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Day 1 Struggling with Neck/Arm Pain, Numbeness, and (Health) Anxiety

Discussion in 'Structured Educational Program' started by AnnaClem, Mar 17, 2023.

  1. AnnaClem

    AnnaClem New Member

    Hi everyone! This is Day 1 of the program for me and even though I'm normally very reluctant to share things about me openly, I think it might be time for me to make some changes in my life all around.
    I've always had massive health anxiety, even as a child. It's always the same cycle: I read about something or feel an unfamiliar sensation in my body, start to become hyperfocused on it, do more research to find out about worst case scenarios, promptly develop symptoms for said worst case scenarios, and then spend weeks or months in a sort of mental prison that sucks all the joy out of my life. I read two of Dr. Sarno's books yesterday and like many of you, it seems, I am the exact personality type he describes. I'm a massive people-pleaser, would bite off my tongue before criticizing my family/friends or asking for help, and am generally a do-gooder and perfectionist.
    What I'm struggling with is that this time, I actually got a diagnosis that appeared to match my symptoms. 2.5 years ago I developed awful neck and arm pain along with numbness in my right hand (ring and pinky finger in particular) and was referred to a neurosurgeon. An MRI showed three bulging discs in my neck, one of which was said to "press on a nerve," and mild to moderate stenosis in my spinal canal. My surgeon decided a conservative approach was still a good idea and I embarked on the usual odyssey of physical therapy, massages, etc. I was in a ton of pain for a good 3-4 months, then it started to subside and I slowly made progress, but wasn't completely pain-free until about 1.5 years after the initial onset. I'm currently in the second "flare-up" with little pain, but numbness in my right hand and oddly in my right foot on occasion. I've once again convinced myself that this is the beginning of the end and that either surgery or paralysis are pretty much inevitable (it's how my mind seems to work, straight from minor symptoms to total catastrophe). In the last few weeks of completely obsessing about this recent bout of symptoms, I've added dizziness, perceived weakness in arm and leg (though I can do everything normally, it just FEELS off and I get sore more easily), and odd flashing pains and tingling pretty much anywhere in my body, along with pain in my wrists, fingers and knees on both sides.
    I was officially diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and cervical radiculopathy 2.5 years ago. Since then, I've had period of being completely pain free followed by "flare-ups." Physical therapy seemed to really help, but also revealed that there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to my symptoms. For instance, working on my thoracic spine helped, but working on my neck didn't. Nerve pain didn't match the location of the "problematic" discs exactly and would move, including from one side to the other (which led me to imagine that my whole spine is surely by now disintegrating to produce such random symptoms).
    I did notice during my first bout with this that stress definitely worsens my symptoms and that despite physical therapy, I only seemed to start to get better when I stopped obsessing about symptoms all day and actually made an attempt to relax and go live my life. This - along with my personality type and my existing patterns of "manifesting" symptoms in the past - is what has me seriously considering that I don't have anything physically going on so much as it could be TMS.
    My problem is that FEAR has a massive grip on me and even though I'm 95% convinced this is psychological, the obsessive thoughts about a structural problems keep rearing their ugly heads. I definitely overanalyze everything! I also realized from reading this forum that I'm absolutely guilty of obsessively trying to research answers to every little symptom and detail of my body as well as seeking reassurance that I'm okay. Those are the things I'm trying to work on first, but it's a struggle.
    To be honest, initially I was going to ask if anyone else had similar symptoms or experiences and had had success with Dr. Sarno's methods. But I'm starting to realize that no one can truly give me the reassurance I'm seeking and while that's hard to comprehend for my brain, I think I need to work on accepting this. Instead, I'm wondering if anyone has tips for how to keep my mind from obsessing about symptoms and what else has helped them shed the fear associated with their bodies. I'm doing the structured program, I'm journaling, I'm breathing, and I'm reading Dr. Sarno's book every day, but obviously I'm still at the very beginning of this journey.
    If you've read this far, I truly thank you for taking the time! I'm anxious but hopeful for this journey.
    Ellen and JanAtheCPA like this.
  2. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi @AnnaClem and Welcome!

    You are already making great progress on the essential mind shift that is required to do this work, so please give yourself a big gold star for just being here and taking the leap. Back in 2011 I'd never posted like this on a public forum until I discovered this one (on its old platform) and wow, I'm still here because I love supporting this work.

    I do have tips, which I will collect from some of my posts, but right now I have to run, and in the meantime you'll probably receive other responses from our wonderful community.
    Ellen likes this.
  3. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    As promised, here's something I've written about effectively doing the SEP:

    Starting the SEP is a great first step - just be careful not to overdo it. Seriously, just do one "day" at a time at the most (I would say definitely not more than two, and never more than seven per week - one of which will be a "day of rest" anyway). If you want to do more, focus on anti-anxiety practices, since anxiety is at the heart of TMS for many of us. Find meditations, learn new breathing techniques, or start reading Help And Hope For Your Nerves, by Claire Weekes. Learning to manage anxiety was key to my recovery, as it is to many of us - in combination with Dr. Sarno and one of our programs.

    Watch out for over-thinking (you've already mentioned this is an issue for you, and it's super common). The way to look at it is that over-intellectualizing the process is just another form of distraction that your brain will create in order to make you think you are accomplishing something. You're not, so don't be fooled! Try to let the work unfold without analyzing it.

    Do keep the following in mind about the process:
    - it's not black & white,
    - it's not linear,
    - it's not possible to know how long it will take
    - it's ultimately different for every person who does it.

    As for the writing exercises, this work must be done with a serious commitment to self-honesty. Your brain will try to trick you into skipping things ("not necessary") or going too fast ("the faster you get this done, the sooner you'll recover!") or editing what you write down ("you should delete that, it's too embarrassing"). Again - don't be fooled!

    The queen of writing for emotional release is Nicole Sachs, LCSW. Check out her resources, especially her podcast. The earliest episodes starting in 2018 (I think) go into her writing advice heavily, or try doing a search for her term "JournalSpeak". She also wrote a book.

    At a certain point, often about a week or so into the program, your brain is quite likely to start throwing new symptoms at you, or revive old ones, or make your current symptoms worse. People have reported that anxiety and sometimes even depression can flare. Even though this doesn't feel good, it's actually good news, so do not be discouraged! Take a short break from the program, but double down on self-calming and affirmative techniques to talk back to your brain and assure it that you are perfectly safe and it's okay to be doing the work.

    Always have faith that you're on the right path, and above all, be kind and compassionate to yourself. Recovery happens when you love yourself enough to know that you deserve to heal.

    Keep us posted!

    Last edited: Mar 18, 2023
    Ellen likes this.
  4. AnnaClem

    AnnaClem New Member

    Thank you so much for responding, @JanAtheCPA ! I truly appreciate the time you took. This is such good advice, especially not overdoing and overthinking this process, which I think I had already started to do. I’ll slow down and take it one step at a time.
    Ellen and JanAtheCPA like this.

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