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Resuming physical activity also self-punishing behaviour?

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by cla, Sep 16, 2023.

  1. cla

    cla Newcomer


    I had RSI about six years ago that stopped me from working, and eventually read Healing Back Pain, which cured me. I just followed Dr Sarno's advice, working even though it hurt, and it went away almost instantly. At the time my mum had stage four cancer, which was awful in itself and stirred up a lot of emotions about my relationship with her, and so the psychological cause of my RSI made a lot of sense.

    A month or so ago I started drawing a comic about this experience and the RSI started coming back, almost as if my brain was challenging my diagnosis. Obviously I didn't take it very seriously and so it didn't develop into anything particularly strong. I went to visit a friend and told her about my comic and my RSI, and she told me about how she'd had a similar experience with lower back pain.

    The next morning I woke up with a bit of a twinge in my back, nothing serious. I didnt think much of it, thought I'd just slept wonky, so in the next few days just did a few gentle yoga exercises and put some tiger balm on it. But about four days later the pain started getting a lot worse. Once the pain increased I realised that this was probably another case of TMS, particularly as my RSI had mysteriously completely disappeared.

    I began by just pushing through as I had with the RSI, trying to ignore the pain, not telling people about it or asking for help, and trying to understand what might have brought it on emotionally, but the pain just got worse. It got to the point where it was taking me more than an hour just to sit up in bed because moving was so painful.

    After a while I realised I was just punishing myself and giving myself overly high expectations for my ability to cure it alone, which is probably part of the reason why I had TMS in the first place (perfectionism and inability to ask for help).

    Since then, and after looking at advice on TMS from people in this forum and elsewhere on the internet, I have decided to chill out a bit. So I've just been looking after myself at home, asking my friends for help with shopping, and trying not to do too much. I've also booked a doctors appointment to rule out anything abnormal (although I am very convinced that the cause is not physical).

    However, I'm worried that this strategy means that I'm giving the pain too much attention, which is only exacerbating it. Also, my friends, in an attempt to be helpful, keep telling me I should try this or that cure or medicine or whatever, which just reinforces the idea that the pain is physical.

    I am working through your program which I have found helpful psychologically, but the pain doesn't seem to be improving. I don't know whether I should return to pushing through the pain - e.g. go to a party that I'm invited to tomorrow - or just do what I feel like (lying around watching TV...).

    How do other people find a balance between "ignoring" the pain and not punishing themselves?

    Thank you
  2. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi @cla, it was nice to meet you on the Chat today.

    First I want to point out (perhaps for the benefit of other new members) that your post is an excellent introduction and it gives us a lot of information up front so we don't all waste time on redundant questions and responses - specifically:
    1) you have saved a lot of space (and our time) by providing minimal information about your physical symptoms (because you know the details don't matter)
    2) you've given us valuable information about your prior TMS experience, and
    3) you've indicated that you're going to be medically checked out for this new symptom, as is always recommended.


    We had quite a lively discussion on the Chat, and I think we covered a lot of ground, including the possibility that the upcoming appointment alone might be exacerbating your symptoms and getting in the way of your existing TMS knowledge, because you're experiencing uncertainty - and uncertainty is a frightening condition for humans. To make it worse, you're dealing with back pain, which means you might continue to have uncertainty after the appointment, because so many doctors still want to diagnose totally normal aging backs with "problems" that supposedly need to be "fixed". And, since you already know this is a possible outcome, that's probably unconsciously adding to the burden of uncertainty.

    I also suggested that you consider the changes in outside circumstances that have been taking place in the world in the six years since you lost your mother. These things have only been getting exponentially worse since 2020, creating what I believe is a full-blown existential crisis for anyone who is paying attention.

    I do think you should go to this party tomorrow (today by the time you read this over in Europe!). Hopefully there will be places where you can sit down, and you can be straightforward in asking to sit. There is also no reason you can't allow yourself to take some over-the-counter pain relief as a temporary measure. If you want to enjoy alcohol at the party, take ibuprofen earlier in the day, and take acetaminophen (eg Tylenol) just before going out. It's well-known that Tylenol actually has the ability to reduce emotional distress and induce relaxation (I was given 1000mg of it before a tricky ankle surgery, and it totally worked). Also, switching between the two is commonly recommended for people who take pain relief 24/7, but you are not going to do that - this is a temporary gift to yourself so you can enjoy the evening.

    Keep us posted!

  3. cla

    cla Newcomer

    Hi @JanAtheCPA

    It was really nice to be part of the chat yesterday, its very helpful to share things with other people who are going through, or who have been through, similar experiences. I also get the impression that TMS is more widely accepted in the US than it is in Europe and so its nice to be able to have contact with that community online.

    (I imagine this is mainly because of Dr Sarno having been in the US, although I also do wonder whether the different health systems have anything to do with it: because healthcare is still (just about) free and universal here (both in Italy and in the UK where I come from) so someone is more likely to completely trust and just go along with whatever a doctor is telling them to do, given that the financial element isn't such an issue (have i just found a problem with free healthcare? obviously i dont mean that, but it is interesting to think how much that might factor in to people in the US (rightly) seeking alternatives to surgery, drugs etc)).

    And thanks very much as well for your reply here and the advice. I'm going to go to the party after dosing up on some painkillers, so lets see how it goes! Then I've just got to deal with the existential crisis...
    JanAtheCPA likes this.

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