1. Alan has completed the new Pain Recovery Program. To read or share it, use this updated link: https://www.tmswiki.org/forum/painrecovery/
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Success Story-8 years Sciatica pain gone. Overdue Story!

Discussion in 'Success Stories Subforum' started by ladyofthelake, Feb 19, 2019.

  1. ladyofthelake

    ladyofthelake Peer Supporter

    Age: 44
    Pain first started: 2008
    Diagnoses received: sciatica, piriformis syndrome, gluten intolerance, anxiety, PTSD
    MRI's or tests taken: Normal Lower Back X-ray, Normal gallbladder ultrasound.
    Time to recovery from first hearing about TMS: About a year
    Any relapses: More like a false start where the pain got initially better then anxiety and pain returned WORSE
    Specific things that helped your recovery: Sarno’s books, TMS Wiki-particularly Alan Gordon’s audio recordings in the Structured Educational Program (His TMS Recovery Program wasn’t out yet.) I only did a few journaling exercises. Psychotherapy. QUITTING ANY PHYSICAL CURES including healthy ones like exercises to get better.

    Here is my story about recovering from chronic pain. I’ve learned that the pain is called TMS, originally called “Tension Myositis Syndrome” by Dr. John Sarno, others have renamed it “The Mindbody Syndrome.” Basically TMS is my brain creating REAL chronic pain my body to distract me from unconscious emotions that it deems unacceptable.

    About 11 years ago I went through something traumatic and unexpected. It was something that I blamed myself for. I don’t want to go into exactly that was. But at the time I did what I’ve always done: PUSH THROUGH and SUCK IT UP.

    And part of pushing through and sucking it up was driving a lot. I drive a lot for my job anyway and this event was part of my job. It was around this time that I started having really painful sciatic pain. It started on my right side. It was the worst when I was driving. I blamed my car. This event made me have to drive even more. At the time I did not associate the pain with the emotions I was going through.

    Around 2009 I had near daily stabbing abdominal pain and brain fog. I don’t have an much to say about the abdominal pain because I came to believe that I was gluten intolerant and I avoided eating gluten from 2009 to 2016. When I avoided gluten I normally didn’t have the abdominal pain so that story is boring.

    In 2009 I got a new car, an SUV, so that my seated position was different, that seems to help for a while. I went to the chiropractor. I gained weight, I lost weight. I tried lots of massage and exercise modalities, I used a lumbar pillow while driving. Most treatments “worked” for awhile but pretty quickly the pain would return. And sometimes the pain would disappear for awhile but usually it was CONSTANT. The pain was worse when I was tired. I was driving and tired a lot for my job.

    Soon after my dog died in 2013 I took one of her tramadol pills that she had been prescribed for her cancer pain. Tramadol is a synthetic opioid. This was back before the big crack down on opiates and there were even refills on my dog’s tramadol prescription.

    I really liked tramadol, it really reduced the pain and made me alert and relaxed. I didn’t take it everyday but very quickly I got into the routine of taking one pill a few times a week.

    One thing I really cannot put into words is how much it hurt and how awful chronic pain is. The pain was deep in my hip with a shooting ache all down my legs. I know I don’t really need to go into detail here describing how it is to live with chronic, constant physical pain. It is exhausting, it strips you down and tires you out. It is extremely distracting.

    2014 SUCKED. Again, no need for details but a lot of hard events hit that year. I was in pain. I tried to power through without regard for my needs as usual.

    In about December of 2015 I started reading “Healing Back Pain” by Dr. John Sarno. I don’t remember where I first learned of the book or Sarno but it was recommended by somebody online and it was cheap to order it on Amazon. And OF COURSE I recognized my personality immediately! I’m the TMS personality to a T. I’m people pleasing, driven, perfectionist and anxious. I’m not so anxious about terrible things happening, but I am anxious about people pleasing.

    My first reaction to Sarno’s book was “This rings true, I’m going to work on this.” I starting some of the initial journaling exercises went really well. I immediately found that the pain started around the time of the trauma, something I never realized before. I wrote about and cried about some childhood issues.

    AND THEN about January 2016…the pain was almost gone very early on but the ANXIETY was SO BAD I wanted the pain back. Yep. That sucked. I started therapy, not with a TMS therapist but that has been fine, my pain hasn’t been a big topic.

    And this point I was taking both tramadol and xanax, both low doses, both legally prescribed. The tramadol didn’t really work as well anymore, I’d built up a tolerance (or TMS took over). I was also drinking alcohol daily, it was too much drinking. My previous ability to drink lightly or moderately was gone. For brevity I’m going to treat my over-drinking as a sort of different story although it had everything to do with relieving anxiety and avoiding emotions.

    For several months I was extremely anxious and then the pain started to return as well. And I just sorta stopped working on the TMS stuff, the pain and anxiety distracted and discouraged me.

    I returned to the hope of a physical cure. I brought it up with my family practice physician who referred me to physical therapy and a pain doctor. I had a normal X-ray of my back and hips and was diagnosed with bilateral piriformis syndrome. Exercising regularly in PT felt good but it did not reduce my pain.

    In May or June of 2016 I got some steroid/anti-inflammatory injections into my piriformis. The pain at this point is consistently bilateral but she started with an injection into only my right side and it totally worked! The left still hurt like hell but it gave me so much hope that something as easy as those injections could help me! Two weeks later I got the same injection into my left piriformis: NOTHING. I went back and re-tried the left with no results. Only after the fail of injections did I really accept TMS. How could one side work but not the other? What a perfect trick for my brain to play on me to convince me the pain was physical but also keep me in pain.

    I took a month off of work that summer and went camping and hiking with my two children. For years taking care of others, on-call 24/7, was basically all I did. I was working on overcoming being a work-a-holic. It took a lot of planning in advance and disappointing people to prioritize my needs and desires.

    As far as activity went I never stopped walking, walking was fine! It was SITTING that killed! I had no problem hiking but driving 10 hours to go hiking and swimming was so unpleasant, but I did it.

    And at the end of my month off I realized I’d hardly drank alcohol at all and I finally decided to quit drinking alcohol. I quit because it was what I wanted to do. I feel like quitting drinking was my first decision to connect with my emotions rather than numb them.

    That fall I worked on TMS. I believed that my chronic physical pain was based in repressed emotions but knowing that intellectually didn’t help me. I didn’t do much journaling because writing is hard for me, it is a strain. Writing is not a natural way for me to access my feelings.

    The most helpful thing for me was Alan Gordon’s recordings on TMS wiki, I’m pretty sure they are part of the structured educational program. I actually listened to the recordings a couple times each, one after another. Basically I binged them.

    TMS recovery was VERY COUNTERINTUITIVE for me.
    Here is what I learned and did that finally helped me:

    #1 I had to STOP OBSESSING COMPLETELY ABOUT PHYSICAL REASONS FOR THE PAIN AND PHYSICAL SOLUTIONS. Your brain will pick a pain that “makes sense” like weak hip rotators and sitting a lot or an old injury. The fact that the pain is even half rooted in truth does not actually mean that half truth is causal.

    #2 I realized that I’m very uncomfortable with anger and very invested in minimizing anger. I was particularly shocked by Alan’s recording with someone talking about anger. He asked the person to actually say what they felt like doing to the person they were angry with. It made me deeply uncomfortable, I only listened to that recording once! But it introduced me to the concept that acknowledging anger doesn’t hurt people. This was totally new news to me!

    #3 Outcome Independence and doing the painful activity. Sitting was painful for me. I could easily walk 5 miles without much discomfort but sitting in the car or at my desk for 30 minutes was terrible. So for me, I sat anyway. I stopped squirming away/shifting around in order to get more comfortable, I stopped avoiding driving and sitting. This was really difficult and basically I faked it until I made it. I had to pretend to not care about the pain.

    #4 Reframe the pain as “feelings.” If I was in pain I’d just tell myself “Hey that sensation in my hips and legs are actually emotions that my brain has decided to feel as physical pain. And I just let that be, I didn’t try to change anything.

    #5 Cheering on the pain. This is actually what finally worked the best for me. I was in a lot of pain at this point and nothing I did helped much at all. Then one day I started cheering on the pain in my head. This approach was also from Alan Gordon. I’d invite the pain to get worse, to extend further down my leg! I didn’t squirm away from it and I didn’t just tolerate it but rather I invited it to increase. This counterintuitive and scary action finally worked! At first I would have to cheer the pain on all day for it to work but pretty quickly I had less and less pain. In December 2016 I took a 5 hour plane flight without pain!

    Medications: It was absolutely heavenly to no longer have pain. Over the next month or so I had to taper off the tramadol because I was dependent on it to not feel exhausted and cranky. I recommend doing that REALLY SLOWLY. A few months later I realized that I needed off the xanax as well because I was doing better and no longer in crisis and it actually caused increased anxiety due to rebound anxiety happening a few times a day when the dose would wear off. I did this with a long slow taper as well.

    TMS is not something I talk about much. I’m not like a bunch of you on here. I did not go around talking about TMS with everybody. I’m a people pleaser and it does not seem to please people to hear that their pain “is all in their head” which seems to be what they hear no matter how TMS is explained. I guess I feel like the info is out there if they are ready. As I write this out I’m struggling with my reluctance to share, it doesn’t quite seem right but I’m not a natural evangelist.

    There is a social camaraderie of chronic pain. I’m really avoidant of conflict or hurting feelings so after I started feeling better, my friends with chronic pain would ask about my pain and I’d sorta avoid saying more than “better actually.” But it did make me aware that being in pain and talking about it with friends is like being a part of a club that I no longer belonged to.

    Other TMS symptoms. It didn’t take long for me to realize my abdominal pain and supposed gluten intolerance is TMS. I’ve since added wheat back into my diet without trouble. This was also difficult to explain to people, especially since I don’t wanna talk about my feelings or inadequacies!

    I still have the pain. Sometimes I have mild annoying sciatica or a tight neck or a belly ache. Now I know the discomfort is feelings and won’t stay so I’m not afraid and it goes away quickly.

    Physical “treatments” are still a problem for me. Even a massage and doing yoga seem to confirm the belief that there is a physical cause to be in pain. If I ever do anything like get a massage I spend 5-6 days in pain after then because I do have tenderness here and there! It is a last ditch effort my brain is making, so annoying. I actually avoid such things now.

    Talking or reading about TMS makes it sorta come back. I’m sitting here typing this success story with mild sciatic pain. ANNOYING. Also, normal and human.

    Ultimately pain relief came without a lot of intellectual understanding of or overthinking about my specific anxieties/anger/issues. I’m unwinding those slowly in therapy because I’m no longer valuing repression over my health and happiness. But TMS recovery was way weirder than journalling and understanding.

    Pain relief does not equal immediate anxiety relief. I’m way way less anxious than I was back then but I’m still anxious. Anxiety is TMS, of course, or TMS is anxiety….I’m well aware that the physical symptoms of anxiety are not a physical threat to me but rather scary and deeply unpleasant to motivate me to not do something my brain has decided is too dangerous.

    I wish I’d written this out a couple years ago because some of the details are hazy. I guess I wanted to be sure that I really was a success.
  2. Smb081818

    Smb081818 New Member

    Very encouraging as I have similar sciatic issues.... I've been on my recovery journey since April and right now it is at it's worst. I am hoping it is an extinction burst. Driving is still my worst and this is a helpful idea that I should challenge myself by cheering on the pain while I do it. Did you have to uitlize psychotherapy for your recovery?
  3. ladyofthelake

    ladyofthelake Peer Supporter

    I used psychotherapy to deal with emotions/trauma/anxiety/work on boundaries. The therapy was not TMS or pain focused. I went in telling her confidently that my pain is emotional. I’ve treated short recurrences of pain as helpful clues something emotional is going on. I’m guessing that’s the benefit that most people get from journaling.
  4. jimmylaw9

    jimmylaw9 Peer Supporter

    I’m interested in your story. My recent pain started with piriformis pain a dull ache that became sharp shooting pains when active. Stopped doing a lot of activities n work because of it. Convinced due to stressors it’s TMS but isn’t away any time soon. Got burning feet too.
    What was your piriformis pain like and how long did it take to go. Any specific strategies that helped
    intense50 likes this.
  5. ladyofthelake

    ladyofthelake Peer Supporter

    The best advice I can give you to say that yes, sciatica and piriformis are absolutely TMS. After truly believing that you have TMS and knowing other people have recovered from what you are experiencing just stop thinking about anything related any other name (piriformis) for your TMS. Comparing your specific pain sensations to other people's pain is a distraction that perpetuates your pain. TMS is TMS and most of us will actually have many forms of TMS throughout our lives because we are human. Because of that my advice is general because there is nothing special about piriformis syndrome or how to approach it.
    Here is what worked for me. It was not a straight line, it didn't work right away. But now days I can sit without pain for hours without pain. I can eat wheat bread without pain.
    1: Believe you have TMS. Believe there is no physical cure, believe you are actually physically healthy. Your brain will latch onto any doubts and create pain that supports the experience of a physical problem. Knowing doesn't help, believing helps.
    2: STOP ALL PHYSICAL CURES: no more avoiding positions or activities, do them anyway. No more special pillows for sitting or wearing just the right supportive shoes. No stretches, no massage, no chiropractor NOTHING. Any time or effort you put into those things prolongs the pain.
    3: THINK Psychological. For many people that involves some kind of journaling, there are many many resources for that. There are programs on here, there are many books, look up anything by Nicole Saches. I found Alan Gordon's resources here in TMSwiki to be the key for me. Initially I would remind myself of this all day long and talk to my pain "I feel you there, you are actually my emotions that I'm feeling in my body."
    4: Become indifferent to the pain. OK now this is really hard and it is absolutely what worked for me. Search anything related to "outcome independence" on here. Basically the next step in my conversation with the pain was "I feel you there and you stay as long as you like, actually get worse if you need to." For everything else I had tried it had never occured to me to accept the pain until I was reading some of the info on here from Alan Gordon. And if you cannot imagine giving your pain permission to stay and get worse PRETEND YOU CAN and say it anyway. There is magic there. The first time I invited the pain to "bring it on" it was GONE within a minute. It came back on and off for a couple more weeks because that is where my neural pathways were wired back then, but I'd just welcome the pain again and again and it would fade away. This is a skill. This is weird.

    To answer your question about timeline. From finding out about Sarno/TMS to being free from chronic pain was about a year.
    Here was my experience which isn't the same timeline as anybody else's because it takes as long as it takes.
    Step one BELIEVE: happened in January 2016
    Step two STOP PHYSICAL CURES: about July 2016 (those were hard hard times when I knew about TMS but didn't understand how to approach it and kept returning over and over to the hope of a physical cure)
    Step three THINK PSYCHOLOGICAL : August-Sept 2016 (still in pain). I had NO IDEA how much stuff I wasn't allowing myself to feel or admit to myself because those feelings are "bad."
    Step four INDIFFERENCE TO PAIN: late Sept 2016. No pain: by the end of October 2016.
    I feel like I was very fortunate. It takes as long as it takes.
    jimmylaw9 likes this.

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