Jim’s success story (Fibromyalgia)
After years of minor back pain, my problem became severe in 1991. The pain and stiffness soon spread to other parts of my body, which led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Something I had never heard of before become a “life sentence”; there wasn’t really any hope of recovery in traditional medicine.
Sitting was what really seemed to aggravate my pain. I viewed sitting as a form of torture that was almost as bad as a medieval rack. When I had to sit, I tried to always sit up straight. I lived in fear that I might accidentally sit leaning forward for a while. “What if that caused permanent ‘damage’?”, I thought.
In the late 90s, my conditioned worsened. My lifestyle had already been very restricted, but I had to cut back even more. I hardly did anything outside of work, except lying down and stretching. I was in danger of losing the ability to work full-time and perhaps losing the ability to walk.
Then I heard that 20/20 was doing a story on a doctor who had a cure for back pain. I thought to myself, “There is no cure for back pain!” When I saw the program, I was shocked. Dr. Sarno’s ideas were so unusual and seemed far-fetched. Yet, the patients seemed to do so well, which was in such contrast to what happens with traditional treatments. By the end of the story, I even felt a little bit better physically! I was convinced that I had to try Sarno’s treatment.
I bought a copy of “Healing Back Pain” and “Mindbody Prescription”. I read both books repeatedly. As the books say, reading a Sarno book once is not enough. His ideas are so different from traditional medicine that it really takes a while for things to sink in.
I “talked to my brain”, telling it to stop the pain. This had some benefit, but I am convinced that this would not have been enough for me. If my brain stopped one symptom, it would need to find some other symptom.
In the early days of my recovery, the two most important things were
* reading Sarno’s books repeatedly, and
I wanted to make sure that things were going well with these before making much of an effort to re-introduce physical activity or abandon physical treatments. Dr. Sarno does write about patients experiencing setbacks if they try changing too quickly. Also, while “talking to my brain” did play some role, I doubt that it would have been effective without journaling. My unconscious mind needed the pain as a distraction until I dealt with the emotions.
Since you have already been reading Sarno’s books and seem familiar with his ideas, I will focus the rest of my posting on journaling. Sarno’s books are not very detailed on this subject, so I suppose different people will approach it differently. Two newer books (“Back Sense” and especially “Freedom from Fibromyalgia”) have more information on journaling, but these books were not available at the time of my recovery.
I began by focusing on issues in my life at or somewhat before the time that my pain became bad. It seemed to make sense that something must have happened to increase my repressed emotions and trigger the pain. Later, I dealt with issues from before and after the onset of TMS. Adulthood issues were more important to my recovery than childhood issues.
From what Sarno says, some patients have one major issue, like being abused as a child, while other patients have a lot of little issues. In my case, I ended up dealing with lots of little issues during my recovery. I didn’t have to write about every possible issue, just enough to dramatically reduce the amount of repression needed. Still, this became frustrating at times, not knowing how many more issues I’d have to deal with before I’ll get better.
I often focused on issues related to being an overachiever, a perfectionist and a goodist (conscientious and nice). These personality traits really made me relate to and see myself in Sarno’s books.
In my situation, I found that many of my issues related to feelings of failure: failing to win a game, failing to get the highest test score or failing to help someone. For example, I wrote about a former co-worker who was edged out and laid off, even though he had good ideas and was well-liked. I felt like his problems were my fault. (“Why couldn’t I have done more to help him?”) It was irrational to think that I could have done much more, which must be why I repressed the emotions.
When I started journaling, I wrote lists of things which could be bothering me. Over time, I realized that my lists weren’t detailed or expressive enough. What I ended up doing was writing short stories of what had happened. It was important to emphasize the subjective, emotional, selfish side of the story. I sometimes found myself wanting to be more fair or objective, but this really undermined the purpose: to deal with the emotions.
As my pain began to decrease, I phased out physical treatments and began returning to normal activities. I had been stretching up to two hours a day. One day, I just stopped all stretching. This seemed amazing, since I had been conditioned to think that these stretches were absolutely necessary. I haven’t done the back stretches since.
My symptoms gradually got better. There were also times when the pain would get worse before getting better again. After 5-6 weeks, I was fully recovered. I rarely am in pain anymore. If my fibromyalgia starts to come back, I can usually get it under control pretty quickly. I have no restrictions on my activity. In fact, I now do things that I was afraid of long before I had fibromyalgia!