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Why Does Something You Love Cause TMS?

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by donavanf, Jan 2, 2015.

  1. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    OK, here is a big question for you guys. I'm sure this will get a lot of replies, at least I hope so, because I would imagine it's not uncommon. But it is confusing, confounding, frustrating and annoying, and moreover, in my case, affects my livelihood. Maybe it does for others, too. In thinking about it, I believe I can understand the underlying mechanism, but it is still hard for me to wrap my head around. So here goes...why can doing something you love sometimes trigger or even cause TMS?

    Let me be more specific, and I will make it case specific to my story, though I'm sure many people will have their own version. I grew up as a child actor, which was a joy. The first gig I ever had (as a young voice over actor) was pure, unadulterated fun. I loved it. I knew it was what I wanted to do when I grew up, so you could say I grew up fast. I continued to act for most of my life. But, like most actors, I would get "stage fright" and very nervous before performances. I know many actors do. Even, perhaps especially, the big stars. I remember hearing that Henry Fonda would literally throw up before he had to go on stage, even after he'd been acting for more than 40 years! But once I hit the stage, the microphone, the studio, or whatever, I would be ok. More on this later.

    After many years of acting, my road took a turn into the healing arts, acupuncture and holistic medicine. After nearly 20 years on that road, I realized I wanted to go back into the fine arts. Although I always loved acting, I decided to put my efforts and actions into another passion that I'd had since I was a young teenager, photography. I had a "series of unfortunate events" occur in 2000...mom died of cancer, dad estranged himself from the family, my fiancé left me on Christmas day, I lost my house, my inheritance, my dogs and my whole world crashed and burned. I lost my identity. In other words, TMS was brewing BIG TIME. But I pressed on, working in a lifeless and dull day job that "paid the bills". I just kept pushing forward, surviving, definitely not thriving, fighting fatigue, grief and ennui of the highest order. But no pain...yet. Somewhere in there, I picked up a camera again, and when I did, it was like a life preserver. Not only did I re-kindle an old passion (making photographs) but I found that I could make more doing that on weekends (weddings and head shots) than I did in a whole week at my crummy day job. Things really started to escalate for me, professionally, with photography. I had my work published on the cover of a magazine, I was published in the official Instagram book, and I even began to take on some celebrity clients, shooting record album covers and press photos. I was THIS close to quitting my day job and making a full time career out of photography. I was elated. Yes, I would sometimes get nervous before big shoots, but once I started clicking, I was fine, just as I was as a young actor hitting the stage.

    It was right around then that I took a terribly traumatic and stressful cross country trip with my sister and family (big triggers for me) and when I came back, my TMS nightmare began. You can read more about it on my profile, but suffice it to say, due to upper back, jaw, wrist, neck and shoulder pain, I hardly picked up my camera for a year! Lately, as my TMS is getting better, I have begun to slowly get back into shooting again. But every time I pick up my camera, my shoulder and neck flare up and I have to put it on a monopod (one legged tripod). If I hold the camera up for even just a half hour, my neck and upper back muscles feel like I've had a workout with a 200 pound dumbbell. Now, keep in mind, I used to shoot a whole wedding (probably well over 2,500 images and 9-10 hours of holding my camera) with nothing more than being a little sore the next day. I could shoot a headshot session (3-4 hours) pain free. Now, it hurts after 3-4 minutes! I've literally learned to "fear" my camera. And I won't even go into the computer triggering me. PhotoShop is a huge part of modern photography and each shoot (which may only last a few hours for a portrait session) can take days to polish and color correct in PhotoShop. I know that I have a classic case of "conditioning". But while I know this "consciously", my body still sees the camera and computer as triggers.

    I also have to blame my Physical Therapist, who I have stopped seeing. I worked with her weekly for a year before I found Dr. Sarno's books. I know she meant well, but she told me, "Your photography and computer usage is probably the cause of your neck and shoulder pain. This is classic RSI. Shooting and PhotoShopping for years with a bad posture and poor physical strength took its toll....but you can get back to shooting, however it's going to take MAJOR work on your posture and continual strength training...blah blah blah".....no WONDER I'm afraid to shoot! She made it sound like I was going to run the IronMan Triathalon, when I just wanted to pick up a 2 pound camera! OK, to be fair, with a lens, a camera can weigh about 5 pounds and photography IS a physical profession to some extent, but I almost NEVER had pain before this and this is something I AM trained to do. I've been shooting professionally for over 10 years, with no pain, now...and much longer than that as a hobby, with no pain. But since 2013 (the onset of my TMS), my body/mind is majorly triggered even just by thinking of a Photo shoot!

    I'm still shooting, pushing through, I even saved up and bought a desktop for PhotoShop (my PT convinced me laptops were the devil) but even with my "improved posture" and a monopod to take all the weight, I often have to take Advil before and after a shoot...and for a while, when my TMS was in full swing, I even had to take a doctor prescribed muscle relaxant to shoot. Which, by the way, IMMEDIATELY made my TMS go away completely. Which shows me it's muscle tension, coming from my brain and repressed anger and fear. If a muscle relaxant can basically send my TMS into a full (temporary) remission, shouldn't that be almost PROOF that there is nothing seriously wrong with my back and neck?

    So, friends and TMS family, any thoughts on how I can UN-condition myself and get back to doing what I LOVE??? I miss photography without pain! Am I just going to have to "feel the pain/fear and do it anyway"? Is the pressure of making a living at photography an issue? Is this just a form of stage fright, like I used to get with acting? Also, I'm still (a tiny bit) convinced the PT was right, and my posture is bad and photography is too physical for me. And when I believe that, I get heartbroken. The more I think physically, the worse I feel and the more I think psychologically, the better I feel. Sarno 101! But I still FALL into the trap of thinking physical and WHAMMO, pain flares up in an instant. I WANT to make a living at photography (and eventually act again), and LEAVE my horrendous day job, but I feel so frustrated, sad and angry that my TMS is seemingly blocking the road to my happiness. My camera, once my best friend, feels like an enemy. The very thing that could build me a better life, seems to be a roadblock. I can't get out of my own way.

    Sorry for my LONG WINDED post, but I'm sure some of you have had similar experiences, i.e., your passion causing pain? I try to stay positive, but it's so hard when the very thing you love seems to be one of the biggest triggers of your TMS. I appreciate your replies, and feel very fortunate to have found this forum.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  2. Ryan

    Ryan Well known member

    Many people have struggled with this as well as myself. This will take time but can be done to change your conditioned response.

    Until you alter your relationship with the fear around the symptoms they will continue or move to some other form of tms (symptom imperative). You are very preoccupied with your symptoms, worrying about will they come or not. If you have tms nothing is wrong with your body it's your mind that needs healing. This is a hard step to overcome but must be done to defeat the beast. How you do this is different for everyone.

    I would also suggest reading Alan Gordans program, specifically the outcome independence section. Also look at the threads under ask a tms therapists about fear. Best of luck keep at it and you will heal when your ready.

    North Star, donavanf and Ellen like this.
  3. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    I think this is a great inquiry. You are asking yourself to see clearly the stuff around "the pain arises when I do what I love." Do you love it? What kind of pressures are there around this (such as rescuing you from your day-job, fear that you cannot make it)? Do you push yourself even in what you love? Is it fear/doubt that the condition is actually physical?

    Can you feel that fear, and not reject yourself for it? How about the pain? Can you watch yourself in fear and rejection and then connect this to the cause of your pain, therefore taking away its distraction power?

    To me you are asking the right questions, and more will arise. For me, patience and just increasing activity a little at a time was important. Reading Sarno daily and repeating the 12 daily reminders, doing the other basic education and ignoring the results may help you.

    Can you be gentle with your human/TMS experience? I don't mean BE GENTLE, BE EASY GOING, BE FEARLESS, BE PAIN FREE! I mean instead can you be gentle with the fear, the pain, the doubt? This lightening up is scary for TMS sufferers, because we tend to be "intense perfectionists"---at least I do. And the fear of the suffering is huge, and naturally creates more fear. And we are told that fear is a bad thing in the TMS work...

    What I mean is, can you even be gentle with the fact that you aren't gentle with yourself (if that's true)? This kind of allowing might expose more of the patterns in you that can cause TMS. This information will then add to your understanding and your "cure" over the long run.

    If any of this resonates, great. If it doesn't ignore it. It is your unfolding!

    Last edited: Jan 3, 2015
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  4. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

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  5. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    Any change to one's homeostasis (comfort level) can cause TMS.
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  6. Peggy

    Peggy Well known member

    I think the things you do most or that your love causes you pain just to get your attention. The pain really wants to get your attention so you wake up and pay attention to it and figure out your life in the meantime. Pain may look like your enemy, but is actually your ally.

    Walt posted this quote this morning, it reminded me of your question, it doesn't really answer the question, but does state that TMS knowledge will relieve the pain.

    “Years ago,” Dr. Sarno says, “I saw a famous woman athlete who was having pain in the very muscles she used most in her sport. Fortunately, she immediately grasped the concept of TMS and her pain promptly disappeared."
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  7. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Peggy. You said it best. The things we do or love most may cause us pain so we look into our repressed emotions
    and/or perfectionist or goodist personality. Our subconscious is not our enemy, it's our friend, giving us pain so we learn more
    about ourselves and others and live in better harmony with ourselves and them.

    Thank heaven I love popcorn and it doesn't give me pain. It's said to be healthful.

    So too is hugging and playing with my dog. No pain, just unconditional love given and received.

    Have a great and pain-free new year.
    donavanf and Peggy like this.
  8. Back-To-Golf

    Back-To-Golf Peer Supporter

    Hi donavanf,

    I am quite new to this too, so may not have the answers for you. But hope sharing my similar predicament with you helps.
    I love playing golf but yet, all my major attack of lower back pain happens in the golf course. In case you think it happened while swing a club aggressively, it didn't. These are all the incidences:

    1. Picking up a golf ball - Back spasm!
    2. Picking up a club - Back spasm!
    3. Getting out of the buggy cart - Back spasm!
    4. Leaning over to putt a ball - Back spasm!

    Until I discover TMS, I could not for the life of me figure what's wrong.
    Its slightly better these day but I am still gingerly threading along. I believe a lot of it comes from belief and trust.
    Like there are still certain body position which I am phobic off e.g. standing straight and leaning forward because they tend to trigger my pain. I am still trying to mentally get over it.

    Wish you success. Perhaps you can try shaping some objects of the same weight as your camera and try lugging it around :)
    donavanf likes this.
  9. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    Back to Golf, have you read SteveO's "GPD"? He's a swing coach, write's about his TMS and golf.
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  10. North Star

    North Star Beloved Grand Eagle

    What a great thread. Donovan, your comments about using a 5 pound camera inciting muscle spasm made me think about how Sarno talks about the medical mythology around such benign activities. (Like bending over to tie your shoes.) And like you, I've had PT reinforce ridiculous scripts. Only yesterday, I put on my favorite jeans…something I don't do too often because I prefer yoga pants since I'm constantly in motion and they're just comfy! Anyway. When I put jeans on yesterday, I felt the ole conditioning kick in. A lower backache. From my jeans. REALLY?!?!?!?!:jawdrop: And then I remembered: Part of why I quit wearing jeans is it was a back ache trigger.

    Every once in awhile I feel like the clouds clear and the absurdity of some of this stuff just smacks me upside the head. Yesterday was one of those moments.

    BTW, I am a writer and one of my issues has been forearm and hand pain. When I started the SEP here on the forum, I was eager to begin journalling. Something I had given up a few years ago. At the time, my TMS was mostly manifesting with wicked neck and head pain. The morning I started journalling…BANG! Arm and hand pain. I was spitting mad. I knew it was TMS.

    I think I have a couple of issues that may or may not resonate with you. First, I have been really good at self-sabotage. I'll jump on an opportunity with guns ablaze only to back off a short time later. (Over the years I've had two humor columnist gigs that I backed out of - among other opportunities. GAH!) I think at a sub-c level, it's a self punishment coupled with my early religious training. Then I get so angry with myself!

    Along that same vein, I've been learning to fully accept myself. Warts and all. Dr. Schubiner's book, "Unlearn Your Pain" helped me identify the importance of this. One of the affirmations he gives is to repeat, "I fully and completely accept myself."

    I feel like I am going through a re-birth on many levels. And the key to moving forward in that is to first accept myself.
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  11. Dahlia

    Dahlia Well known member

    So, if the purpose of the pain is to distract you, what better way to get your attention than if it strikes when you are doing something you love? Perhaps it would not be so distracting if you were doing something you hate...? Just thinking out loud here...
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  12. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Thank you all for the really great replies. It's given me much to think about, and also, taught me that maybe I am thinking a bit too much. I know this, I am my own WORST enemy and it's time, finally time, to learn to be my own best friend. Maybe then I will allow my life to unfold with unforced grace and I can gently begin to be myself, with myself, as is.
    North Star likes this.
  13. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    And thanks, Andy. This doesn't just resonate, it hits dead center! I wrote, "Lighten Up" on a post-it note and put it on my camera bag. Heck, I'm gonna put it on every wall!
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  14. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    This might be a great question for the Ask A TMS Therapist program, btw. It's never too late to submit it if you want to see what the therapist thinks.

    In my case, I loved working on computers and they were also my livelihood. That is what the TMS went straight for. :( It's job is to get our attention and distract us, so sometimes it goes right for what we care about most. Our job is to send a message to the TMS to let it know that we aren't scared. We have to find a way to feel it deep in our hearts. That is where the reading and the "knowledge penicillin" is so helpful.
    North Star likes this.
  15. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Forest, were you able to get back to working on computers without pain? I'm assuming the answer is yes considering that you spend so much time tending this forum! Also, I'd love to submit this to a TMS therapist.

    Could you tell me how I do that?

    Thanks for your valuable insights, they are always appreciated and you always have intelligent things to say.


  16. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    I'm glad to hear you found it helpful. Yes, I was able to get back to working with computers without any pain. For a little while, right after I recovered, I occasionally got numbness and tingling in the area of my left hand associated with cubital tunnel syndrome, another "RSI." I was able to completely ignore it, though, and plow on through and it went away within a couple of days.

    One thing that helped me worry less about it was, that it seemed like it came out of nowhere. It was a symptom that I had almost never had before and it just seemed crazy that when I typed more and began to lose my fear of my old diagnoses, that an almost new diagnosis would appear as if out of thin air to keep the fear alive. The timing was just too strange, so I was able to use that fact in my "internal evidence sheet."

    Previously, I had always been glad that I had never had any nerve symptoms (numbness and tingling are hallmarks of nerve involvement). Because nerve damage is scary, this numbness appearing out of nowhere seemed like a symptom imperative, which I could also add to the evidence sheet. After all, it's TMS's job to scare us. (With all of that said, it's always important to contact a TMS doctor to rule out anything genuinely scary.)

    To submit a question, just use the "Submit Your Own Question" link at the top of the Ask A TMS Therapist subforum:
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  17. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Thanks Forest. Your story is awesome and inspiring. I'll submit the question when I get home to my computer tonight. I'm typing from my iPhone, which used to give me trouble after just a few moments of typing and now it bothers me much less than it used to, a good sign that my TMS is progressing in the right direction! When my neck and shoulders first started hurting I had a lot of frightening and scary tingling and numbness down my arms, which would become far worse when I would get angry or emotional...my physical therapist at the time told me it was a symptom of "thoracic outlet syndrome" and posture related (scalenes and pec minor compressing nerves). I remember reading in Dr. Sarno's books that that TOS could be just another form of TMS, and luckily that (and my physical therapist) gave me enough confidence to believe it was reversible without surgery. I almost never get tingling now, thank God! And if I do, I know its TMS and a sign I'm really angry, anxious or upset. It almost always passes when I lift the veil and say, "I know what you're up to and I'm not falling for it!". Lol.

    It's unbelievable what the mindbody can do. And even more amazing what it can UNDO.

    Thanks again for the info and support.

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  18. Gigi

    Gigi Well known member

    LOVE your last line, Donovan! "It's unbelievable what the mindbody can do. And even more amazing what it can UNDO."
    It's just what I needed to see this evening!
    We are indeed in a program of hope.
    Blessings on the journey
    North Star likes this.
  19. Back-To-Golf

    Back-To-Golf Peer Supporter

    Thanks Tennis Tom. Will check it out.

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