Armchair Linguist’s Story

(This story was originally posted here.  For a much more comprehensive list of success stories, visit the TMSwiki for hundreds of success stories for numerous conditions).

I’ve been meaning to post my story. There are bits of it around, but now that I’m doing really well I just wanted to put it up in case it will help others.

I developed RSI in April 2003 under the stress of finishing my undergraduate work and preparing to go to grad school. I experienced aching and burning in my wrists and forearms. Because I was then and had always been a heavy computer user (since I was 5!) I was quickly diagnosed with RSI. I rested and it went away a little in the summer, but came back with a vengeance in the fall with my school computer work and the stress of living abroad. My parents separated and my boyfriend dumped me in February. By June 2004, despite some PT, I was nearly disabled – simple activities like lifting shampoo bottles and opening doors were hard for me. I also had upper-back and neck pain.

Over the next two years, I went to a hand surgeon (but didn’t get surgery), massage therapist/acupuncturist, osteopath, chiropractor, two “somatic therapists”, and another PT. I did a lot of stretches, Rossiter soft-tissue therapy, and cardio workout. I still experienced intermittent return of my adolescent knee pain and in Feb 2005, developed foot pain and was fitted for orthotics. I saw small, mostly temporary benefits from these therapies. Something would work for a while, then not work as well.In June 2005 I started trigger-point self-therapy and later saw several trigger point practitioners. I got slowly better, but still couldn’t manage typing, writing a lot, lifting heavy objects, or chopping a lot of vegetables – basically any hand-intensive activity. Despite this, I started applying for full-time jobs in Nov 2005. I worked for Borders for a short time, but going full-time killed my hands again, and I went back to part-time, even as I kept looking for full-time work. I bought The Mindbody Prescription in November 2005, but didn’t really accept it at that time.

In April 2006 I started my current job with accommodations for my hand issues: a special keyboard and mouse and Dragon speech recognition software. Even so, on the 4th day of the job, I ran out of endurance – my hands and vocal cords had both had enough. It was at that point that I decided to try the Sarno theory seriously, because I had run out of other options. I had recently read Nate’s page at, and decided to try something similar to what he did.

I basically had immediate (though partial) success. I was able to go on typing for two hours, where my previous max was ten minutes. After work I lifted light weights and emptied the dishwasher (I was kind of high on my success by that point!). I worked all the next day and the rest of that week, still using Dragon for some stuff, but typing more and more (though I continued to have some pain, and took frequent breaks). I added in other activities that had been hard or that I had avoided, like carrying shopping bags and emptying the dishwasher. My pain started to jump around a lot to silly places that had never hurt before, which was pretty darn convincing. I kept reading and rereading MBP, and I started to look at the patterns that my pain had, and saw that they matched TMS exactly. I was depressed (in 2002), and when I stopped being depressed, a few months later I started having pain. Pain went away or got less during less-stressful times and vice versa. Pain didn’t “make sense”.

Over the next two months, I got rid of the extra pillows I used to sleep comfortably, the orthotics I’d been wearing, the breaks I’d been taking, the therapy and self-therapy I was doing, and a whole host of accommodations that I had made to life with pain. I used Fred Amir’s theory of punishing and rewarding the unconscious to get rid of the last vestiges of pain at work and back pain on the train. I used the Schechter workbook for journaling, which helped me start the work. I stopped having to sleep extra hours to keep from having pain. I stopped having knee pain and my upper-back pain has receded a great deal. I still get it some, perhaps because it seems “legitimate” to me to be tense there. I’m currently working on challenging that. But basically I am no longer captive to the pain. I can walk, run, sit, type, ride my bike, play my clarinet, and cook with no fear. It’s great.

It’s not as easy as I guess I hoped it might be, though. Even though the pain got a lot less very quickly, bits of it are sticking around to remind me to do my work. Facing up to my low self-esteem, its origins, and the behaviours I’ve created to cope with it is hard. But it’s way better than being a captive to the gremlin. :)

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