In January, I began to have a deep pain through the right side of my hip and back. I had taken up running and was trying some new classes so I chalked the pain up to some kind of related tweak. I knew there were ways to move which should be helpful. So I did those movements. Some days they were effective and other days they were not.
The pain continued to grow. It grew so much that eventually I couldn’t sit for more than 10 minutes without excruciating pressure. After sitting, it would take several minutes before I could completely stand and start walking. I started spending most of my awake time in constructive rest position, on the floor.
I scheduled a deep tissue massage. In the past, this method had always taken care of any muscle tweaks in my body. The massage therapist remarked that my QL was tight and so I followed up with some suggested methods to release that muscle, but the pain was still there.
Next, I saw my chiropractor. He was able to see an imbalance in my hips which was causing pressure in my Sacro-iliac joint. He released my hips and gave me some exercises, but again, the pain had not left.
Four months later, longer than any injury in my life, my frustration and depression really began to grow. I tried to both ignore and conceal my pain while teaching Pilates but I had constant ruminating thoughts:
“WHAT is wrong with my back?! Where am I weak? Where can I stretch? Why isn’t this working? I must have the beginnings of arthritis. Is this osteoperosis? I ruined my body. I don’t understand my body. I don’t understand anyone’s body.”
I stopped all exercise but walking. Long walks were helpful, but I couldn’t always take an hour every day, so the pain would ebb and flow.
At five months of pain, I saw a Physical Therapist. He observed no alarming tension patterns but felt my upper body was weak and and advised some strengthening. I know many people with weak upper bodies who aren’t in pain, but I started doing pull-ups anyways. Again, some relief was provided but the pain didn’t completely go away.
And then one day a friend noticed that I was walking stiffly. She asked me if I’ve been stressed, lately. I had been under an extremely high level of stress and I openly shared those frustrations with her.
She replied, with certainty “You have TMS pain symptoms. This is emotional pain.” She continued to tell me that she had a herniated disc and degeneration in her spine. The diagnosis was surgical. Before giving in to the knife, she decided to read “Healing Back Pain” by John Sarno. After that, she visited a doctor who specialized in TMS. She was able to treat her pain without surgery.
She suggested that I write down my stresses whenever I felt physical pain. Look at the list and then throw it away.
I was curious about her experience and I considered TMS, but I did not believe that journaling would help my pain symptoms. After all, I am a person who goes to therapy, reads self-help books and takes time for self-care. I’m on top of my emotional health!
However, with her experience in mind, I reached out to a trusted energy worker. to help shift some of the negative energies that had taken residence in my life. The session was successful! I left his office 100% pain-free! Nothing. Not even a tinge.
“Finally,” I thought, “Something FINALLY worked!”
It was about an hour later when my pain returned. All it took was a stressful text. That’s it. The pain was back.
“What a waste,” I thought. “If only I didn’t get that text.”
The next day, still frustrated, and now having no other body workers on my call list, I journaled. And by journal, I’m saying I made a quick list on scratch paper. I read through the list, I thought about it for a moment and I threw it away. I didn’t feel better but I didn’t feel worse either. Journaling helped calm my mind down but the pain was still the same. I continued the process for another week.
At first, I noticed that I was waking up with less stiffness. I was able to tolerate sitting again. I started doing Pilates again! In less than two weeks from my first journal entry, the pain was gone! Completely gone!
How could this be? How did my emotional pain manifest into physical pain symptoms? And how could this journaling practice have been so effective?
For one, I have always been an emotionally “strong person.” I can work a lot. I’m the one who helps others “fix” their problems. I have always been very proud of that strength.
Some of that strength, I have come to realize, was not strength at all. Instead, I had actually just learned a useful skill. I had the power to calmly detach from emotional trauma in order to keep things moving. In fact, I could function through almost any trauma! My mind could anyways.
Essentially, I had learned to be an “adult.” An adult who knew how to hit the ground running. An adult who knew that I could sleep when I was dead. That as long as I worked hard, whatever I needed, would happen.
Thirty-five years of living equals thirty-five years of emotional traumas. There have been big traumas, like the suicide of a friend and becoming a single mother. There have been small traumas, like accidentally watching animal rights videos on Facebook or frustrating arguments with a friend. All of these traumas eventually get boxed up and they get packed away. With age, I had become quicker and more skilled at packing.
Connecting these pain symptoms to my emotional well-being, was the most important thing that has happened in my life since the birth of my child. Now, I look to my body to help regulate how much I pack into my life. My pain gave me permission to stop pushing and start feeling again. Sometimes I even need to sob once in a while, for like a whole minute, without trying to suffocate the tears away. Instead of creating a constant flow of self-deprecating punch lines, I’ve learned how to have gentler thoughts towards myself.
I’m not great at it yet, and the pain does come back at times, but now it’s a signal for me to check in with myself. Small life changes and the occasional open conversation bring me back to living pain-free.
Please consider tracking your pain symptoms before you consider surgery. You do not need to have suffered an unhappy childhood or a great emotional trauma for your pain symptoms to be TMS. We are all regularly faced with emotional traumas, both big and small. TMS is the simplest and the hardest solution for your pain symptoms, but one that will continue to reward you with vitality.
If you would like to talk about your pain symptoms with a Chicago MD who specializes in Tension Myositis Syndrome, please follow this link for an appointment or online workshop.
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