Despite having a spinal fusion from T2 to L2 (for severe scoliosis when I was 17) I used to be very active, I played football every week and used to love horse riding, skiing, walking and hiking.
Then in 1998 I pushed a sofa that was extremely heavy and I put my back out: I couldn’t stand up straight and was taken to hospital by ambulance and given pain killing injections. This was very scary (especially because of my surgery) and it took me several weeks to recover, I took a course of anti-inflammatory drugs and seemed to get better.
However this was the beginning of 10 years of back-pain episodes which became more and more frequent; usually I had pain with walking or movement, never when sitting and never with sciatica. The pain was usually in the right sacro-illiac joint, it was sharp and sudden; like a knife had been inserted and twisted. Once it started any movement was agony, often I couldn’t take another step. I started seeing a chiropractor which often helped but sometimes made it worse, she gave me a support belt to wear which helped with the pain at times.
In 2003 after giving birth to my first child I had an MRI and some X-rays on my back, it showed there was nothing structurally wrong with my spine which was good news but also dispiriting because I still didn’t know what was causing the pain.
As the months wore on I was in pain most days and could only walk about 100m max. I couldn’t manage to do the grocery shopping and if I accompanied my husband I sometimes had to use a wheelchair. I was thinking of buying one to keep in the car for those days when I was just in too much pain to walk. I also had awful back pain all through the night, I used to prop myself up on pillows for an hour or so and sleep sitting up till the pain went away. I also began to get severe back pain in the car. I was pretty depressed, my life was full of pain and every day was filled with thoughts of how to avoid the pain, it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up, wondering how the day would be, constantly on my mind when I was sitting in the car or walking and even filled my thoughts throughout the night when I woke in pain. During this period the pain moved sides to the left side and began to reach up my back which it never had previously. I also suffered a lot of pain in my right shoulder if I sat on the floor.
Once I was in a busy shopping mall with my 2 and 3 year old children when my back pain started and I couldn’t move a step; my kids wandered off and I couldn’t follow them and they couldn’t hear me calling them. Luckily they came back but after this I was very scared of going anywhere on my own with them.
In fact family life was far from idyllic; when my kids used to cry and I couldn’t pick them up I felt awful, we hardly went anywhere anymore, and my poor husband ended up doing all the heavy housework in case I put my back out again. I was very frustrated and at times humiliated because I hated being dependant on him and I hated asking him to help me. I was only 35 but I felt like I was trapped in the body of an 80 year old. One of the first things my 2 year old learnt to say was “back ‘hurtin”; in fact she used this as the reason why she couldn’t tidy away her toys!
By 2007 I was sick and tired of the pain and I was starting to become depressed, I went back to the GP and pushed hard for another MRI scan and some blood tests, I was beginning to wonder whether there was some kind of arthritis causing the pain and hoped to finally get an answer. The bloodwork came back as negative but the MRI showed a fissure in one of my disks. At last I thought I have an answer to my back pain. But then I realised that I’d had back pain for 10 years but the fissure hadn’t shown up in the earlier MRI, so it wasn’t likely that it was the cause of the pain. I was told there was nothing they could do for me except offer pain killing injections. In desperation I googled “annular fissure” to see if surgery was an option, and after a while I saw a reference to John Sarno and his book Healing Back Pain. The reviews on Amazon made compelling reading; I read every single one and decided that after all the money I had spent on treatments it was worth £12 for a book even if it turned out to be rubbish.
Thankfully this was the start of my recovery, I read HBP and I saw myself and my symptoms described on every page, I was astonished and by the end of the book I believed that I had TMS and for the first time in 10 years I actually had hope that one day I might be pain free, it seemed to good to be true. Apart from the physical symptoms I also had the perfectionist and “goodist” traits along with the tender spots Sarno identified. I showed my husband some of the pages in HBP and he was also convinced that I had TMS. Having his support was amazing and I am sure that he helped speed up my recovery by giving me perspective when I was struggling.
Straight away I removed all my “props”: the pillows I used to sleep with and the support belt I used to wear. I re-read the book over and over especially the daily reminders which I memorised. If I was walking and felt the pain starting I would repeat the reminders over and over in my head telling myself there was nothing physically wrong with me and that the pain was happening because of the “conditioning” that Sarno had described: I expected pain when I walked and so it happened.
I also began to notice that when I stood still I could feel that I was holding my back and buttocks in tension so I kept checking this and forcing myself to relax everything.
Around this time I discovered TMShelp.com. It was amazing to read about people like me who understood what I was going through; some of the success stories were so inspiring, they helped keep me going on days when I felt low or unsure.
A few weeks after reading HBP I was still in pain but there were days when I was completely pain free and it gave me hope to keep thinking emotionally and not physically. One day I had my first real test: We decided to go for a family walk, the first one since my TMS self-diagnosis – and I was debating whether to dig out my back support because I knew if the pain started the support would help me get home. In the end I decided not to wear it.
We set off for our walk and within 100m of our home I was in sudden and crippling pain; the sort that normally took me to my bed and could last days. I was in tears. My husband asked me “Have you been in pain this morning before we left the house?” and I said “No, not at all” and he said “Then I think you are just frightened that you can’t do it” I thought about what he said and realised he was 100% right, FEAR was probably was crippling me; I was terrified of getting a few miles across the fields and then getting an attack of pain that would leave me unable to get home again (he has been known to give me piggy backs home before). I was pretty angry at the thought of this and so I gave myself a stiff talking to, I told myself I’d lived in fear for 10 years and was NOT going to do it any more, and I kept walking despite the pain. Within another 100m the pain subsided and eventually disappeared completely and we walked miles. This was such a milestone for me, it proved beyond doubt that I could influence what was going on in my body by my emotional responses and thought processes going on in my head.
In the weeks after I read healing back pain I could see the improvement although I still had some bad days. Whilst I was pretty sure I had TMS I felt like I needed confirmation by a TMS doctor and maybe some help with strategies for coping. I found Dr Atkinson who was based in surrey, and I had my diagnosis confirmed. I enrolled on his recovery programme and since then have gradually got better and better. I’d say that within 12 months of Healing Back Pain I am 90% better. Since I’ve been suffering for 10 years I wasn’t expecting to be healed over night and so I am really pleased with my progress. Whilst I hope for a 100% recovery, I expect that this will become a life long journey and that’s a good thing; TMS symptoms remind me to do my emotional work which in turn promotes a healthy mind and body. I am also very mindful of how I treat my children; I encourage them to express their emotions and no longer try and stop them from crying; I sit them on my lap and let them cry for as long as it takes to get all the anger, sadness or frustrations out.
In hindsight I discovered that breaking up from a 9 year relationship and being made redundant from a job that I loved within a few months of each other was what led to my TMS and the downward spiral that followed was a result of fear and conditioning.
Since I started the recovery process my life has turned around completely. People (who know nothing of my TMS diagnosis) tell me I look so much happier and relaxed and that I walk more easily. Finally I can pick up my children and wrestle with them on the floor. I can ski again and go on fun fair rides with my kids instead of standing as an onlooker feeling sorry for myself. This summer we drove from the UK down to Italy which took 2 days and I didn’t have a single twinge of pain. I sleep like a log and almost never have pain in bed. And best of all was this summer when I took part in the mums race at sports day and came 3rd out of 12 mums, something I never could have done before.
The books I found most helpful were:
Healing Back Pain by John Sarno
Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert
The Power of Now by Ekart Tolle
And The Presence Process by Michael Brown