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My complete recovery from RSI, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my hands

Discussion in 'Success Stories Subforum' started by Moose, Jan 4, 2019.

  1. Moose

    Moose Peer Supporter

    So my story begins in 2012, when I was in the last few months of my PhD. My studies were not going well, and I'd just had a year of sh*t piled on me (Mum got diagnosed with a terminal illness, my long term partner and I broke up, and I had a cancer scare and had to have surgery). So I was, to put it mildly, stressed.


    It was January 2012 and I realised I really had to pull my finger out if I was going to finish my thesis by the summer and actually get my PhD. So I started working more hours - about 10 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. During the first few weeks of this, I developed what felt like mild tendonitis in the back of my left hand (my dominant hand). I wasn't really worried about this until one day during a meeting at my desk with my supervisor, I mentioned it offhand. She immediately freaked out and was like 'MOVE AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD NOW'. She started telling me horror stories about colleagues she'd known who got RSI and had to stop working for YEARS. This made me incredibily anxious and I made a doctor's appointment for the next day.

    You might guess where this is going next. That mild pain in the back of my hand? Well, by that evening my whole hand and arm were aching and tingling. I was really scared! I went to the doctor and they said, yeah, it's probably RSI. They wrote me a sick note for 2 weeks. While I was off work the next few days, guess what? My right arm started to hurt too! But I was barely doing any computer work! In hindsight, it makes ZERO sense that my right arm would just so happen to get a repetitive strain injury just days after my left did, especially when I had cut my computer use down to almost zero. But at the time, I hadn't heard of TMS, and my doctors treated it solely as a structural issue.


    The next few months involved me struggling to work through a lot of pain in both my hands and arms, while going through the usual treatments of anti inflammatories, periods of rest, and physical therapy. I even let my physical therapist use a technique called 'needling' on me (don't try it, folks. It's as bad as it sounds). My symptoms were never consistent, they moved about in different parts of my hands and arms. My hands often felt really tight. Sometimes the pain was hot and fiery and sharp, sometimes it was a more diffuse ache. The pain would continue after I stopped working for the day. I would wake up most days with sore hands. I was in hell. I also started getting back pain during this period, which I suspect was also TMS. It was also pretty variable - sometimes it was my upper back, sometimes my lower.

    Somehow, I managed to fight through the pain and finish my thesis. I got a job in software straight afterwards, and I thought that since I'd only be working a 40 hour week instead of 60-70, that my symptoms HAD to get better, right? Plus, my work bought me an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, the whole shebang. Well, I was WRONG. Turns out, the new stresses of working in a new field and having to meet deadlines in order to keep getting paid made things worse, not better. I didn't fit in well at that company either, which didn't help. I was crying in the bathroom pretty much every day. I would come home exhausted. I was TERRIFIED. What if I could never use a computer again? How would I hold down any of the jobs I was qualified to do? How would I survive???

    I ended up getting fired from that job after a few months. But I needed money, so I had no choice but to take another software job. Of course, I warned my new employer and they tried to make accommodations for me to work around my 'disability', but I was naturally worried that I would have the same problems. A week into my new job, I had an accident on my bike and broke my little finger on my left hand really badly, and was in a cast for two months. This is sometime around April 2013. So this injury actually gave me a legitimate excuse not to use computers or write for over two months! I spent my time at my new job teaming up with other tech workers and looking over their shoulders, and reading about code. Eventually though, the cast came off and I had to starting using my hands again.

    Of course, if there were anything structurally wrong with my hands, a two month break should have been enough to help heal any injury. But it will probably not surprise you to learn that this break did not help and my symptoms came back as soon as I started working at the comupter again.


    I started having panic attacks at work, and during one of these attacks (not long after getting my cast off) I ran out and hid in a stairwell at work and started frantically googling for how to cure RSI. Somehow I stumbled on a site I hadn't found before - I can't remember what the site was now, but it said that it was possible that there was nothing structurally wrong with my hands and arms, and that my brain could be causing my nervous system to react in ways that produced the symptoms. It questioned whether my symptoms were consistent and confined to one area, which would imply a structural problem, or were they more changeable and moveable? It encouraged me to think about the series of events that led me to having symptoms, and question whether it is likely that a structural issue was the cause. This struck a chord with me and I started seeing my symptoms in a new light. I hadn't questioned things like this before - after all, no one had ever mentioned that a psychogenic illness was a possibility! But things all started to make sense in hindsight. That website led me to Dr Sarno's books and the TMS wiki, which I spent a lot of time hungrily reading as much as possible in the next few days. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was on to something. I had real, actual HOPE.


    I read a lot of the recovery stories on the TMS wiki forum, especially stories about people with 'RSI' symptoms like me. I needed to know other people had gotten better this way. I also decided to follow the education program laid out on the wiki, which included a lot of journalling and meditaiton. The big issue for me though was how to tackle the practical side of things - how to get myself using a computer and writing for multiple hours a day without pain. Many people said they recovered by doing a small amount each day, and building up their use slowly over time. But I had a full time software job, so that wasn't really an option for me! Instead, I decided I was going ALL IN. I would go to work, sit at a computer for 8-ish hours a day, and just use it like a regular person, no matter how much it hurt. I would not complain about the pain to my partner or anyone else anymore. I would switch out my ergonomic keyboard and mouse for regular ones (this attracted some comments from my coworkers as to why I wasn't using the expensive tools I'd asked for anymore, and I think I mumbled something about needing to 'keep varying the tools I use as it's actually more ergonomic' or something). When I was typing and my hands would flash with pain, I wouldn't take my hands off the keyboards and rub them soothingly like I wanted to, I would just KEEP BLOOMIN' TYPING instead. I kept telling myself 'you are going act like someone who's hands don't hurt'. And I did just that, even though it hurt like hell.

    Even though the pain was still there when I typed, I noticed a change right away. Before, when I'd left my desk at the end of the day, my hands would keep hurting, all evening and usually into the next day too. However, almost as soon as I started this process, I noticed that my hands stopped hurting pretty quickly after I finished work. I could actually go out and be social after work and not feel totally drained and in pain! Already that was progress. However, there were a couple of days here and there that really did take it out of me at this stage, and it was all I could do to come home and curl up on the sofa exhausted and hurting at those times. However, overall I was feeling much better most days.

    I don't know exactly how long I did this, maybe 4 or 6 weeks, before one day I left my desk and was walking down the corridor at work to get my lunch when it hit me - I hadn't thought about my hands ALL MORNING. This was a first! I worked a WHOLE DAMN MORNING without worrying about my hands, or even noticing if they hurt (I couldn't tell you if they had hurt, but if they had, I had successfully ignored it). That would have been unimaginable before. This was when I knew, at last, that I would win the battle. That the worst was over. I was grinning to myself all through lunch that day!

    From then on, I just kept doing what I was doing, and things got easier and easier. It's hard to say exactly how long I took to get fully better - maybe 3 months? Because it was a gradual process and as I got better I just noticed my hands and any symptoms less and less.


    My hands are 100% better today. I think the one positive to come out of my ordeal was that I learnt to be a bit better at taking breaks from the computer and getting up from my desk and moving more, as these became habits when I was suffering with TMS. Obviously, they didn't help with the TMS itself but I think they're healthy habits to have if you have a sedentary desk job!

    I don't personally hold with Sarno's theories about symptoms being caused by repressed rage and whatnot; I suspect that the cause is a bit more mechanical than that - from what I understand about the nervous system, neural pathways that get a lot of use get strengthened, and become easier to use in the future. Anxiety and stress definitely played a part in the onset of my symptoms, but I think then that the neural pathways that caused me pain became reinforced through repeated use (possibly because I was so focused on the pain and on worrying about the pain), and basically when I was recovering, I started using other neural pathways until they became strengthened enough to become the default pathways.

    I found that the meditation and journalling recommended by the TMS wiki were helpful, but not in a direct way. The journalling in particular helped me work through some emotional trauma regarding my family, and for this reason I'd recommend it to people as a tool to use periodically for personal growth and healing. I think mostly though, my symptoms disappeared because of the behavioural changes I made. But I wouldn't have had the encouragement to do that without this forum :)

    I held off on posting my success story though, because I seemed to develop a replacement symptom as my hand symptoms cleared up. My jaw started getting very tight when I stressed, and I started clenching my teeth in my sleep. To be fair though, I've had jaw/TMJ issues since I was a kid so I can't necessarily blame it all on a replacement symptom. I still struggle with this, however I've decided now that I'm going to try and see a specialist to see if anything can be done to help me rewire this part of my nervous system (which is hard because most of the issues happen when I'm asleep...). However, I decided to post because you know what? I'd take the jaw clenching/TMJ issues over the 'RSI' any day of the week. My quality of life is much, much better now.

    If you are suffering with potential TMS symptoms, particularly with RSI-style ones like I had, I hope that my story gives you hope that you can get better (with all the usual caveats about ruling out any serious causes of pain, like injuries or cancer or whatever, with your doctor first). Doing the work to get better was really hard, but I always kept in mind that the alternative was much worse. If I can do it, you can to. YOU GOT THIS. I BELIEVE IN YOU <3

    (Edited to add: I forgot the other thing I used to help me - mantras. Whenever I noticed the pain, I'd say to myself 'my hands and arms are healthy and strong' or something similar, over and over. I don't know if the words themselves helped, but I know that forcing myself to do this stopped me from fretting so much when the pain was bad - I was sort of 'talking over' myself, replacing spiralling worried thoughts with the repetitive, soothing mantras. I'd recommend thinking up a couple for yourself and using them over and over.)
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
  2. cdub

    cdub Peer Supporter

    Yay! I have similar symptoms as to you and I'm just starting. Today I was doing pretty well without too much pain but my left hand started hurting again which made be worried. But I got through it. I'm certainly not as afraid of the pain in general anymore.

    I just have to keep reminding myself that it's TMS and my MRIs are normal and there's nothing wrong with my hands.

    I have wrist pain, hand pain, finger tingling, elbow pain, tight shoulders and cold hands.
  3. Moose

    Moose Peer Supporter

    Yay, it's great that you've started on your healing journey :) I know it's easier said than done, but try not to focus too much on the pain as it comes and goes - you'll have bad days, and good days. It's the overall trend that's important. Trust the process, and in your own strength <3
    cdub likes this.
  4. cdub

    cdub Peer Supporter

    Did you have tingling too the entire time or just pain?
  5. cdub

    cdub Peer Supporter

    Great advice!
  6. Moose

    Moose Peer Supporter

    I didn't get tingling so much as pain and tightness. But everyone experiences it differently; I know tingling is a common TMS symptom for a lot of people.
    cdub likes this.
  7. Ookami

    Ookami New Member

    Thank you, Moose, for sharing your success story! This is exactly the kind of success story I've been waiting for to appear, because I'm studying Japanese language and culture at university level, and to get my bachelor (plus a year of pure language study), I have to keep using the computer a LOT to get things done, despite the pain in my arms and hands. I've seen so many success stories where people have rested for a while, then slowly build up the courage and gradually start using their arms again, but unless I want to stop studying and get stuck on welfare support, I have to keep studying for another year and a half, at the very least. I'll incorporate your method into my overall healing plan, and see how it turns out! Specifically lots of affirmations, and acting as though I'm healed. I already meditate, and have started to journal (verbally, lol, I'm too impatient to write things down, plus my writing is near unintelligible). Thank you!
    cdub likes this.
  8. Moose

    Moose Peer Supporter

    Hi Ookami! I'm really happy that my story helps you :) Yeah, acting like I was already healed was absolutely key for me. You can do it! Best of luck with your studies.
    cdub likes this.
  9. Ookami

    Ookami New Member

    Thank you, I appreciate it!
    cdub likes this.
  10. cdub

    cdub Peer Supporter

    Do your hands get cold? My hands and fingertips get freezing now with TMS and the veins in my forearms pop out.
  11. Moose

    Moose Peer Supporter

    I don't really remember if they got cold or not. It's not really too important whether you have the exact same symptoms as I did, every body's nervous system is different and will do different things. I know that you're trying to match your symptoms to mine to convince yourself you have TMS and that you can get better through the methods on this site. I know because I used to do it too, when I was in the midst of it. But no one will have a story just like yours. Doesn't mean the methods here won't work for you. Do the work, tell yourself it'll work, and it will.
    cdub likes this.

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