Private Parts

Dr. John Sarno’s 2001 book, Healing Back Pain, explains that knowledge, education, and acceptance of the TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome) diagnosis will lead to not just management of pain, but freedom from pain. “The knowledge is the effective cure.”

He goes on to say that, “One does not have to eliminate tension from one’s life. It’s not changing one’s emotions, it’s recognizing that they exist and that the brain is trying to keep one from being aware of their existence through the mechanism of the pain syndrome. As long as you are preoccupied with what your body is doing, the pain will continue.”

Sure, sure, sure, but what am I supposed to do besides believe in this diagnosis??

I google TMS and my continued research leads me to another book: Think Away Your Pain by David Schechter, M. D., released in 2016.

I listen to the sample, and Schechter’s voice seems clear and easy to listen to, so I order it. I like the start of this book, because he gets right to bullet points. I like bullet points.

“An important strategy is a review of daily reminders. 12 key thoughts. It is suggested that at least once a day, to set aside 15 minutes when one can relax and quietly review them.

  1. The pain is due to TMS, not to a structural abnormality.
  2. The direct reason for the pain is mild oxygen depravation.
  3. TMS is a harmless condition, cause by my repressed emotions.
  4. The principle emotion is my repressed anger.
  5. TMS exists only to distract my emotions.
  6. Since my back is basically normal, there is nothing to fear.
  7. Therefore, physical activity is not dangerous.
  8. And I must resume all physical activity.
  9. I will not be concerned or intimidated by the pain.
  10. I will shift my attention from the pain to emotional issues.
  11. I intend to be in control; not my unconscious mind.
  12. I must think psychological at all times; not physical.”

A lot of the patients described in the book have debilitating back pain, where they can’t do much physically and/or they avoid physical movement. My pain isn’t this bad. I still work out. I do avoid high intensity workouts and classes because I feel like I get too worked up, but I still can do them.

So I do. It’s one week before Steve and I leave for Napa for his cousin’s wedding. I’m not doing a diet to get ready for this wedding (as I might have tried to do in the past), but I will commit to no drinking and yoga every day. (I end up going 6-for-7 on both).

This means, I have to do whatever yoga classes fit in with my schedule. I typically only like Hot Power Fusion, because it’s most like bikram style/holding poses, but I used to do yoga sculpt. I don’t like it as much because there’s a lot of flow movement at the beginning and I do feel my anxiety rise during class. (Also, the best teacher in the world moved away so she doesn’t teach the class anymore.)

This week, though, I decide to push through and just do it. I tell myself that it’s OK to get anxiety and that it’s not going to hurt me. Basically, I try to talk myself down from getting too anxious during class.

Whether or not it works, I don’t know, but it sure does feel good to work out in a hot studio almost every day for a week. Combine that with the no-drinking and I am feeling good!

Unfortunately, the more I listen to this book, the more I become infuriated with the narrator. First of all, he takes these weird, long pauses after words when it’s not the end of a sentence. His pauses are nonsensical and annoying. Also, you know when you’re talking to someone face-to-face, and you know they have dry-mouth because you can see that gross white stuff forming at the sides of their mouth? That’s what I imagine this guy looks like, because he keeps making this swallowing noise like he needs a glass of water. Take a sip of water, dude! But the absolute WORST part, is that I can literally hear him TURNING THE PAGES. Are you kidding me?? This is Audible. This isn’t some lame recording you made for yourself. I paid for this. I have never listened to a book where I was so distracted by the poor quality of the reading. I can’t get through it! I’m getting so frustrated, and so anxious, which is the exact opposite of the purpose of this book!

I have it up to 1.5x speed, but it’s not enough. I bump it up to 2x speed. It’s a little too fast, at first, but I get used to it. It takes out his weird pauses, and I can’t hear the pages turn. Problem solved.

Schechter really likes his lists. He goes into the 7 Lessons of Pain:

  1. The source of chronic pain is often the nervous system and brain, not structural injury.
  2. The context and the interpretation of the pain by the patient and its perceived significance, are crucial.
  3. Psychology and education can change the mind/brain and cure pain, not just manage it.
  4. Pain does not always mean disease or damage.
  5. The severity of the pain does not always correlate with the severity of the condition, or the potential for damage to the body.
  6. Pain, sensory signals, are a two-way street. Mind/brain plays a crucial role in what you feel.
  7. Mind/body pain keeps coming back until you are firm in your belief that there are no physical causes.

The more I listen, the more I think that it’s kind of repetitive. But somehow, it’s repetitive in a good way, like it’s becoming more and more ingrained in my head. I’m not sure how long it will take to actually make a difference. There are some examples of people learning about the diagnosis and feeling better that very same day. Mazza is a prime example. She felt better just by reading the book!

I don’t like these examples because I do not fall into this category. Sarno says to give it 2-4 weeks, so I will keep trying. And by try I mean, self-talk, telling my brain that the pain isn’t real and I am in control of my body. I’ve also started to recognize that every time I start to feel pain, I am feeling anxious about something in my life. For example, I start to feel pain when I’m driving, because I think every car on the road can’t see me, and is therefore going to hit me.

More from Schechter: “Your negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, grief, anger, and panic, trigger real changes in your brain. Your mind/brain sets into motion changes in the mind/body linkage, that cause nerves to send pain signals, or to amplify existing sensations inappropriately. This is TMS.”

It’s been two weeks since I first started reading about Sarno’s work. I am shocked and incredibly happy to admit that my neck and back feel much better. I won’t say that the pain has completely subsided, but I truly feel so much better than I have in a long time. Doing lots of yoga and cutting back on drinking definitely helped, too, but this self-talk stuff is actually doing something to me. It’s kind of crazy.

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