcome, everyone is different. Some will be back to normal in a matter of weeks, some will need to work on this regularly throughout their lives. But at the very core, we are all the same.
We all struggle, we all worry, we all suppress things we cannot face. We all navigate the same human existence as everyone else, we are all flesh, bones, brains and emotions, regardless of what stage of life we are in, race, colour, sex or whatever else. Although we respond differently, we suffer the same.
A few suggestions
- Try not to compare yourself to anyone else and their specific timeline or journey, regardless of whether they have the same symptoms as you.
- Try not to keep tabs on yourself every day, expecting things to be better or fixed.
- Try to surrender to the situation (I realise this is easier said than done when you're in agony...but practice every day and it will get easier) accept the fact that you are OK and well and not broken.
- Try not to force your recovery - Unfortunately, you cannot fix yourself. Your healing and recovery will be a byproduct of your emotional discovery, nervous system regulation via self-soothing and mindset changes...these cannot be controlled as much as you would love them to be.
- Try to remain free from as much expectation as possible...you're trying to calm the nervous system here, not slam it into overdrive. If you're thinking stuff like "I've been doing this work for weeks now, I should be seeing results" or "I'm going to force myself to run this marathon today because I'm refusing to accept my weakness" - can you see how these thoughts put you into a fearful/negative/full-of-expectations-and-pressure frame of mind?
- Let go, let it happen as it needs to happen and accept your own pace. Giving in to this journey will bring you not only lots of stress release in general but a sense of something else more powerful at work than what you're directly aware of, or in control of.
The brain science at work here is keeping you in fight or flight mode, see if you can surrender to its flow not swim against its current. Over time, you will start to become more aware of how you’re thinking and behaving. The more you surrender to this journey without judging the experience, the better and faster your results should be.
Recovery is not linear
Sorry, this is a difficult pill to swallow. You may have good days and really bad days, you may have mostly really bad days, but then out of the blue, you realise "whoa, I don't hurt as bad today!" then that evening BOOM, you're back in the pit of despair. It won't feel like it, but this is a GOOD SIGN. It's actually working. Keep going!
Your mind is adapting to the new NORMAL. Your body is learning what to do with that. Most people I've heard stories from have been dealing with this TMS suffering for some time, usually years. It's really common to finally discover TMS after years of struggle and exhausting all other recovery options...so it makes sense that this would be seen sometimes as a last-ditch attempt, or "what have I got to lose?" desperation tactic. It actually works better at this point, because you literally have nothing else to try and you're unimaginably desperate and losing the will to live (literally). So with this in mind, naturally, it is going to take some time to unravel all the layers of crap that have built up over time to protect you and get you to this point.
TMS symptoms are just messengers, they are your mind's way of protecting you from emotional "predators" that are too shitty to bear. Your mind thinks that you couldn't possibly cope with the emotional burdens you have locked inside, so it gives you physical pains instead. Have you ever noticed your jaw clenched and you have no idea how long it's been clenched for? (Feels like about 15 years?) So you relax it, mindfully, only to realise that 5 minutes later it's clenched again? It takes time to unlearn overly practised things. Read the Recovery Journey Roadmap for more understanding of this process.
Sidenote: For those of you that were cured by just finding out that TMS exists, I applaud you, please be seated, I am too jealous to keep this conversation going, we cannot be friends...
Resistance is normal
Showing up for yourself can be hard, starting to take care of yourself can feel alien and annoying. Not relying on a doctor to heal you with a pill is frustrating. Feeling your feelings in your Emotional Discovery whether you follow the JournalSpeak practice or not can be really weird when you’re not used to it. Listening to your inner voice, or even trying to start to hear it can seem impossible. We're dealing with the subconscious mind here, and resistance to new things is totally expected.
We're attempting to break up years of conditioning and patterning, so it's normal to feel a mental temper tantrum.
You will probably feel anxious, fearful or even numb before you start attempting to journal anything at all, you will find every excuse to not do it. You might be thinking you won’t be able to do it correctly, or perfectly even.
Anxiety makes us feel like there has to be a right way and a wrong way to do things. Overcoming this is part of the journey I’m afraid. Each day you decide to show up and practice, even though you might be feeling like setting fire to your journal or throwing your computer out of a window, you are winning...overcoming your mental resistance is a MASSIVE step. Try to think of this work as non-negotiable, life or death, it will pull you back from the brink and heal you but you HAVE TO DO IT.
Many people just don’t get it
So many people I have reached out to, that I think are suffering from TMS (or they have reached out to me to help) have just stopped dead in their tracks when I've told them what I did to recover. "Do something for MYSELF? Okkkkk..." Or the most common response is just nothing, no reply, no "Cheers thanks a lot for taking the time to try to help me". Silence. Is it THAT weird?
It is kinda weird, but it's OH SO REWARDING. Not just for TMS symptom improvement either. The changes in yourself that you will uncover with the work I outline in the Recovery Roadmap are truly mind-boggling.
I would even go so far as to say that I would recommend this work to every human on the planet, pain or no pain.
It's life-changing in so many ways. I am braver, calmer, more resilient, empathetic and accepting of myself and others than I have ever been. I feel FREE. It's changed me to my very core and introduced me to a whole heap of new stuff I had no idea about...and that rabbit hole is still going!
Your belief may waver
Even after years of understanding the mind-body medicine approach, seeing the work making an impact, feeling better and having your life back, symptoms might sneak in and 'do their thing' and you'll be back to thinking your problems aren't TMS and they are in fact structural and seeing your chiropractor or doctor, I can almost guarantee it.
Been there, done that a few too many times than I care to admit. When I first read Dr Sarno's book Healing Back Pain, it was like reading my autobiography, my jaw was literally on the floor for most of it, I was highlighting so much of the text, that in the end, I just drew great big lines in the margin and eventually gave up highlighting and was just blown away by ALL of it.
Eventually, the "work" finally worked for me, I thought I was consistent and unwavering in my belief and dedication. Yet still, now and again, I think physically again "what if this time it WAS the mattress that made my back sore at night?" "What if I DO have issues with my herniated discs and sometimes it is that flaring up, not my TMS?"
These thoughts are normal and serve as a reminder that we're only human. They also serve as a reminder to keep doing the work, maybe not as often as before if you're naughty like me, but consistently either way. I’ve also found that just thinking those things can trigger your symptoms, the focus is back on the symptom, and whoop, there it is. MINDSET IS EVERYTHING!
TMS symptoms will probably get worse before they get better
This is a real turning point for many people, "if it's getting worse, then this work isn't good for me, I should stop and go back to my doctor".
As your brain is figuring this out, you are actually unearthing your real emotional baggage into the light of day and your nervous system can get pretty revved up. Whilst in the midst of journaling, meditating, going back to physical activity and learning more about TMS on the daily, my symptoms were having a full-blown circus. My main symptom flared like a raging fire and my brain was fighting back, but it didn't win. Find out more about this nervous system shake-up here.
Symptoms might change or move
As you're working your way through this emotional discovery and getting your life back, you might find that your symptoms change, just as I mentioned above that they will most likely flare up even more for a while before they start to get better.
I found that my back pain turned into burning sciatica for a few weeks, which were then joined by really bad eyeball headaches, where my head felt like there was a giant clamp tightening on it. I felt fatigued and just generally unwell like I was incubating the flu and my body ached. Granted, I was doing more yoga and pilates as part of my exposure therapy at the time, but this pain was different, this switched itself on when I was about to journal, or an hour after I got up and my brain started firing for the day (aka my worry-wart personality was awake).
I also experienced big bouts of shaky anxiety about nothing I was consciously thinking about, just that harrowing feeling like something bad was about to happen. They didn't last very long, but boy were they nauseating...the more I learnt and the more I followed and listened to my recovery gurus, the more I understood that this experience was all part and parcel of this stuff working itself out.
Your brain may try to make you believe that your TMS symptoms are physical structural issues by doing a sneaky satanic dance around your body, until (it hopes) you give up and believe it's a brain tumour (my fears were always very drastic) and go back to your "safety" pit of fear and despair. DO NOT GIVE IN.
Stand your ground to your symptoms, you now know exactly what they’re up to, stay calm, keep your mindset on track and carry on. Keep showing up and doing the work and please just TRUST IN THE PROCESS. Breathe, feel it, let it out, soothe and repeat.
You might become a "Student of Pain"
This is so easily done, and I still do it from time to time but now I can recognise it and stop it. When I really got into research and learning about TMS, I got into a few support groups on Facebook, (all of which are freaking awesome by the way and I highly support and recommend) they are like free therapy 24/7 moderated by the sweetest, kindest, smartest people, just like you. HOWEVER...it's really easy to get fully immersed into this world in a kind of unhealthy way.
If you're anything like I was, your symptoms ALREADY ARE YOUR WHOLE LIFE you don't need to propel yourself into it becoming even more than that, to the point where you're getting involved in everyone else's pain and symptoms and struggle. I love helping other people with their journey (yey that's why you're here) but wallowing in the symptom stories and becoming a student of the pain itself and that sad suffering world is not going to get you anywhere. Pity parties are awful for the sufferer and awful for those trying to help.
My personality often takes on a lot of other people's burdens, which is really difficult to deal with as you're already struggling yourself.
Be a student of healing, a student of self-growth, a student of YOU - that's magic and will really help propel you into the good stuff.
Don't stop when things get better
Just because you're having good days and feeling like you've turned a corner and "WHOOP!" it's all done now you can burn your books and dance around the fire - DON’T suddenly stop your journey - keep going!
I fell down this hole various times, I still do, I don't mind admitting it. I'm all good, pain-free and then won't journal or meditate for a week...then "oh shit, ouch”.
Go back to watching a few reminder videos, get the journal out and do some work. For many of us, these practices will be ongoing for quite some time...and that's OK, just don't become complacent unless you want flare-ups to ruin your week. Nobody's perfect, just know that you have a way out of these situations and you know exactly what to do, as and when they arise.
You may not realise the moment your symptoms stop
You’ll probably realise when you have less pain, or maybe even document your good days compared to mostly bad, but if you’ve been practicing becoming indifferent to your pain and getting on with your life regardless, accepting it for what it is, that the moment when it STOPS it might just pass you by.
I remember the first time I had a significant reduction in my pain I was walking down the street and suddenly remembered. "WAIT, WHERE IS IT?" A few times I’ve had a few consecutive days of no pain and wondered what I did to switch it off and scramble through my memory tracing my steps to see what I might have done differently. But that’s the beauty of the 'being indifferent' part of this process. The less attention you give the symptoms, the more they will fade away into nothing.
Unfortunately, when you remember that they’re NOT there, they might cunningly slide back into play, but the more you practice surrendering to the fact that you’re OK, stop trying to fix it, the easier this becomes. If I wake up in the morning and feel sore, I draw the curtain on the focus, literally imagining a black curtain being drawn across those fearful thoughts, and think about something else. Usually repeating "I am fine, thanks for the message but I’m OK" a couple of times to myself, smile, breathe and it usually fades pretty quickly.
Your friends and family might not be on board
My loved ones already thought I was crazy before, and they're not wrong. Although some of them didn't tell me to my face, I’m pretty sure they thought I had lost it when I told them how I cured myself of the sofa-bound constantly struggling cripple they were used to.
My friends look at me wide-eyed and nod in disbelief. They're happy I'm OK, but they don't really get it, I tell them all about it excitedly and get very little or no response.
But here's the thing: THEIR BELIEF IS NOT CRUCIAL OR IMPORTANT TO YOUR OWN SUCCESS!
Sure it would be nice to have the support of your family, friends or even life partner...but sometimes people just don't get it. But they don't have to...eventually they might, but it's not essential. This work is for YOU, so don't be discouraged if they're not on board. Sometimes recovery can feel quite lonely, but there are so many support groups online that are cheering you on, you probably won’t need more than that. What you have found here will change your life, you will feel the need to pass on the good news, but just know that it can be met with some awkward weirdness. I'm weird too, sit with me!
What worked for me might be different from what works for you
My recovery journey has a particular narrative and the gurus I followed and learned from might not match the ones you do.
I journaled, meditated, breathed and yoga'd my way out, your story might look different to this. Learn all the techniques and try them out. Sometimes you can journal so much on certain subjects that you're just going round in circles and eventually you might just have to stop and let go. The letting go and just trusting in the process can be enough for some people to recover...this is your journey to figure out. I can only share what I've learned and hope it shines some light in your path.
One day, you will be grateful for your pain
I left this one for last for a reason, because when someone told me this whilst I was at my worst - it made me hate them, until I actually understood what my pain actually WAS.
How could I ever be grateful for this horrendous shitshow? It sounds nuts but it will become clearer the further you move through your journey. Try to imagine your symptoms as kind and thoughtful messengers. Your symptoms are your friend just trying to help you. Your subconscious and your nervous system don't have a voice, so they have to shout in another way.
Your pain is YOU. Your inner self, begging for attention. If you can switch your mindset from fearing it, fighting it and hating it, to caring for it and loving it, the faster you will change the trajectory of your thought patterns and unshackle yourself from TMS FOR GOOD!
Imagine your pain as your inner child, that little baby-faced you, arms outstretched, begging for comfort and love. This should help you to reprogram those fearful set-in-stone neuropathways and cue the brain to ease-up on the pain firing.
Stay calm, trust in the process and keep showing up for yourself. Take a look at the FAQs page too there's lots of great insight there and feel free to contact me with any questions you have.