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Daniel L. Why does tms affect the worst places?

Discussion in 'Ask a TMS Therapist' started by donavanf, Nov 27, 2016.

  1. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    This question was submitted via our Ask a TMS Therapist program. To submit your question, click here.

    Alex Bloom, MSW, said on this forum..."Very often TMS will directly affect things that we use to make ourselves happy or that are very important to us. A singer will develop acid Reflux, a writer will experience Carpal Tunnel and...a musician will experience pain in their hands. I see this so very often, and my clients will usually say things like "If only I could do 'X' then I would feel so much better". This is exactly why the pain affects you in these places, because it is where you are vulnerable. It demands your attention and keeps your preoccupied, which is the purpose behind the pain. If it affected your little toe, you wouldn't notice or care and it wouldn't be able to scare you like it does. It is this fear and anxiety generated by your symptoms that you want to try to address."

    My mind is BLOWN. I am a photographer, have been for over 25 years. In 2013, after a severely stressful family trip, I had what can only be called a "nervous breakdown". I began a down spiral of symptoms (mental & physical) that began with Migraines and Panic Attacks and moved into TMJ and Neck pain, and eventually "settled" in my right Arm, right Shoulder, neck and upper back muscles. The EXACT places that I use as a photographer. Could you please explain why 'Very often TMS will directly affect things that we use to make ourselves happy or that are very important to us.' I find this FASCINATING. BTW, I was cleared by Dr. David Schechter with a diagnosis of full blown TMS, have had TMS my whole life (tummy aches as a kid, frequent colds, sore throats and Allergies in my teens (I was a voice over actor at this point!), IBS in my 20's, anxiety and Depression in my 30's, but never did it affect my shoulder and neck UNTIL I decided to make photography my full time career. Why does this happen and how can I best get through it so I can fully get back to work? I am working as a photographer, but whenever I really hunker down and begin to gain some traction and success, my TMS flares big time. I've made big progress, but TMS is still affecting my work, my livelihood, and my JOY! Why is it attacking the very thing I love most? I would love any thoughts from the group on this...I really want to de-condition myself. I know my camera and sitting at my computer isn't CAUSING my pain, but man, my shoulders feel like I am carrying a thousand pounds on them when I pick up my camera, and when I sit at my computer just for fun, I get very little pain, but when I start into PhotoShop for work...BAM, my shoulder feels like a frozen block of ice.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 28, 2016
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  2. Daniel G Lyman LCSW

    Daniel G Lyman LCSW TMS Therapist

    Important question! Alex is 100% correct. TMS symptoms often times “settle” in a place that is important to us. Now, I want to be clear: it’s not that your brain is doing that on purpose to make you more miserable. The symptoms are only responding to how your brain responds to it.

    Let me explain: The TMS/Chronic Pain personality type is one that is hyper-focused on problems. We tend to see a problem and work as hard as we possibly can to fix it. We know that we have a weakness somewhere, so we do our best to overcome it. Harder and harder we work to make sure that weakness doesn’t get in our way.

    That skill is exactly what makes many TMS people successful in life, but it’s also the same skill that causes our pain to stick around. Why would that skill cause our pain to stay with us?

    Well, here’s an analogy: Let’s say you are deathly afraid of mice, and you’re in your house/apartment/yurt and you notice a mouse scamper across the kitchen floor. Your anxiety shoots through the roof and start feeling really scared. The mouse disappears behind a wall and you can’t see it at all. Now, the only evidence we have regarding the mouse is that it once was in the kitchen, but it is gone now. We can’t see it. But because you’re so deathly afraid of mice, your brain tells you that it’s probably just waiting to come out and run through the kitchen again.

    How is your body feeling in this scenario? Panicked, scared, jittery, nervous, anxious, etc. And your body will stay this way until you either

    1) forget about the mouse entirely (which is unlikely) or

    2) you convince yourself that it’s gone (either because you kill it or you see it run across the street to the neighbors house).

    In either case, eventually your body will calm down, because you know that the mouse is no longer a threat to you. If you thought that the mouse would be there for the rest of your life, ready to scamper to across the kitchen floor at any time, it would be very difficult to live in that house/apartment/yurt because you’d be so anxious! In fact, I’d bet that eventually you’d move.

    Now, say you’re waiting for the subway to go to work. You look down at the tracks and see a mouse. Maybe your body gets a little bit of anxiety, but nothing like the anxiety you experienced when you saw the mouse in your house (I’m a poet!).


    Because you CARE that the mouse is in your kitchen, but you don’t care that there is a mouse on the subway tracks.

    If you didn’t care as much about the mouse in your kitchen, then your body wouldn’t react as strongly. The only reason your body is getting panicky and anxious after you saw the mouse in the kitchen is because your brain told it to do so! Whereas your brain doesn’t see the mouse in the metro as a threat, and so there is no reason for your body to react with anxiety.

    Back to pain:
    The mouse is your pain, and the kitchen is whatever specific body part you care about most. As Alex said, if you had pain in your toe (the mouse in the metro), you just wouldn’t care as much, and the pain would go away. But because the pain is in a part of your body that you care about, your anxiety is triggered to the nth degree. And, as we know, anxiety keeps pain alive.

    Because you care about that part of your body more than other parts, the pain is sticking around. If the pain had shown up in your right arm/shoulder/neck and it didn’t feel like a threat to you in any way, it may have been there for a few hours or days, but then would go away. BUT, just like the mouse in the house, we care that it’s there, so it’s hard to tell ourselves that it’s no big deal. Overcoming TMS is learning how to not care so much. It’s learning how to not perceive so many things in our lives as problems that need fixing.

    The difference between the mouse/kitchen scenario and your pain is that you can’t move out of your body, so you’re stuck with your pain until you can prove to yourself that it’s harmless and that there’s no reason to feel threatened by it. Anxiety and pain are intricately interconnected, and until your anxiety reduces, your pain won’t reduce.

    We learn not to fear mice by realizing that they’re completely harmless, and in fact they’re kind of cute. Now, I don’t expect you to find your pain cute, but if you can learn that it’s harmless, you’re one step closer to eliminating your pain.

    Any advice or information provided here does not and is not intended to be and should not be taken to constitute specific professional or psychological advice given to any group or individual. This general advice is provided with the guidance that any person who believes that they may be suffering from any medical, psychological, or mindbody condition should seek professional advice from a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions. No general advice provided here should be taken to replace or in any way contradict advice provided by a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions.

    The general advice and information provided in this format is for informational purposes only and cannot serve as a way to screen for, identify, or diagnose depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. If you feel you may be suffering from any of these conditions please contact a licensed mental health practitioner for an in-person consultation.

    Questions may be edited for brevity and/or readability.

  3. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    This answer is just brilliant! Thanks, Daniel.
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  4. Huckleberry

    Huckleberry Well known member

    That really is an excellent analogy. As I was reading it I was smiling to myself as I could picture myself in my minds eye literally tearing the house apart trying to get to the damn mouse...there is a comedy movie starring Lee Evans called Mousehunt which highlights this perfectly.

    Interestingly I also think it isn't just the link between pain and anxiety that can be seen here but also the link between perfectionism and anxiety. I've often mentioned the example of how people react so differently to finger splinters and the like. I know if I even get a small tiny wooden splinter in my finger that I just cannot let it be. I know logically that given time it will work its way out but all the time that splinter is in there its eats at me and somehow makes my body less than perfect...I've lost count of the times I've ended up digging at my finger with a needle until its a bloody mess in an attempt to try to remove the splinter even though it isn't really hurting or causing pain, its just the inability to sit with and not be bothered by this imperfection. I think this is exactly how many of us TMS folk deal with our symptoms and sensations. On the other hand if my wife has a splinter she would probably not even notice it and even if she did she wouldn't give it a second thought.
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  5. MrRage

    MrRage Peer Supporter

    It is so interesting to hear your list of symptoms as a lifelong TMS sufferer myself. I also constantly had bad tummy aches as a child and when I was in college, I had a persistent cough, frequen colds, sore throat, and bad allergies.

    Have you heard of "pursed lip breathing" by any chance? I discovered this breathing technique today and it seems to be a good way to get the mind off of symptoms.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pursed_lip_breathing (Pursed lip breathing - Wikipedia)

    I alo think taking ice cold showers can be an effective way of getting the mind off of symtpoms.
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  6. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    I was laughing at this, but I also had the thought that it's just another form of beating up on ourselves! And actually, if I'm feeling particularly bad with TMS symptoms hovering around and trying to get me down, I'll take a really HOT shower - it's a form of soothing and cleansing and being good to myself.

    Awesome explanation from @Daniel G Lyman MSW
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  7. Ines

    Ines Well known member

    I do hot showers too. Always calms me down.
  8. donavanf

    donavanf Well known member

    Wow. Thank you, Daniel! I have a mouse in my house!!!!
  9. fridaynotes

    fridaynotes Well known member

    deep relaxation breathing techniques have helped me and my TMS immensely.

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