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Introducing myself (arm, upper back pain)

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by kdk, Apr 13, 2017.

  1. kdk

    kdk Newcomer


    This is my first post on tmswiki. I'll admit to some trepidation in going public, so to speak, with my story and recovery process. There is a sense in which my willingness to post represents a further step towards integrating a new understanding of why I hurt.

    Cutting to the chase, I'm a patient of Dr. Schechter and I've received a formal diagnosis. For years I've had nerve-y pain in both arms. It started on the left (pinky and ring finger) and quickly migrated to the right. Gradually, it spread up the arms into my armpits and upper back/neck. It started during an acutely stressful period (not long after I got married, and after I quit an extraordinarily stressful job). The onset of symptoms also coincided with my first episode of intense anxiety, which I've also experienced at times over the years. Like many others, I relentlessly pursued every available medical and alternative modality, including 2 minor surgeries. I saw countless practitioners of every stripe. All without substantial benefit. Getting rid of the pain became nothing short of an obsession. Researching possible treatments and assistive devices became my primary occupation when I wasn't working.

    Of course, I've also received extensive medical testing. This includes several MRIs of my neck, including a Neurogram MRI (which looks at nerves in great detail). All normal. Several EMG nerve tests were also mostly normal, but did turn up some abnormalities that--it was thought--could be connected to the pain. These findings motivated the minor surgeries.

    I encountered Dr. Sarno's work at one point, but dismissed it. It seemed completely implausible. Given my background in neuroscience, I was put off by his reliance on Freudian ideas, which I thought were antiquated.

    Fast-forward several years--my wife is pregnant with our son. Several days before my wife was scheduled to be induced, the pain skyrocketed. It disappeared completely during her delivery (it was a very rocky delivery and she ended up needing a c-section), but came back with a vengeance about a week later, if I remember correctly. This began a period of extremely intense pain, which scared the crap out of me. I felt completely overwhelmed by being a new father, and by the sudden spike in pain. I felt like I was failing as a husband and father. This is when it started showing up in my upper back. Eventually, it calmed down. It was still there, but it was much better.

    At some point, I bought Howard Schubiner's book. I read it, but didn't feel like it applied to me. I decided to return it. I boxed it up and put it in my car so I could take it to the post office. For whatever reason, I never pulled the trigger. After maybe 2 weeks of deciding to return it and then changing my mind, I eventually decided to read it again. Somehow, it all suddenly made sense. I contacted Dr. Schubiner to get his thoughts on whether I "fit the bill." While he couldn't diagnose me over the phone, of course, he shared his very strong impression that the pain was a function of my central nervous system, rather than any local "pain generator" in peripheral tissues. At this pronouncement, I felt free for the first time in years. I no longer had to seek out what didn't exist.

    After several weeks, I decided to see Dr. Schechter for a formal diagnosis, thinking that it would help my confidence if I could discuss my specific history and test results. He diagnosed TMS.

    The pain improved during the following week. However, during the next 6 weeks, our family went through some significant life stressors. My son, at 18 months old, suffered what turned out to be a fever-induced seizure. We eventually learned it was harmless, but the experience was traumatic. It went on for several minutes, and we both thought we might loose him. 911, ambulance, hospital--the whole deal. Not long after, he broke his foot mysteriously and developed pneumonia--he was really sick and couldn't walk due to the cast on his leg. During this time, I was battling through the final phase of my PhD dissertation process (now complete, thank goodness), and my wife was studying for her licensing exam as a psychotherapist (also now complete). In the span of a week, both my wife and I finally got credentials that we have been working towards for the last 7 years--which has necessarily limited our income. During this time, I also made the decision (a very stressful decision) not to pursue an academic career, at least not now. Believe it or not, there were a number of other stressful events, but you get the picture. Unsurprisingly, the pain spiked big time. I also experienced significant difficulty sleeping, muscle spasms, muscle twitching, as well as stomach issues, which I've never had before.

    So, I suppose the headline is that I'm beginning the recovery process. While I've found it relatively easy to accept the idea that the pain is not primarily due to a structural issue, I've only just begun being willing to accept the possibility that it functions as a defense against overwhelming emotions, rather than simply a expression of internalized pressure, anger, stress. My intuition is that this is an important idea, but it been the hardest for me to accept, since it relies on the existence of an strategic unconscious mind. But, as I said, I'm open to this idea to a degree that I've never been before.

    So there you have it! Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear any thoughts and reflections.
  2. MindBodyPT

    MindBodyPT Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi kdk,

    Welcome to the forums! Glad you've found TMS and Sarno and are starting your recovery process. As a neuroscientist i'm sure you are skeptical about the idea of such a "strategic" unconscious mind...as a PT with a speciality in working with neurologically involved patients and a psychology background myself, I also found this a strange concept.

    I don't know that there is any "proof" of this concept and indeed it is just a theory. However one way to think of it is this- once you learn about TMS, deal with and acknowledge what the pain represents, it tends to decrease or go away. The back pain I once had does pop up occasionally when i'm stressed...so in a way it is an expression of that stress/anger. But it is also a defense mechanism in the sense that it goes away relatively quickly now because it does not succeed in distracting me.

    You might connect better, as I did, with the neuroscience/neuroplasticity explanations of all of this. There are clearly pathways in the brain that cause these processes to occur when a critical amount of rage or other unpleasant emotion is occurring. It doesn't have to be "strategic" so much as just the way the brain is set up with pathways. These pathways in the "lower" brain/id/amygdala can be weakened with TMS knowledge and the pathways to the prefrontal cortex can be strengthening with rational thoughts (also occurs with the practice of meditation). Howard Schubiner explains this all really well and I really connected with his book.
    Ellen likes this.
  3. kdk

    kdk Newcomer

    Beautifully put! Thank you, MindBody PT. I'm so grateful to Dr. Schubiner and Schechter for the work they've done translating Dr. Sarno's fundamental insights into terms that connect with our evolving knowledge of the brain, etc.

    It's odd that I have even struggled with the notion of unconscious emotions, considering I co-wrote a book on the cognitive unconscious and I'm familiar with the latest research on emotion being inseparable from cognition (Damasio, etc.).

    I'm also aware of my persistent tendency to intellectualize everything, which I realize also functions as a defense against feeling.

    Recently, I asked myself what feelings I might be avoiding, and suddenly some muscles started to twitch. I've had lots of experiences like this over the last month, where I'll become aware of some emotional undercurrent, and there'll be an odd shift in how my body feels (for example, a feeling of fluid rushing down my arm). I've often thought, "Can this be real?!"

    Just wanted to give shout out to Forrest and others who have shared their experience and healing. I've very grateful. I hope to record my own success story eventually.
    MindBodyPT likes this.

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