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Determination...foe or friend?

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by donavanf, Oct 28, 2016.

  1. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    The last few weeks, I have just decided to NOT let my TMS get in the way of my career, photography. I'm saying yes to jobs I wouldn't have before, jobs I would have turned down from fear of physically hurting myself. I just somehow in my mind, DECIDED with all my inner strength, to keep doing what I love, which is photography. I make a living at this. I can't let my TMS get in my way. Only one problem, it is. And specifically, my TMS tends to go to the very area that I "need" for my work. My upper back, shoulders, neck. I recently yelled at my back and neck, and said, "No matter how bad you get, even if you cripple me, I'm never going to give up photography." Within a few hours, the pain intensified. I said again, "No. I don't believe you. You are not real. This is coming from my brain". It intensified and I became enraged at it and said, "NO! F**K YOU! I'M DONE WITH YOU". Hour passes, pain GOES AWAY and becomes acid reflux and stomach ache/IBS, my #1 symptom substitution. I took some over the counter meds for my gut, cleaned up my diet for a few days, and the pain went right back to my neck. I want to "give my back pain hell" as I've heard Dr. Sarno say, but perhaps that is the wrong way to go about it? I would love to hear some affirmations that aren't so "tough love". I think "tough love" isn't the direction for me. My parents were very kind, loving and generous. Tough love wasn't part of my DNA. Love was.

    I'll add this...some part of me is CONVINCED that my pain is physical. I am pretty inactive, save for photography. 45 years old, never really exercised, very mental and obsessive (in my mind a lot since childhood, NEVER in my body) and now, I feel like I need to "get in shape". But whenever I do the slightest exercise, my TMS acts up. ESPECIALLY any kind of exercise that targets the very areas that need to get strong, my neck, upper back and shoulders. I can walk and not get any pain, but if I do even just 10 push ups or such, my upper back is a DISASTER and I think, "See, I really DO have something wrong!", despite a TMS doc (Schechter) telling me I have "TMS on steroids, no structural issues". When I am ACTUALLY shooting, I have little to no pain. But right after a photo shoot and right before, PAIN. This pain after shooting feels awful, disheartening, discouraging, and ENRAGING. I would think that if I had structural damage, I couldn't shoot at all. Yes?

  2. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    What structural problem do you imagine you have, or is it a more generalized fear that it must be "something"?
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  3. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    No. Not generalized. I have tremendous fear and OCD around all kinds of health issues, and worse yet, significant training in medicine, so I am always thinking I have everything from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome to GERD, cancer or god knows what. I am an UNBELIEVABLE hypochondriac. My therapist used to say I had "perpetual medicinal student syndrome". I attended and finished training in acupuncture (4 years plus undergrad in sciences) and then completed a doctorate in homeopathic medicine and went on to study psychology for two years at the masters level. When I re-found the arts as my path through photography, I gave all that up, never looked back and love what I do. If I am not creating, my body is creating (symptoms) but the irony is, when my body creates symptoms, I am duped into thinking I am too unwell, unfit or in too much pain to create. It's a self-perpetuating OCD spin cycle, within my brain. I believe TMS to be a continual "freeze" in the fight, flight, freeze of trauma. I had a lot of childhood trauma and abandonment, despite my loving parents, and I watched both my parents die, which really pushed me into a dark hole. TMS was my wake up call to come out. I mentally compartmentalize my feelings, overanalyze and have a hell of a time emoting what is inside. My symptoms are my voice. I have 10 journals filled with rage, but I can't properly cry. I've read every SINGLE book on TMS and still fear I have some kind of trauma in my back. I do, just not a physical one. My conscious mind knows that I have nothing seriously wrong, I've somatized since I was a toddler. But my conscious mind stays up past midnight googling every horrific disease imaginable, my doctor brain won't be quiet.
  4. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    I completely understand where you are coming from. I come from much the same place sometimes. As one of my gurus is fond of saying, OCD is a disorder of doubt. There is not a single shred of evidence that your upper back issues are structural -- and you just identified many reasons they clearly are NOT which I am sure you recognize as well as I do -- and yet, you doubt. You do recognize, I am sure, that whether one believes in a repressed emotions theory of chronic pain or a broader autonomic nervous system overload/anxiety/stress model, you are a walking textbook example. As am I. It's all there, except the OCD blinds one to the recognition, prevents the internalization and acceptance.
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  5. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    My goodness. Thank you for your brilliant response! It made me feel less alone and very hopeful. :)

    I am indeed, a textbook example of all things that point to my nervous system being on overdrive. I love, LOVE what you said about how OCD blinds us to the internalization and acceptance. I have lifelong OCD, and I am a perfectionist/goodist to the core. TO. THE. CORE. Which is probably why the thing I love most (photographing people) brings me so much anxiety, because I care so much about it being good. Despite 20 years of shooting, I still get nervous before every shoot. That I will fail. My body will fail. That I am never good enough. Since we sound like we have kindred minds, I would love to hear how you tame your mental tiger. Do you do affirmations? Journaling? Have you done the structured education program? I have not yet. Journaling seems to help me the most, but then I go back to being in pain again when I get back into DOUBT. Doubt is key. We are both peer supporters, so I know you know what works for you, and your words speak great wisdom. May I ask, what's your story and what is your strategy? I would love to hear what works for you best and any advice you may have to taking off the OCD blinders.
  6. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    I will send you a note although it more likely will be tomorrow as it's late here. I don't pretend to have any magical answers, but I do at least understand this disorder in the context of severe OCD and can recognize in you many of my own (for lack of a better word) cognitive distortions and self-perpetuated blockages.
  7. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hey Donavan - I like to take a quick look at profile stories and posts before plunging in to a discussion with someone I haven't met - so I was a bit alarmed at the length of yours, but when I read the first line, I had to read it all. The whole thing*. :D Which was an amazing odyssey and well worth reading, but I have to tell you, what hooked me was remembering the many happy hours my siblings and I spent listening to A Child's Garden of Freberg. MANY years before you were even born. What a genius, as you know, of course. And I'm very sad for your loss - both losses of him.

    Anyway, back to the business at hand. My story could parallel yours, but at a much much lower level of intensity. My parents were also loving and caring, and as you might have guessed, appreciated humor, and were pretty progressive West Coasters in general. Unlike your parents, mine were active and healthy, they taught us to be proactive about our health, and expected us to be reasonably active.

    In spite of a pretty normal childhood, I realized, when I started doing this work five years ago, that my TMS went back to my early childhood, including anxiety that was sometimes debilitating, and at least two OCD periods that I can remember, at age 7 and again age 9. Plus various TMS symptoms that came and went all my life, until they reached a crisis point at age 60. Which is when I discovered Dr. Sarno and got my life back. (Thank you, Dr. Sarno and this forum!)

    But where did all this come from? I didn't have a dysfunctional childhood and I had great parents. One thing I've figured out is that the anxiety came from my mother, who was almost 30 when I was born, after three years of marriage and a miscarriage. Plus she was an only child who was raised in English and European boarding schools, and had no clue what to do with a baby. She always seemed like a rock to me, but I imagine that by the time she had four of us, she probably had to be.

    And, as I'm sure you know, we all have a deeply-buried reservoir of rage that comes from being forced to grow up, right? When all we wanted to do was stay at our mother's breast forever. Add on to that the multiple episodes of guilt, shame, isolation, abandonment, constraint, etc. that we experience our entire lives, and there is an endless supply of rage - new as well as old. Oh, and as we get older, rage at mortality (that's a big one for me and contributed to my age-60 crisis). But we rarely access all of this rage - we weren't designed to access it, because if we did so, we might get too wrapped up in emotional turmoil, and not see the sabre-tooth tiger that's about to eat us. We also weren't designed to live very long - just long enough to breed and raise the next generation.

    I find it really helpful to remember that the repression mechanism that is TMS was designed to keep us safe in an unsafe primitive world. Instead of being bogged down in rage-inducing emotions, TMS gives us a distraction while repressing the dangerous emotion. Unfortunately our primitive brains still think there is physical life-or-death danger lurking around every corner. It was never a very well designed mechanism, and in today's world it's almost useless. The only thing we have to replace it with is knowledge and acceptance, neither of which is easy for the average human being. So, you know, credit to everyone who comes here to work on both of those things!

    All of which is perhaps a different way of saying things that you already know. Here's my point: the fact that you are not having pain during a photo shoot means that the work is enough of a distraction that your brain doesn't need to provide anything else. The moment your conscious mind relaxes from the demands of work, your primitive brain senses that you're in danger of thinking about those dangerous negative emotions, so it quickly shoots some pain your way to keep you distracted and alert for danger.

    In other words - your brain is still repressing stuff. It could be old stuff, or it could be new stuff. It could be very complicated or perhaps quite simple. It's likely to be a combination of things given your complicated history. And it's certainly exacerbated by conditioning (expecting the pain) as well as our natural built-in tendency to go to the negative, and to listen to the fear messages our primitive brains are throwing at us all day long. It's how we're wired.

    So no simple answers, but you already know that. It's complicated, and it's unique for each of us. Different things will trigger your symptoms at different times, and different techniques will work to either lessen, control, or banish the symptoms.

    Instead of the "tough love" technique (it doesn't work for me either) try hearing the negative messages in your brain, and changing them. The negative messages are the fear messages - "oh no, there's a twinge, uh oh, the pain is coming back, oh no, how bad is it going to be this time? Are my pain relievers going to work or will I have to take more? Will I have to cancel my next job, or the fun thing I wanted to do, is it going to ruin my evening?" etc Etc ETC! It goes on and on, yet it's completely in your subconcious unless you start training yourself to listen.

    Once you start recognizing the messages, you can stop them with some constructive counter-messages. Dr. Sarno's affirmations work for a lot of people. My self-talk message is "There's nothing wrong with you, you've had this before, it's gone away in the past, and it's totally unnecessary, so let's just have it go away NOW". I repeat this to myself along with some deep breathing and thoughts of remaining calm. If I think there's some emotional turmoil underlying the symptom, I'll think about what happened during the day that my brain is trying to repress. If I'm having a hard time that lasts over several days, I'll get out the notebook and start journaling or free-writing. Sometimes it's been as simple as something that a friend said that was a bit hurtful, but which my brain immediately repressed as too negative for me to dwell on.

    I posted a Success Story HERE about an incredibly scary headache that I banished in less than an hour, using these techniques. When I had that experience, I knew I had achieved real success. Note - I didn't say that I have permanently banished all symptoms, or even that I'm "cured". I'm human, and TMS is a human mechanism, so I expect that my brain will continue to cause symptoms for the rest of my life. My success is in having a completely different relationship with them when they occur, and living my life mostly symptom-free.

    Whew, long post! Payback maybe? :p


    (* Our profile stories are more important for ourselves than for others - they are great to look back on so we can see how far we've come! I often forget these days just how many symptoms I had, and how I was close to despair, back in 2011.)
  8. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Wow. Wonderful answer, Jan! Thank you so much for the kind and brilliant insights. And for being a fan of my daddy's. I am too. I love your self-talk message, "There's nothing wrong with you, you've had this before, it's gone away in the past, and it's totally unnecessary, so let's just have it go away NOW". I read some of your story, very interesting. I'm fascinated that you had a tough time getting past day 12. I wonder what it was about that day. Also, you make me want to do the SEP, Asap! Where is the success story about banishing your headache? My current TMS started as a headache that was pretty much unrelenting for nearly a year and turned into shoulder and neck/upper back pain. Thanks again for the wise words.
  9. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    I actually linked my headache story to the words "Success Story" in my reply but I can see that it wasn't very clear - I've gone back and bolded it (and added the word "HERE") to make it stand out, but here you go: http://www.tmswiki.org/forum/bookmarks/137/view-item (Bookmark | TMS Forum (The Mindbody Syndrome))

    I would definitely recommend doing the SEP - it's got a lot of different resources, readings, and exercises, designed to cover different aspects and practices in the TMS world. You're sure to find techniques that resonate for you.

    As for why I didn't get past Day 12 (which took me a lot more than 12 days to reach), I think it's just that I had fairly quickly reached a point where I understood what I needed to do on a daily basis in order to get my life back. I really felt like the mind shift - the 180-degree shift that I believe is essential for recovery - had happened. I clearly remember the day when I said "No" to depression, which never came back (it's been five years). And I remember how I conquered disabling panic attacks thanks to Claire Weekes (her little book, Hope & Help For Your Nerves, is the second book that saved me after The Divided Mind).

    Also, although I clearly suffered from TMS, the effect it had on my life for at least the first 45 years of my life was pretty minimal, and then quite manageable for most of the next 15 years. My non-traumatic life story had a lot to do with that, but I also think that I was already primed to think in terms of healing myself and being proactive about my health instead of being reactive, which is the norm for so many people. The saddest thing I ever heard from a close friend was "I want THEM to figure out what's wrong so THEY can fix it". I never in my entire life thought that way.

    The takeaway is that every single one of us is uniquely different - our TMS stories are all different, and the road to recovery is going to be unique to each of us. The reason I stick around on this forum is that I love seeing the different ways that people recover and I learn something new every time I log on. And I do kinda love to talk about it ;)

  10. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle


    A simple affirmation I used for myself was: "Stop the pain; I am willing to feel my emotions." I would do this with every step --this was dealing with foot pain. I used it like a mantra while walking, for many hours over time.

    I find my personality did not take to "getting angry" at the pain. I feel for me, and some others, it is more like training an animal: firmness, steadfastness, repetition. It is taking the stance that "I'm not going anywhere in this relationship to pain. I'm standing my ground and letting my truth be known."

    You might really experiment with statements to see which ones you personally can feel 100% about. I found mine, years ago, and I think it probably helped my progress. I generally don't take to affirmations ---again, it is my personality-- but this is the way I used "self talk."

    Andy B
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2016
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  11. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Donavan,
    You've gotten great responses so far so not much for me to add. However, I want to address the problem of over-thinking, which I believe has been a huge factor in generating my own TMS. What I discovered on the road to recovery was that not only did I need to speak to my unconscious brain to stop creating pain/symptoms, but that I also needed to speak to my conscious brain to tell it to stop thinking so much, especially about myself. I treat this tendency to over-think/analyze as a bad habit. Every time I catch myself engaging in this, I tell myself "Stop thinking. It never solves anything and only creates tension, so just stop." Then I shift my attention outside myself--either to an activity,listening to an audio book/podcast, or thinking that has a purpose (e.g. planning a DIY job on my house)--anything that is not about thinking about myself. This has had a huge impact in reducing my tension and stress levels, and thereby reducing my TMS symptoms.

    When I speak to my unconscious, I speak to it like a wayward child--in a loving, but firm manner.

    You're doing great. Hang in there and keep working on it.
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  12. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Thank you, EVERYONE for the wonderful replies!

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