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TMS as esophageal spasms?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by BonnieLass, Sep 14, 2019.

  1. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    Hi y'all-- this is my first post here. :) I have been following the Pain Recovery Program and loving it. Good to find a community where people know TMS is a real thing.

    A bit less than a year ago I developed sciatica, which was extremely painful. I went to the doctor, and she sent me to physical therapy, which, frankly, made the pain worse. I had read Sarno decades ago, when Healing Back Pain first came out, and had it on my kindle. One night, I sat up late and read through just about the whole book. The pain was gone. Not permanently--that took a few months, but I felt sure I was on to something.

    When the sciatica faded after a few months, the pain migrated (I think) to my right shoulder. Long story short--I suffered with that for months until I asked my oncologist to send me for an MRI just to make sure my 2015 breast cancer hadn't metastasized to my shoulder. No cancer (YAY!) but "tendonopathy." She wants to sent me to an orthopedist, but I'm going to pass on that.

    I know I have a lot of the internal rage that Sarno talks about. Last year (2018) was not good. My mother died in the spring and the man I loved most in the whole world died in June. I held his hand as he drew his last breath.

    Back to the present: the shoulder pain has faded and the sciatica has mostly gone, but now I'm getting what I'm calling "esophageal spasms." It feels like a lump in my esophagus, almost a cramp. It can last for an hour or several hours. I'm 99% positive this is TMS, and got confirmation this morning when my computer was misbehaving and as I got madder and madder (and contemplated taking a sledgehammer to it!) I could just feel my throat and chest tightening. Furthermore, I'm getting some tummy/bowel discomfort. Yesterday after lunch with a friend, I had to ask her to stop at a service station on the way home so I could use the bathroom! Holy s**t-- literally.

    TL;DR-- has anyone else experienced TMS in the form of esophageal/chest tightness and/or tummy/bowel issues?
  2. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi @BonnieLass, and welcome to the forum.

    Sadly, your 2018 sounds like my 2012-2014 with three significant deaths during that time. I found that addressing Abandonment and Isolation was enormously helpful to help me process my rage and grief. Understanding that I felt abandonded was a big ah-ha moment. Accepting that it was okay for me to feel abandoned (because it felt horribly selfish and self-centered considering there were surviving spouses who had to be suffering more than me) was HUGE, and incredibly freeing.

    To answer your question - absolutely, yes. Back in 2011, "before Sarno" I was losing weight rapidly, and not in a good way, thanks to an apparent inability (I would now call it an unwillingness of my brain! ) to digest properly - including fear of going anywhere, and I was rapidly eliminating foods from my diet. That was then. Nowadays, I can still have very short-term trouble when I'm stressed, but it doesn't last. I would say that heartburn is a little more chronic, but interestingly, not if I'm being mindful about it! It's too easy to allow it to bother me in the background, but when I put my mind to it, breathe, relax, and imagine my whole digestive system relaxing and letting go - it literally goes away. Takes work, though.

    People talk about gut issues all the time here, they are so common. You should be able to do a keyword search for it and limit the search to our Success Stories subforum - and in the results, just choose the tab marked "results from our forum only".

    And if you haven't yet discovered @Nicole J. Sachs LCSW, I highly recommend her work. She has many different resources, including a great book and a paid program, but she also has free videos and a fantastic podcast that I look forward to every week, called The Cure For Chronic Pain With Nicole Sachs LCSW - check it out!
  3. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    Thanks for the great response, JanAttheCPA! Very reassuring! I'll definitely explore the board some more and look into Nicole Sachs.

    ETA- I just subscribed to Nicole's podcast.
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  4. Jude

    Jude Peer Supporter

    Welcome @BonnieLass !
    I've been acquainted with Sarno's work since 2006 but haven't posted much here till recently.
    I wanted to respond because you mentioned the throat tightness and shoulder, and I have experienced those two as connected in the sense that I had pain move from one to the other and back, as part of a single syndrome, if that makes sense. What I noticed was that whenever I let myself have a deep cry, the esophageal spasm immediately vanished. It might reappear, but it was clearly associated with repressing grief. Wonder if you have noticed anything like that.
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  5. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    I have ABSOLUTELY noticed that!

    I cry a lot. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I cry every day. Usually when I'm looking at the news on my computer. (I never watch news on TV--way too traumatic.) If I didn't cry as much as I do, I'd really be a basket case. I believe crying is soooo healthy and good for you and it makes me nuts when people brag about how they never cry. I wanna say, "Honey, if you live in the world today and have your eyes open and never cry, you're just not paying attention."

    I was thinking this morning, too, after reading more on this site, that the TMS "symptoms" (for lack of a better word) are really a giant signal, a message, a beacon, or even an alarm bell shouting to us that something inside emotionally needs attention, compassion, and care. Have to ponder that some more, but it seems like a fruitful line inquiry... Kind of like when the "check engine" light comes on in the car (although the Car Talk Guys used to say it was probably okay to ignore that-- hehe). It means, stop, look, and listen inside. This is great stuff!
    JanAtheCPA and Jude like this.
  6. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    That might not have been the original purpose of the TMS mechanism way back in the dangerous primitive world, but in our modern stressful world, I think this is absolutely how it has evolved!
  7. Jude

    Jude Peer Supporter

    Thanks for saying that. In fact, after being TMS-free for ~6 years I developed symptoms in the past year and I tied the onset to my reaction to current events/news. When I posted about that here, I was shut down for being "political." But that has still been my reality. And of all the various bouts of TMS I have experienced, it has been--or I should say, is-- the mot challenging.
  8. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    And I'm certainly sorry that you were treated rudely @Jude, but in fact this is not the place to overtly discuss or even put a name to political issues, and if I happen to come across a post that is otherwise valuable to our purpose, I will attempt to edit it in order to reduce the political content to something brief and generic. Such as "current affairs". That being said, I myself have frequently and generically referenced "current" or "world" affairs, not only as a major contributor to my own struggles in the last three years, but also conjecturing that this is the reason we're seeing so many relapses, and, frighteningly, a rapidly growing number of young people on the forum. But when I do so, I always add this caveat: "and that's all we're going to say about that"
  9. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    I completely get your point (and note the implicit irony), but when I sit in front of my computer and cry, it's isn't over overtly "political" things (necessarily). It's sea creatures impaled on and killed by plastic, it's Dorian destruction, it's the return of polio, it's wildfires and flooding, and it's child abuse and neglect, the very issues that have driven us to seek relief from Sarno. This isn't called a "vale of tears" for nothing...

    And to return to the point, crying does help in the short term with the esophageal spasms. After my husband died, I cried many times every day, and that was the only thing that brought relief for a few minutes...until the pain built up again. Heck, I didn't wear eye makeup for two years. But I've always been tender-hearted and empathetic, for good or for ill.
    JanAtheCPA likes this.
  10. Jude

    Jude Peer Supporter

    It must feel good, and you are very fortunate, @JanAtheCPA to have found a forum where you can talk freely with peers about the issues that are associated with your TMS (as you mentioned, abandonment, etc)
  11. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    I want to ask y'all what you think about the following. My experience doesn't fit what I read elsewhere about panic attacks, but the discussions on this board are deeper and more nuanced than one finds elsewhere.

    I've been prone to anxiety and panic attacks my whole life in one form or another. In the last 20-ish years they tend to be the same. It starts with a feeling in my body that I can't explain. Not necessarily pain, but something that seems out of place, something that might be "nothing" or benign, but I don't know. I start to get anxious, because I don't know what it is. It might be life-threatening. I suspect that most women who read here know that women have different heart attack symptoms from the ones men have. Usually women don't feel the squeezing in the chest, the "elephant sitting on my chest," the pain down the left arm, etc. Women can feel all manner of ambiguous things like nausea, extreme fatigue, maybe shortness of breath (maybe not), or just a general feeling that "something is wrong." HA! That last one makes me laugh (even though it's not funny), because when do we NOT feel that something is wrong?

    THEN I start to feel anxious. My mind will go into overdrive. I may or may not feel what you commonly read about panic attacks, namely, heart pounding, sweaty head and palms, shortness of breath, etc. And in any case, panic advisories instruct you to go into self-talk along the lines of, "These feelings aren't dangerous, they will pass, they're scary but the feelings won't kill you. You're perfectly safe."

    This is where my experience departs from the helpful advice: I'm NOT afraid of the FEELINGS. I'm not afraid of the panic itself. It's the bodily sensations that set the whole thing off and what they might mean. The fact is, there's no way of me knowing if it's nothing, short of taking myself to the ER, which I have done on several occasions. One of those times, after hours of tests (they were very thorough), they sent me home, but I was still in a panic, because I know that sometimes people walk out of the hospital and drop dead in the parking lot.

    Background: I've been around a lot of sickness, disease, and death. Skipping over my childhood, the men in my adult life have had heart attacks. I dated a man before I married who had several, and I went with him to the ER on many occasions. He later went on to have a heart transplant. My late husband had several heart attacks followed by angioplasty. (He had beaucoup health problems, too many to go into here. Suffice it to say, during our 10-year marriage, he had 20 hospitalizations. We only had one 12-month period when he wasn't hospitalized for something life-threatening.) The man I dated after he died had a heart attack-- I spotted it ("I've got this squeezing in my chest," he said, coming in from mowing the lawn the day before Easter in 2004). He had quad bypass three days later. My dear friend who died a year ago didn't have heart problems, but he had a genetic disease that killed him, painfully, at age 67.

    The only thing that fixes the panic in the moment is .25 mg of xanax. Self-talk, meditation, walking, distraction, yoga-- nothing shuts town the panic dialogue in my head except that drug (God bless the person who developed it).

    I woke up at 3 am today in a panic attack. Sometimes it happens that way--out of the blue. I lay there feeling the odd feelings in my stomach, my chest, my throat (esophageal spasms almost kicked in), but I couldn't talk myself into "everything is okay"-- I never can talk myself into that, because everything ultimately isn't okay, you know?

    And yes, I've been in oodles of therapy over the decades, and I'm in therapy now. I've been on anti-depressants, off and on over the years. Not currently on one. They have side effects. Xanax doesn't. I only take it as needed, which winds up being 3-4 times per month, and never more than .25 mg.

    It's a dangerous world and we're all on thin ice. When I'm in a panic mode, I can't get past that.

    Lord, what a downer of a post. If you've read the whole thing, thank you. Thoughts, reactions, sympathy welcome.
  12. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    <Light bulb over head!>

    I just listened to a great episode of The Mind and Body Fitness podcast featuring an interview with Dr. Howard Schubiner.

    It's all about SAFETY. Feeling safe. Knowing you are safe.

    TMS symptoms abate when you know that the pain is not dangerous, not life-threatening, not something that's going to upend and destroy your life. When you know that the pain is harmless.

    I cannot talk myself out of a panic attack, or, indeed, even be reassured by an eight-hour visit to the ER and a battery of tests, because in my core, soul, heart of deepest hearts, I do not believe I am safe.

    THAT is from events that happened when I was a toddler. Things I've been struggling with for all of my 71 years.

    And, in fact, in absolute terms, this is not a safe world. This is not a "safe" life. This life will end at some unknown time. What I have is an existential problem, not even a psychological one. I suppose it needs existential/spiritual tools, because my mind isn't buying the psychological ones.

    In the interview, Dr. Shubiner said something that really clicked with me: at any given time, the brain (i.e. neural circuits) make a decision about whether to cause pain. Whether to sound an alarm with pain. The brain does this when it concludes that you are in some danger. TMS theory is all about reassuring you (whatever we mean by you) that there is no danger. TMS theory and practice restore a sense of safety.

    My panic attacks happen because my brain considers that these internal sensations MIGHT be signaling something life-threatening. The reason I can't talk myself out of it, is because, yeah, THEY MIGHT BE SIGNALING JUST THAT.

    Must ponder this ...
  13. Jude

    Jude Peer Supporter

    @BonnieLass sounds like you're doing the hard work!

    I would add from my experience: In TMS it's not that the brain gives these signals because we "might" have something life-threatening; it's because the brain makes a unilateral decision that those pain signals are preferable for us to experience than some other fear or emotion it wants to make sure we avoid. If we get sufficiently distracted by something less than life-threatening (say, carpal tunnel), then it will usually go with that.

    In my case, I had panic attacks in my 20s, and was able to "cure" them through behavioral techniques, which these days go under the umbrella of CBT. The premise is that even if the world is existentially unsafe, we are actually safe moment to moment. It is a "thinking error" that causes us to feel otherwise, and that error is correctable. You might try it if you haven't. I didn't start with TMS until 20-30 years later (I'm basically your age). TMS is a lot more insidious, in my experience. More of a "lifelong" condition that we learn to "manage."

    Don't know if any of that is helpful, but just wanted to let you know I was thinking about what you wrote!
  14. BonnieLass

    BonnieLass Peer Supporter

    Thanks for the reply. I'll think about what you wrote. :)
    Jude likes this.
  15. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Another way to come at this certainly has to do with existential issues. In the primitive world, we couldn't afford to become bogged down and distracted with existential issues (eg: Mortality, Isolation, Freedom, and Meaning) because we might not see the sabre tooth tiger sneaking up on us. Because the primitive world was definitely not safe. So the brain created a distraction designed to keep us worried and on edge.

    This worked fine when we lived just long enough to breed and raise the next generation, at a time when the dangers were relatively few and very concrete. This mechanism doesn't work at all well in the modern world with what appear to be infinite number of fears and concerns, many of which we have absolutely no control over, spanning lives that we expect will last many decades.

    I didn't feel that your story was a downer, even though it broke my heart. It's hard to imagine how anyone could endure your losses, and yet people do, and you have. I love that you brought up existentialism, because there is a practice called Existential Psychotherapy which, without ever seeing a practitioner, I have found incredibly powerful and healing in my own TMS journey, especially during a two year period when I lost a sibling, a close friend and my remaining parent.

    I already listed above the four Core Issues of EP. Abandonment (aka Isolation) and Mortality obviously play heavily in our emotions when we lose someone, but I believe that our brains try to repress those two emotions, because they are too f***ing scary to contemplate. Freedom is always going to be an issue as we age. And are we not constantly contemplating the Meaning of it all?
  16. Smokey73

    Smokey73 Peer Supporter

    I am appreciative of the discussion of TMS as it relates to aging. I have just come to accept that I have had my TMS pattern of thinking for most of my life. Now that I have learned the tools to work with it (thank you so much), I have experienced some healing. However, what are realistic expectations given my age (74)? Add to that, I am always evaluating what sensation might be TMS and what might be actual, requiring a call to the clinic. And I do believe anxiety is common and specific for older people. Perhaps we could have a forum category relating specifically to existential issues ie the issues of aging.
  17. Jude

    Jude Peer Supporter

    @Smokey73 I remember reading from Sarno's research that TMS is less prevalent in older people. He used that as an argument for proving TMS pain is not physical, because if it were, then one would expect prevalence to increase with age. When I read that, I thought I must be a bit young for my age, but at least there's hope = )

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