I have had back pain for most of my life. It hasn’t been from a trauma or anything in particular, but it has caused great disruption in my life for a great number of years. Physically, mentally and financially.
The worst was a few years ago when it went out and I was out for a few months. Off work, no training and significant rehab to return to normal life.
I have seen specialists, physiotherapists, osteopaths, doctors, massage therapists and acupuncturists. Just to name a few. I’ve had to adjust so many things in my life. I can’t vacuum, I can’t mow lawns, I shouldn’t run, I can’t drive for long periods, I shouldn’t lift heavy things – the list goes on.
The greatest effect this has had on me is living with fear. Fear that it will happen again. And where it might happen. And the impact it will have on my life and those around me that have to care for me. And the embarrassment of having to take more time off work (and other activities) because my dumb back has gone out.
I think subconsciously I have known that my pain may be linked to my psychological health. Whether it was the fear causing a self-fulfilling prophecy or my body telling me to slow down/take a step back/reduce stress, I’m ready to face the fact that the pain is more psychological than physical.
I read an article recently on MindBodyGreen about a guy that had terrible back pain and had been told he would need to limit daily activities. Then he read a book and it changed everything for him. “So what?” I thought. “How can that relate to me? My case is different. A book can’t fix my back issues…but it can’t hurt to read it, can it?”
So I downloaded it. Healing Back Pain by Dr John Sarno. It was cheap, it was short and it was written in 1991. Wasn’t shaping up to be the the cure-all I’d read about. Then I started reading. The epiphanies were hitting me like a WWF Diva. And the hits just kept on coming:
“Except for the very brave few, most people who have had such an attack (recurrent acute attack) never again engage in vigorous physical activity with an easy mind. They have been sensitised by the experience and all that it is supposed to imply and they see themselves, to a greater or lesser degree, as permanently altered. They fear another attack and eventually it comes. It may be six months or a year later but the prophecy is fulfilled and the dreaded event occurs again. As before, the person usually attributes the attack to some physical incidence.”
The pain is due to TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome), not to a structural abnormality
The direct reason for the pain is mild oxygen deprivation
TMS is a harmless condition, caused by my repressed emotions
The principal emotion is repressed anger
TMS exists only to distract my attention from the emotions
Since my back is basically normal there is nothing left to fear
Therefore, physical activity is not dangerous
And I must resume all normal physical activity
I will not be concerned or intimidated by the pain
I will shift my attention from the pain to emotional issues
I intend to be in control – not my subconscious mind
I must think psychological at all times, not physical
Other physical manifestations can include migraines, mitral valve (heart) defects, headaches and frequent illness/colds.
The book basically says that the back pain is a result of repressed anger and anxiety. But I don’t get angry. I get the shits but I never get angry cause I don’t see the point in it. But I don’t think it’s repressed. That’s when it hit me. I don’t like to feel feelings at all.
I made a joke recently that I can’t handle emotions in other people cause I don’t even like feeling my own feelings. Joke haha. Except it’s true. When did I stop feeling things? I look back over the past few years and I’ve slowly closed myself off. I’m not sure how or why but I have. And to what end.
When I look back on the times that my back went out, I always thought it was linked to a physical activity the day before. I had mown the lawn, done lots of gardening, driven a long way. The pattern that I am now seeing is that each time has been “convenient”. Mum and Dad have been home to care for me (they travel a lot), work has been in a bit of a lull, etc etc. Even earlier this year, it conveniently went when the boss was on leave and it was two days before a long weekend. Another time was just before I was doing a 10km and a friends husband was going to be running with me as a pacer. The major one was during an affair with someone that was totally inappropriate and wrong for me. All things that were causing me stress and I obviously wasn’t dealing with.
The one that really got me was last year when I had lost so much weight and still it went out. I was devastated. What was the point of losing all that weight when my back was still going to be a problem? I didn’t consider that it might have had something to do with the major trip to the USA I was going on in a few short weeks. Or the fact that I couldn’t relate to the physical being I had become with all the weight loss.
I went and saw a specialist and didn’t feel much resolution from the appointment and his advice. But I get it now. He was really not seeing anything unusual in my MRI films and encouraged me to still work for my goals (like running a marathon). What he was actually suggesting was that he couldn’t see any issues (certainly nothing to warrant surgery) and nothing that should affect me as much as it does. Rather sensitive for a surgeon who could have easily told me it was all in my head.
So. Here’s the biggest epiphany of all. Is this why I didn’t keep the weight off? Was this the psychological stuff that I needed to deal with? Perhaps the answer is in how my back has felt since I read the book?
When I’m out walking I tell myself to feel my feelings. I have laughed more in the last month than in a very long time. And it’s only at the TV (cause I don’t know anyone here yet to have social interactions!). I realise it’s OK to feel sad sometimes, just as it’s OK to feel exhilarated. But it’s not OK to feel nothing. That’s where I’ve been going wrong.
I’m not saying this is the final answer and I’m all cured and going to get healthy and stay healthy and never have another issues to deal with. That’d be kinda boring. But I do have more self awareness and I challenge myself to feel stuff. It’s OK to show that I care about things. Because wouldn’t that make me identify and fight for what I want?
Passion. That’ s my new word.