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From Spondylolisthesis to Competitive Ice Hockey

Discussion in 'Success Stories Subforum' started by knight, Jan 28, 2020.

  1. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    I have been wanting to post this success story for a while, hopefully so that it can benefit others. When I first came to this site I could find only 1 success story of someone with Spondylolisthesis, but that story really gave me hope and helped me tremendously, so I promised myself that if I did get better I would post a success story to help others with that “condition.” But I hesitated for a long time, not convinced that I was fully “cured” or that I could really claim that what I had achieved was a complete success. So a big shout out to BirdSetFree who responded to a post I wrote recently - her comments are exactly what I needed to push me over the top…she helped me rethink what it means to have “success” with TMS and helped me to feel like I had already “arrived.”

    More on all of that at the end of this post. Also a warning - I want to make this as helpful to others as possible so I am going to include as much detail and insight as possible. The result? This is going to be VERY, VERY long! So feel free to skim!

    I am going to start at the beginning and explain my journey and what helped me, but before I do I wanted to start by saying that one thing I have realized and that many people echo on the forums here is that the journey is bound to be a little different for everyone. We all come into this with a different history, different circumstances, different ways of coping, etc. I suspect that most of what helped me is what helped others and would help others, but I definitely read some things along the way that did not exactly fit for me, so a big part of dealing with TMS is finding the things that are most effective for you, and that will be a little different for each person. So keep that caveat in mind.

    Ok, so onto the backstory (no pun intended) and my journey….I am a 43 year old male and I would describe myself as a very active and athletic person. My back pain started in my late teens - I played lacrosse in college and missed an entire season due to unexplained lower back pain (the doctors at the time couldn’t find anything wrong with my back, but when I left college and went home for the Summer, my pain gradually and sort of inexplicably disappeared over the course of a few weeks). The pain was mostly gone for at least a decade until I started having achy pain in my lower back in my early to mid 30’s. And for the last 5 years or so I have had a continuous ebbing and flowing of pain - I have had some weeks or months when I have had no pain, but mostly I have had some level of pain and especially in the last couple years it has been pretty much non-stop. The pain would slowly escalate over weeks or months and then usually culminate in some kind of an incident, where I would feel a pop or something like that and then be in extreme pain, almost unable to move for a period of a few days. And the pain has alway been pretty localized in my lower back - no pain down my legs or anything like that, but at times the pain was excruciating.

    An MRI 5 years ago showed that I had a bilateral pars defect (I was told I probably had it since adolescence and supposedly it explained my back pain in college). A pars defect is a scary thing - basically a stress fracture in your vertebrae that never heals and that supposedly causes instability. The image of my spinal column essentially broken (in my case at L3/L4) scared me and convinced me that I had a serious structural issue. And so for most of the last 5 years I tried almost everything that one could try to “fix” a bad back (though looking back on it, it turned into almost an obsession and a lot of my mental energy was expended trying figure out how to heal my back). I tried inversion tables, standing matts, a sit-stand desk (that I actually like and think is good whether one has back issues or not), ergonomic chairs, building my core, losing weight (I lost 25lbs and was very lean and fit), chiropractors, yoga, stretching, PT etc.

    Then about a year ago after another “injury” I got another MRI and this time the MRI was really frightening. I now had spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebrae over the other) and the MRI showed all sorts of other things like some bulging discs and even a bilaterally torn ligamentum flavum, which is a ligament that runs the length of the spine. The radiologist even noted in the report that the doctor should question me about previous traumatic injury (although I have to give the orthopedist I saw credit - when I asked him about some of the scary stuff in my MRI he sort of shrugged it off and pretty much completely waved off my questions about the torn ligaments, so it was not really his fault that I got so carried away). But the orthopedist did tell me that I could get a spinal fusion, so then I started really considering that (although again to his credit he did not push me and told me that as long as my quality of life was ok, he would not recommend I go for surgery).

    But after that 2nd MRI I really became convinced that my back was very unstable and became both very frightened and very obsessed with “fixing” my problem. The idea that part of my spine was kind of detached from the lower part and slipping over it really scared me. It worried me on a day to day basis and affected my every day life. On a deeper level it worried me that I would not be able to continue working (this was particularly stressful because I have small kids and a wife who depend on me and I had a few acute episodes when I couldn’t work for a few days at a time). And I am a very active and athletic person and am an avid ice hockey player - the idea that I might not be able to play ice hockey anymore itself would probably have led me to get a spinal fusion if I believed that would have kept me on the ice.

    About a year ago someone recommended Healing Back Pain to me and I will never forget my initial reaction to reading the beginning of the book. I thought I had stepped into some crazy world of almost pseudo-science (or worse than that really) and that the book was clearly not for me. I did not see myself in the pages of the book in any way and wrote it off. But then about 6 month ago, after an “injury” playing ice hockey, I started to lose hope and become kind of desperate. I actually remember being in tears at the realization that maybe I just couldn’t play hockey anymore because my back was too unstable.

    But the thing that made me turn back to Sarno was that I was realizing more and more that my pain didn’t really make sense. I was in a lot of pain for months and then we went on vacation and for the week I was away, I just forgot about my pain. I forgot that I ever even had any back issues. Now you might say, well sure, you were on vacation relaxing so that shouldn’t be surprising. But I was not on a relaxing vacation - I was in Disney World with 3 small kids, not sleeping that much, running around all day long, etc. I think I actually lost like 5lbs on the trip just from sheer physical exertion. And there were other things like that that didn’t really add up. Even in times of acute back pain, I never really had trouble lifting very heavy things. So standing in my kitchen for 30mins would hurt my back sometimes a lot, but I could pick up both of my kids, who together weigh 110lbs, and that would never hurt me. Sometimes it would even seem to make my back feel better!!! Or I’ll also never forget how much my back hurt in the weeks leading up to the birth of my 3rd child - I was aware that stress could be part of that, but right after she was born, when I was in the hospital sleeping on a tiny couch (and not really sleeping that much in general) my back pain just went away again.

    So one day I decided to try reading Healing Back Pain again. And it’s really amazing and I don’t even know how to make sense of the difference between the 1st time and the 2nd time, but all of a sudden I just really saw myself on the pages and had this almost creepy moment when I realized that what Sarno was describing really DID fit me. This is an obscure reference, but it was almost like that scene in The Sixth Sense when Bruce Willis finally realizes that he is dead. It’s like it was there in front of him all along, but only then near the end of the movie did the pieces come together in a way that he could see it…..and when it did, it was like a lightening bolt realization. That’s what it felt like for me!!!

    I remember that night I got up after reading part of the book and just instantly felt better. I felt like I could stand for a long time and not be in pain, etc. It felt almost miraculous. Now I am not one of those people who was just healed instantly after reading. The feeling sort of faded and I began to doubt TMS pretty quickly thereafter, so it took many more months of work and effort to get to where I am now, but that initial moment of realization was the starting point and over the last 6 months it has been helpful to occasionally reflect on how I DID in fact feel better, even if it was somewhat fleeting, after just reading part of the book.

    So let me give some more details on my process of healing, post-TMS realization………First and foremost, this forum/website was really helpful in the beginning in getting me started. One of the first things I realized from poking around on the site was that it would be good to try to see a doctor versed in TMS to see what they would say about my situation. Again it’s interesting to reflect on how things change, but when I first considered that, it seemed like something almost far-fetched and not something I was ever likely to actually do. But within a week it started to feel like a really good idea and I am fortunate enough to live near NYC where it’s not that hard to find a TMS practitioner.

    I remember when I was doing research on this site, Steve Ozanich (whose book I read and found to be really helpful) recommended to some other person in a forum post who was looking to see someone in the NY area that that they should see a doctor in NJ (I am forgetting his name, but I think he is more of a family medicine type doctor) instead of Dr. Rashbaum (who worked with Dr. Sarno and who took over his practice when he died). I think his concern was that Dr. Rashbaum might be less confident in his diagnoses and might leave a person with less conviction about TMS. But I decided to see Dr. Rashbaum anyway and give it a shot and it was very helpful. In fact, I actually came away with almost the opposite concern. Dr. Rashbaum concluded with a pretty high level of confidence that I have TMS, but I had a hard time believing it. I didn’t really understand how, on the basis of his exam/consultation, he could be so confident. But I definitely walked away feeling more confident about my having TMS, so it was nice to get the stamp of approval from a doctor and I would definitely recommend that step to anyone who has the ability to see a TMS-minded practitioner. I honestly think that even seeing someone online would be helpful for those who are not physically near a TMS doctor. There is a physical exam but I think a big part of the diagnosis probably stems from patient history, talking to the patient, etc.

    I also attended the lectures that Dr. Rashbaum gives…..I found the first one to be moderately helpful, but the second one was more helpful (in the first one he talks about the basis for TMS and studies that are relevant to it and in the second one he talks more about what to do to try to deal with one’s TMS). And aside from the lectures themselves, it was beneficial to be in a room with other people who are suffering from TMS - seeing people in the flesh helped. But I think a similar thing is achieved on this website and the forums on it. You might not have the face-to-face interaction here, but you get much more intimate sharing of information, stories, support, etc. Really this website and the forums are a much more powerful resource.

    One of the difficult things with TMS in the beginning is that you don’t really know exactly what you should “do” to help yourself. I was reading Sarno’s books, but I felt liked I needed to do more and didn’t exactly know what. So this website was helpful for me at that time too.

    At first I didn’t really understand why reading and rereading the books would be helpful, but I came to understand that in a sense I had developed a habitual pattern of thought that was leading to TMS (obsessive fear that something was structurally wrong with me, etc.) and that reading and even rereading the same passages was sort of a way to remind myself of how I should think about things and break the pattern of thought that I was trapped in. Intellectually I understood that I was probably suffering from TMS, but I would keep slipping back into old habits and thought patterns and doing a little TMS reading every day helped keep me on the right track.

    Related to the above, on a gut level I was not 100% convinced that I had TMS. Even Dr. Rashbaum telling me that I had it did not completely convince me. The paradox of it is that in order to have relief from TMS, you really have to believe it, but you sort of need evidence that the pain goes away BY believing in it in order to believe it! So what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Some of Alan Gordon’s posts on this site really helped me with this. Basically, it’s a slow process of building evidence that it is TMS, which leads to greater confidence in the diagnosis, which then leads to more success and more evidence, and so on. Somewhere he suggested that people start making an Evidence List (not sure if that is what he called it), so I started doing that and it was helpful. It was amazing how quickly I would start to doubt things, so it was really helpful to be able to look back at something I had written 2 weeks earlier that reminded me that I had some pain but that the pain DID in fact subside even though I was standing or playing hockey or working out or doing some of the things that had previously been causing me pain.

    The first time I started playing hockey again (or the first bunch of times actually), I was really scared that I was going to hurt myself. I felt similarly about going to the gym and working out and lifting weights. I definitely pushed myself early on (partly because I was just so eager to start playing hockey again), but I did not really have pain or if I did it was minimal and I wrote it off as TMS. Actually now that I think about it, the first handful of times I was very achy after playing and very scared that I was hurting myself, but again I was able to convince myself that it was TMS and it subsided. Pretty soon I was back at it full force and for the last few months I have had almost no pain while playing hockey and have had only 1 or 2 moments at the gym where I have felt some tweaks of pain in my back (but again I have managed to convince myself that it’s TMS and they have quickly gone away).

    For those of you out there who are active and worry about returning to vigorous athletic activity, I want to make sure people understand what playing ice hockey is like and what would occasionally happen to me on the ice (and obviously everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for everyone, but I want people to understand just how “vigorous” my activity has been and what is possible with TMS healing). First of all, the hockey I am playing is near college level, so it’s intense. And in the last few months I have had at least a couple instances where I have been knocked straight on my ass - like my feet left the ground and I landed directly on my back. I also had at least 2 incidents where I was skating near full speed, caught an edge or got tripped, and went sliding VERY hard into the boards, usually with my back hitting first. In all of these cases I got up and was totally fine. Like nothing - no pain at all. These experiences definitely helped me start to accept the TMS diagnosis!!!

    I am into meditation so I started trying to meditate more and I started journaling. I think meditation is incredibly useful in life in general, and I think it has definitely helped me stay more present and in touch with my inner feelings. And it’s helped me to notice my habitual patterns of thought that lead to fear and obsession with pain. But I am not sure about the journaling. It did help me get in touch with hidden emotions as well, so in that sense it was helpful, but I would also journal a lot about my pain, so to some extent it sort of made me continue to obsess about my back. I still think it was/is a net positive, but I probably could have been more directed in the way I was journaling. I never did the Structured Educational Program, but I suspect that could have helped me be more targeted in my writing.

    Another thing I tried because I felt like I needed to “do” more, was read The Presence Process (this was actually recommended by Dr. Rashbaum). I am a little on the fence as to whether I would recommend it. Overall, I think it was helpful, and it really helped me see things and see myself very differently, so I guess overall I would recommend it. But to me the book is a little out there and there were some things that I had trouble accepting. I also could never really get into the breathing that the book recommends and just found regular meditation to be better (but I accept that I may just not have been doing it right or wasn’t bought in on the process enough).

    I also read most of Steve Ozanich’s book and I found that to be helpful as well. All of this reading was part of my daily diet of TMS reading, which I would usually do at night for 30mins or so (sometimes more).

    On a daily basis I tried to be more present and mindful, and to be more comfortable with the pain when I had it. Again some of Alan Gordon’s posts helped me with this - to understand that elimination of pain is not the immediate goal. Rather, the short term goal is to change one’s relationship to the pain. This is no easy task, because obviously it seems like the whole point of all of this is to be free from pain!!! So I would have days when I could anticipate the pain and welcome it and really genuinely be accepting of it (TPP helped some here, because the book is all about integrating experiences and not rejecting or resisting them). I took the attitude that having pain would present me with an opportunity to just be with the pain and accept it, so I tried to turn it into a sort of positive experience. But I would have days when, although that was my intention, I found myself resisting the pain and getting frustrated with the fact that it was persisting.

    My main problem at that point (which I am still dealing with to some extent even now) was pain while standing for long periods (30mins or more). I had every reason to believe it was TMS (I was getting knocked on my ass playing hockey and deadlifting with very heavy dumbbells, but I was having pain standing still!!!), but I couldn’t completely accept it (and even still can’t 100% accept it, though I am close to 100% now).

    I was also getting frustrated with how long it was taking to be "healed.” It didn’t make sense to me initially that it should take a long time. I had read about people feeling pain free in days or weeks, and I just didn’t at first understand why, once I understood TMS and had taken all the steps that I had, the pain wouldn’t just go away. What more could I do? What I came to realize (and maybe this isn’t the answer for everyone but it was definitely a big part of the answer for me) is that TMS can be kind of like having an addiction or obsession (that sounds obvious now that I am writing it, but I had never thought of myself as trying to battle an addiction in the way that an alcoholic battles addiction). So I came to understand that I had these deeply ingrained patterns of thought and emotion and that it would take A LOT of time and effort and mindfulness to change them. I couldn’t undo years or even a lifetime of thought patterns overnight. That realization helped me a lot, because prior to that, the persistence of my pain in the face of all that I was doing was making me doubt TMS.

    I also think that I was pressuring myself a lot. I had a follow up appointment with Dr. Rashbaum months after the lectures and I think I had subconsciously set as my goal to be pain free by the time I went back to see him. And I was not. In fact, I had pain in my back as I walked through NYC on my way to his office. But somehow once the appointment was over, I guess maybe I felt like the pressure was no longer there, and I felt better!

    Soon after the appointment, and still feeling kind of stuck, I posted on the forum here asking for advice about pain while standing and really just looking for some feedback as to whether it could possibly be structurally caused and not TMS. By this point I had come to accept that the “injuries” I had had while playing hockey and doing other things were almost certainly manifestations of TMS, but I still could not shake the pain I was getting while standing and was doubting whether that was TMS. And I indicated in that post that I really wanted to write my success story, but felt like I wasn’t ready because I didn’t yet believe that I had fully achieved a success. I believed that I needed to be pain free and basically “cured” of my pain in order to justify writing a success story. It’s clear now looking back that this was just more pressure I was putting on myself - I think I even knew that at the time, but I still believed I hadn’t completely “arrived” at the finish line.

    BirdSetFree was kind enough to respond multiple times and share her wisdom, so a huge shout out to her for her help. Thank you BirdSetFree! Her comments really helped me reframe where I was with all of this. I realized a few important things and it’s pretty amazing but almost instantly after my exchange with her, I felt like I had finally “arrived!”

    First, I came to redefine what success really means in the context of TMS. “Cure” was just the wrong way of thinking about it. That was and I think is very unrealistic. I realized that whatever had caused me to have the TMS symptoms in the first place (my personality, my life experiences, etc.) will likely make me prone to getting some TMS pain in the future. Again I draw the analogy to a recovering alcoholic - something makes that person predisposed to have a problem with alcohol in the first place, and once they are sober it does not mean that they can expect to be around alcohol all the time and never have some internal struggle or even setbacks. And so, I shouldn’t expect that I am going to close the door on TMS and never experience pain again. Like a recovering alcoholic, I will probably be challenged in the future, will need to remain vigilant, etc. And having no pain ever should not be the goal, in my opinion, and will only set one up for frustration and doubt and needless suffering.

    I also just don’t think I appreciated how “successful” my healing was. Again, if measured in terms of complete elimination of pain, I felt like I was not successful. But when I stepped back to think about how my life had changed (and showed myself some compassion and understanding), it was pretty remarkable. 6 or 7 months ago I believed that I could never play my beloved sport ice hockey anymore (or that if I did I would need a spinal fusion first) and I lived in constant fear of hurting myself - hurting myself if I sat too long, stood too long, turned the wrong way, sat in the wrong kind of chair, etc. I felt like my back was so fragile that I had to do things in exactly the right was so as to not hurt myself. And I was very afraid that I would not be able to work and support my family. I was obsessed with my pain and spent countless hours doing things or strategizing to try new things to “fix” my problem. So my pain might not be completely gone, but I am living my life again, feeling great, pretty much doing whatever I want, and so on a more psychological level I feel like I have achieved a huge success.

    And I realized that I was just pressuring myself way too much and really resisting the pain. I must say, even at the time I was kind of aware that I was doing it, but I couldn’t help it and couldn’t figure out a way to stop doing it. Like I wrote earlier, obviously the whole point of all of this would appear to be to eliminate one’s pain. So why the hell would anyone “accept” it, right? But that is really not the main goal and I pretty wholeheartedly believe that the more one resists pain and pushes it away the more likely it is to persist. I had experienced panic attacks when I was much younger and it was the same thing with that - the more I worried about and resisted getting really anxious (and having rapid heart rate and all that goes with a panic attack) the more likely it was to happen and I eventually learned to just let it happen, accept it, and let it pass, which is how I managed to stop having runaway panic attacks.

    The final thing that I got from my exchange with BirdSetFree was that I was just doubting too much. It’s hard not to do that - believing that all of one’s chronic pain is TMS is easier said than done, but I think this is part of what is so great about this forum. Just having some support and encouragement and validation that my lingering pain was almost certainly TMS really helped me. Somehow it really helped me just let go and say, “Enough. Enough doubting already. Just accept it.” I think early on it’s important to have evidence to bolster one’s belief in TMS, but I think sometimes, especially when the healing is already well underway, the belief in TMS needs to precede the evidence a little bit. I realized I had nothing to lose by just giving myself over to TMS - I no longer had any fear that I was going to hurt myself by standing so I might as well just accept that it’s probably TMS. Now when I am standing and feel pain set in and when I can observe my mind go to its familiar place of feeling like it is the standing that is causing it, I sometimes just repeat, “this is TMS, this is TMS,” almost like I am just kind of shouting over the voice in my mind that wants to say, “this is your bad back!” And that seems to help!

    The beautiful thing is that I don’t even care that much either way. Again, I am still not 100% convinced that the pain I get while standing is TMS. I mean, I am about 95% sure, but not 100%. But because of the new framework I have for viewing all of this, it doesn’t really matter to me. I expect that I WILL sometimes experience pain (in the same way that an alcoholic probably expects that they will struggle being around alcohol at some point in the future). And that is ok! (Again that is the compassion and lack of pressure that I try to extend to myself). But I am no longer afraid that something is really wrong or that I am going to hurt myself, and I continue to live my life and do the things I want to do, so as long as that is the case it doesn’t really matter to me what is causing it. Again, I am pretty convinced that it is TMS, but the relentless search for the “right” explanation for my pain and the pressure I was putting on myself to “figure it out” and rid myself of the pain completely is exactly what was causing me to continue to suffer. So I no longer feel that sense. And I feel like I have finally arrived!

    For anyone who has made it this far, I am sorry that this was so long! I just wanted to include as much detail as I could to help as many people as I could. Like I wrote in the beginning, the journey is going be a little different for everyone, but I have learned a lot along the way from my own experiences and from the great insights on this website and forum, in the books I read, etc., so hopefully some of what I wrote here helps to pass the torch of learning and healing along to others.
  2. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    birdsetfree likes this.
  3. birdsetfree

    birdsetfree Well known member

    So this was your awakening. Your conscious mind recognised the truth and fitted the pieces of the puzzle together.

    This is your process of awareness of your conditioned fearful thinking and your mindful approach to creating new pain/fear free pathways.

    Lol! Great evidence and wonderful descriptions - felt like I was on the ice with you!

    You finally jumped in with both feet. Well done!

    You are cultivating true indifference to the pain and fear. Be mindful about bargaining with the pain, you know when it will come and you know what to do when it does, stay focused on self care instead.

    And Congratulations!! I am so proud of you!
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  4. SRcombs

    SRcombs Peer Supporter

    This!!!!! I've kind of been heading in this direction with TMS myself. That the "stinkin' thinkin'" (to use an old SNL reference) was an addiction and just like any other addiction will have to be dealt with periodically for the rest of ones life. But, also, just like an addiction it can be overcome with persistence and patience.
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  5. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    @SRcombs , glad you see it that way too and agreed that it can be overcome. I am a relative newcomer to this compared to many others on the site, so I guess time will tell, but that is certainly how I am viewing it now, and the very act of viewing it that way has taken some of the pressure off and made me feel better!

    And @birdsetfree, thanks again for your kind words and commentary. Very helpful. And yeah, I didn't really emphasize the self-care bit....the fact that I didn't mention it probably tells you something. Clearly that is something I need to continue to prioritize, so thanks for reminding me!!!
    JanAtheCPA and birdsetfree like this.
  6. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi kight,

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful success story.

    I think what jumps out at me is your "imperfect-perfect cure" and the way you've relaxed around any remaining sense of symptoms. I think this is what helped me in the final weeks and months of my process back in 2013. I had some pain, but I realized that last 2 or 5% of remaining symptom mattered not at all, and that my focus on ridding myself of all of it in order to feel safe and successful was actually holding me up. Congratulations on finding your way through this sticky road block!

    Another aspect of your work is the way you see your "acceptance" or "belief" in TMS. You can see how you're getting caught with this, and that indeed you can get better without "100% belief." This is another common hang up which you've undone. I think of acceptance as a work in process, and that parts of us are all-in, and other parts are not. I think this is natural, and it seems you've come to this too.

    In both of these ways I sense a gentleness, an acceptance about things which is a direct counter to our long-standing personalities which want solid ground and surety and feel this surety brings us safety.

    Enjoy your physical self and keep on Hockeying!

    birdsetfree likes this.
  7. Jocko1

    Jocko1 Peer Supporter

    I really related to this post. My conditioned response is sitting, not standing. Thanks for your advice.
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  8. grapefruit

    grapefruit Peer Supporter

    Great post, awesome healing story. I totally related to the fear of losing your favourite sport. That was also huge for me. Also I liked the movie reference - for me it felt like living in the Matrix. That's how I felt every day when I could tell the pain was starting to subside. Reality did a complete 180 turn for me.

    I too had an annoying stiffness linger in my back and hips for several months after the severe pain left that just could not shake, and too questioned, am I 100% healed? Can I say that? It eventually left and I'm sure yours will too. I can't point to the day it stopped but looking back it disappeared when I stopped caring and declared myself already healed anyway, as you're already doing.
    fredb likes this.
  9. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Thanks for your kind words and support @Andy Bayliss and @grapefruit and everyone else. I am so glad my story resonated with some people! I remember when I first started this journey googling over and over "vigorous activity and TMS" because I just wasn't sure how vigorous Sarno and others really meant (I could see how running or cycling could be considered vigorous but wasn't sure about a pretty dangerous contact sport like ice hockey and whether that was really safe for me to do). So I wanted to make sure to include details about my ice hockey endeavors and it seems like that is part of what has really resonated with people. So that makes me really happy!

    I also just want to add that there are 2 things that maybe are not emphasized enough in my success story, partly because neither was a huge part of my journey initially but have becomes things I am doing more now and finding to be helpful....

    One is the focus on self-care. @birdsetfree pointed this out to me in another post and I struggle with this but am trying. My default setting is to sacrifice myself, especially for the sake of my family. I have a real problem saying no to others. So I am trying very hard to change this in myself and just an awareness of it itself is helpful.

    The other is journaling. I mentioned in my original post that I wasn't sure how much this helped, partly because I was probably not doing it in the best possible way. I still have yet to try the SEP, which I am fairly certain would have helped me a lot. But on the recommendation of others on this forum, I have started to incorporate the JournalSpeak technique that Nicole Sachs recommends in her book and podcast and I am only in my early stages there, but I can already see how it will be helpful. It really helps me just almost vomit up raw emotion and feeling and seems to be getting me closer to unconscious rage or anger or whatever, which I never felt like I was getting at with my amateurish journaling I was doing before (that was way more conceptual and conscious and very carefully thought out and not very raw or unfiltered).

    Anyway, just wanted to add these additional things!
  10. Mr Hip Guy

    Mr Hip Guy Well known member

    Enjoyed this thread. Just wanted to chime in as support for the Matrix movie reference because that's how I've felt ever since I learned about TMS and how it actually applies to me. I feel like Neo as he is just realizing what was around him all that time. And once you see it, it can't be unseen. I actually have to seriously control a constant desire to share with others on this but I know most are not ready to see/hear it. Again, just like the Matrix.
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  11. Linc

    Linc New Member

    Knight...reading your post is like reading something I would write. I’m 44 - athletic guy...I found out I have a Isthmic Spondyolithesis on L5 /S1 grade 1.... found out 2.5 years ago. No other normal abnormals on my mri. I played high school basketball and college and grew up on a farm and worked physically very hard growing up. My pain started on the side of my left calf May of 2017 when standing...and I’ve been working on TMS since Jan 2018. Drs said I probably had it since I was young...seems like they all say that. I am virtually pain free now. I used to have pain just ironing or shopping at the grocery store...that is gone now. I used to get leg pain at the mall shopping with my family If I just stood around waiting ... now it is much much less. I would say I’m about 80% there pain free. I work out and I’m extremely fit and I have zero pain running, working out, playing basketball, etc. So standing was and is still my thing. My theory is that highly active people get bumps and bruises...deep down we are perfectionist...hard working ... we work out and work hard. We get a pain ... go to the Dr. and they order imaging and we find out about all our internal scars and the Dr. tells us what that means for us and then we consult Dr. Google and everything is reinforced in our minds...like standing causes pain if you have a spondyolithesis. The internal battle continues in our minds every time we find ourselves standing or shopping etc. Letting go is the key... Removing the fear and expectation of the pain. Fear is the fueling mechanism...it hits us and we worry about what might be now that as perfectionists we know we have something abnormal in our bodies according to doctors. Sounds like you are there and I am not far behind. Cheers to making it this far. I am to the point that I know when I beat this ... I can beat anything.
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  12. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Thanks @Linc for you kinds words.

    I think we are in a similar place/situation. I lift weights and play ice hockey and pretty much do whatever I want physically without any fear but I continue to have some slight pain when standing for long periods of time (almost always on the weekend when I am at home because I sit a lot during the week when I am working and that feels totally fine now). But I no longer fear that pain when standing....I think for me it has become just a mild annoyance and it is probably not even the pain itself (which is fairly minor - maybe a 2 out of 10) but the fact that it persists and that I can't completely figure it out or rid myself of it. I have days when it's hard for me to 100% believe that it is not partly physical - I mean I'll be standing for 1 or 2 hours continuously in the kitchen so I don't think it's unreasonable that it could be just from the fatigue and strain of that. But then I have moments when I am pretty convinced that it's just TMS and I sometimes just try to have fun with it - I'll remind myself that it means nothing, that I can just accept it and welcome it and be with it, etc. (really I think the key is that I know that whether it's TMS or not it just isn't doing any damage), and of course that often makes it recede a little (further evidence that it's probably not physical at all). But the truth is that I cannot honestly say that I 100% accept that the pain I get while standing is TMS - I still have a tiny bit of doubt.

    But the key for me (and I say this because of what you wrote at the end, that when you beat this you'll know that you can beat anything) is that I feel like I have already crossed the finish line. The truth is that although I have this slightly annoying pain when standing for long periods, I am doing whatever I want to be doing physically including some activities that most people who don't have any back pain would never be doing at my age (when I get on the ice now I look like a teenager - I am so excited to still be able to play hockey that I am literally flying around the ice at top speed). I think I was waiting and waiting until I could say that I was 100% pain free and just "cured" and I eventually came to realize that that attitude itself was really keeping me pretty obsessed and preventing me from moving on. I now accept that I may have some lingering pain or that maybe it will go away and come back one day. That is ok. Again, as I wrote in my original post, I almost view it as an addiction or a very deeply ingrained habit. Something made me prone to this in the first place and that will likely make me prone to it in the future as well, so I don't really think of it in black and white terms anymore (pain vs no pain or cured vs not yet cured). The fact that I am able to live my life in such an active way makes me feel like I have "arrived" or "succeeded." So I may be reading too much into your comment about beating this, but I would say that if you are living your life and doing what you want to be doing physically, then it seems to me that you have already won!!!
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  13. grapefruit

    grapefruit Peer Supporter

    I'm a stay-at-home mom and I stand for hours at a time in the kitchen, including for the past two months with a baby almost constantly in my arms or carrier, and I have zero pain doing so. I don't thinking standing should be painful. I call TMS. But I think you already have the right attitude and it's just a matter of time until your brain catches up.
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  14. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Thanks @grapefruit . It's helpful for me to hear this...occasionally I check in with my wife and ask, "hey, when you are standing in the kitchen for a long time, does your back hurt?" Lol. And usually the answer is no (she'll say her feet hurt when she is standing a lot....maybe that is her TMS!!!). I think that for me this is just such an ingrained pattern/belief/pathway (and it's one that I have probably had since I first had back pain as a teenager because I remember having pain when standing then too) that it is just hard to break the pattern/belief. So this may seem silly, but for me it IS helpful every time someone tells me that they have no pain when standing, especially when it comes from people on this forum who are dealing with back pain and who are the most likely to have it!!!

    In my mind, I justify the structural explanation by thinking that maybe with my pars defect the continuous strain over long periods of time just leads to pressure and then stiffness and pain - that is how it feels to me anyway. As soon as I bend down or especially if I crouch in a sort of fetal position, I feel immediate relief (relief doesn't even describe it well enough - it feels amazing to just squat down and bend my back forward.....it's like all the pressure in the spot is just immediately relieved). I think I have also convinced myself that maybe anatomically I am prone to the pain while standing. The first orthopedist I saw 5 years ago handed me a pamphlet that was titled something like "Dealing with Excessive Lordosis." He spent a total of 2 minutes with me and just basically handed me the thing, told me I don't need surgery, and then literally just walked out of the room before I could ask any follow up questions. So I do have a very significant lordotic curve to my lower back (I have a really pronounced arch there) and I think I have probably convinced myself that that too makes me more likely to have pain while standing.

    That is the structural side of the story in my mind. The TMS side of my mind says that this is all ridiculous. Why would the pain from hockey and pain from sitting and all the other instances of pain have been TMS and then this not? It obviously doesn't make much sense. And then there is the fact that although I do get pain when standing in a variety of situations, it is definitely most pronounced when I am on my feet in my house, especially in the kitchen, taking care of everyone (sometimes my wife included). So it's obvious to me the burden I am under there and how the child in me doesn't want to be taking care of people, and how that could manifest as pain. And the other situations where I have experienced pain while standing are often things like this - working in a shitty job that I didn't want to be doing or standing at the mall while my wife shops (like what you have experienced @Linc).

    Anyway, just thought I would share this in case anyone is interested in the inner workings of my conflict! Like I have written, the truth is that I have become mostly indifferent to the pain anyway, so I don't put much thought into the above anymore and just go on living my life and accept that I may have some pain. And it has definitely gotten less and less. It is really very minor (it's more like an achy-ness) and tends to only happen on the weekends when I am standing a lot, and then not even every weekend, so it's fading. But I keep trying to inch myself a little closer to 100% acceptance that this pain while standing is TMS, and people reminding me that it almost certainly is TMS does help push me further and further to that point. So thank you!
  15. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Just thought I would update this for anyone who has Spondylolisthesis and needs more good news, more encouragement, and perhaps a few more suggestions...

    So my back pain has pretty much gone away. There are weeks when I just don't think about it at all. Like it never existed. So first, I hope that just gives some encouragement to people. The lingering pain that I was periodically experiencing is gone and even forgotten. If you've read all the above, you'll know that I expect that one day it might resurface, but if it does I now pretty much 100% accept that there is nothing structurally wrong with me that was causing the pain and will know that I need to look inward for the answers.

    There are two things that I think contributed to the pain disappearing so let me share those in the hope that they might help people....

    One is that I think I was just bored and stagnating in my work life. I think that led me to turn inward and become sort of obsessive. I experienced something like this when I was in college and my father wisely told me at the time that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. I found that to be very true at the time (once I got busy with other things and had things that I wanted to focus on that I was excited about, my difficulties sort of disappeared). Steve Ozanich talks about experiencing something similar in his book, and I remember that part of the book resonating with me, although it took me some time to realize that it would hold true for me and take action on it.

    The second epiphany I had relates to the difference between "structural" and "physical." I am guessing people have posted about this elsewhere, and now that I think about it, it's probably spelled out clearly in Dr. Sarno's books, but I don't think I appreciated the difference and I think that was part of my problem. When I was having the aforementioned lingering pain, it was very hard for me to convince myself that it wasn't genuine physical pain. Well, it was of course! The pain was real, but that doesn't me the cause was "structural" in the sense that my back has something wrong with it that would, by necessity, cause me pain. So I think in my head I was sort of trying to convince myself that the pain was not "physical" and that it was really "emotional." That is partly true because the cause of it was probably almost entirely "emotional" or "mental." But the manifestation of it was real physical pain and I think I was somehow trying to deny that! I don't know if Dr. Sarno's theory about oxygen deprivation is the exact right answer, but that certainly seems plausible to me, and in any event I came to accept that I was experiencing pain that did probably have a proximate "physical" cause even if the ultimate genesis of it was emotional. I think I understood all of this at the beginning, but I recently came to realize that over time I was conflating "physical" pain with "structural" pain. So that realization really helped me accept the pain, believe in the emotional explanation, and just let go.

    Anyway hope these updates help!
  16. daniebama

    daniebama New Member

    Hi!my name is daniel ,i am from barcelona and ,first of all,apologies for my bad english.Your post has really helped me a lot (and thanks to Miquel for sharing it with me)
    I will be quick...i am 45,always playing soccer,running half marathons,etc..i used to get stuck on my back (always dorsal)from time to time (my friends always were making fun of that,the glass man they said)...but i had a happy life.Now i know it was happy because this last year i´ve seen some of the dark face of life.
    Last year i was helping a friend to carry a big barbacue and i felt a horrible pain on my low back.Result,diagnosed with spondylolysthesis L5-S1 and two protusions up and downs.I don´t explain you how i felt because i know you know.The worst part is not the pain,is that i was depressed and i never had been depressed,i was a happy person,and all of that because of the pain (and i couldn´t have sex,sports,normal life,etc).I was told i had this injury since i was a teenager.
    The doctors offered me lumbar fusion and i rejected,i found Sarno and tms(in Spain that is extremely difficult if you don´t speak a little bit of English,we are the country of the surgery because it´s free,it doesn´t mind if surgery doesn´t work,it´s free and people like free things).
    2-3 months later,i am 90% pain free,i would say 99% but, like you,fear is still there.But i have to say it´s not the same fear as 3 month ago,i am recovering my life...and like you i am swimming again and being convinced every day a little bit more about the tms diagnosis.I think we are not the same we were 3 months ago and next year we won´t be the same as today...we will have more confidence in the diagnosis of tms and that would mean less pain.
    i could write a lot about this last year about simptoms,up´s & dows etc but it would be very similar to yours.
    Thank you for sharing
  17. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you are on the right path! For what it's worth I am 100% pain free now and have been for a while. As you say, we are not the same today as we were 3 months ago and will not be the same next year as today, so I recognize that things could resurface at any moment, but I don't live in fear and I know that whatever comes I will be able to deal with it now that I understand myself better. Again, it sounds like you are doing all the right things and I wish you the best on your journey!
  18. Gojab

    Gojab Peer Supporter

    Thanks for the post. I am always looking for stories or people similar to me. I also played lax in College (Dartmouth 1980s) and Football also. I'm not sure if you agree but those who play contact sports (like Hockey) need to have a bit of hostility/aggression right? In other words, we don't have a problem eliciting the type of aggression needed to tackle or cross check someone. So, wouldn't repressed rage naturally be a side effect of that? One thing I'd be interested in is whether missing a year of lax in college created a reservoir of rage. I blew out my knee sr. year and missed what I hoped would be the last and best year of competitive sports. I am still hurting from that. So, for me, during those meditation periods I find myself constantly going back to my childhood/early adult life, and realizing that most of my self esteem was tied up in my sports performance. My parents drove that to a large extend and that's another side of the story. What I'm getting at is I wonder if athletes who competed at a high level, and who have plenty of bumps and bruises as a result, have a similar experience wrt TMS
  19. knight

    knight Peer Supporter

    Very interesting stuff you bring up. I think my experience matches some of what you wrote, but not all of it. I never thought about how this connects to TMS, but I obviously had/have no problem playing aggressive/quasi-violent sports and I am someone who has a temper (I instantly want to crush someone if I see them do something dirty to someone on my team...stuff like that). And in my family life, I also tend to sometimes boil over and that is probably due to some repressed rage. I had thought about the latter when it became clear I had TMS and was clearly filled with frustration and sometimes anger, but I don't think I ever connected it to me being someone who likes contact sports. That is interesting.

    On the other stuff, though, I think my experience was different. I actually don't think I had any regret about not being able to play my freshman year. In fact I am convinced that the reason I didn't play was because of TMS and because of underlying emotional stuff - I didn't have a sudden injury...it was a slow progression of back pain that doctors were never really able to find a cause for, and when I went home for the Summer, the pain vanished within a few weeks.

    I was recruited for lacrosse and got into Yale early action so I basically didn't even apply anywhere else because I knew I wasn't going to choose some other college over Yale, but I think I didn't really want to go there and felt like I had no choice. And sure enough when I got there and for the first 2 years, I spent most of my time not getting myself too fixed there permanently because I wanted to leave open the possibility of transferring somewhere else (and I almost did transfer). But then by the beginning of junior year I realized that it was too late to transfer and that I would just stick it out there, and almost instantly my experience there became more enjoyable (basically as soon as I let myself just let go, commit to staying there, and let myself enjoy it). That itself was a pretty remarkable lesson for me in the power of the human mind....it's like I went from almost hating it to really liking it in an instant. Scary, really, that I was capable of suppressing my enjoyment of it for such a long time.

    I realize that the above sounds so privileged and like I don't/didn't appreciate the opportunity I was given.......but that was actually part of the problem....I knew how unbelievably lucky I was, but it just wasn't what I wanted when I was 18 years old and so it created a conflict in me....I felt like I had no choice. In fact, what I really wanted to do was defer a year and work before going to college, but I felt like I couldn't do that because of the fact that I had been recruited and would be letting the coach down. I don't think I was aware of the conflict that this created, but it feels obvious to me now.

    And if I go even deeper down this rabbit hole, I think that I didn't really want to be playing lacrosse....ice hockey was really the sport I loved and still love. It's just that I realized by about 10th grade that if I wanted to play a D-1 sport in college and get recruited to do so, lacrosse gave me a much better chance, so I switched my focus there. But part of me still feels like I sold out a little bit.

    None of this was really my parents pushing or anything (it sounds, @Gojab, like the same was not true for you, so I could imagine that that would make things much more difficult and complicated). I again consider myself very lucky in that my parents are pretty unconditionally supportive and probably would have backed me doing whatever I wanted to do. So it was really the pressure I put on myself, I think.

    This is starting to feel like a catharsis! I don't know if it will help anyone, but maybe it shows the depth of emotion and conflict that can lead to physical problems!!!
  20. mugwump

    mugwump Well known member

    What an inspiring story you have! Thank you for sharing this to us and Congratulations to you also!

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