Back Story; How a Bumble Date Saved My Life
I met him at a cafe in Larchmont. He didn't look a thing like his photo, but do they ever? Yes, they do, they did - once. Anyway, the hour and a half was devoid of spark, but this guy was not sent to me for romance, this angel was sent to deliver the message I had been desperately awaiting for the last three years. We were both runners. Like all runners we enjoy talking about pain. When I mentioned to him my chronic low back issues, he spoke of a doctor, who's book I had to read, and the name of the documentary that I had to watch. I was so distracted by how much I wanted to be doing something else that I nearly let it slip my brain, but just before it did, I pretended to be listening while committing the info to memory. As soon as I got into my car, relieved, I put it all in my phone. Now, I will never see that guy again, but I will owe him for the rest of my life, because I did read that book, and I'll tell you that this blog is the most important story that I have ever written, and it means everything to me to share it.
The pain started in 2016, my last year in New York City. I was in and out of a train wreck of a relationship, the kind where you never feel safe - where even on a good day or a good stretch of days, deep down you are well aware that it is only a matter of time before the next knockdown. It had been four years full of that kind of carnage. I was living on my own, working three jobs, unsure of everything, and spending periods of time willingly re-subjecting myself to the torture, the mind games, the mind f**ks, sleepless nights, and daily emotional hangovers. I was so mad (mostly at myself), so consumed by anger and anxiety, but I had no time for it - I had to live, I had to survive living alone in New York - had to pay the rent, had to keep smiling and book the modeling jobs, had to show up in proper form to teach the fitness classes, had to meet the real estate clients in my right mind. The last thing I needed was this back pain! WTF, I was a yogi, an athlete, I took very good physical care of myself. I wasn't THAT old, but man did I start to feel it. It felt as though someone was compacting my spine, and I could feel the muscles around it clenching. The pain would range from excruciating to a dull ache but it was always there, and this is how it went - for years.
I tried everything. Acupuncture, Acupressure, Deep Tissue Massage, Cupping, Rolfing, Chiropractic, endless amounts of supplements, creams, essential oils, CBD. Nothing worked. I became obsessed with it. I spoke to anyone who would listen hoping they held some kind of answer. The doctors all said something different. I needed an x-ray, muscle relaxants, to stop running, to stop doing yoga. So I did. I was so desperate. I tried stopping doing all of the things that I loved - that I lived for. I started to dwell on the fact that it could be the accumulation of all of the sports I played my entire youth, all of the pounding of pavement I did in all of the cities modeling, then the three NY marathons, plus all of the walking one does just living there for ten years, and then there was the accident where I was hit by a bicyclist running on the West Side Highway but refused medical attention. I started to feel responsible and like this was what it was going to be like from here on out. The price I would pay. I got very depressed, so I would go for a run when the blues were too much, and as soon as I had showered there was the pain, back with a vengeance. I continued to do yoga, but cut backbends out of my practice completely - just lying in savasana (corpse pose) hurt.
Then I met a holistic Chiropractor in Portland, Maine who told me that I mustn't stop running or doing yoga or doing anything active. He would perform the most mild of adjustments, mostly soaz releases, that would alleviate the pain for a day or two, but it always came back. He was baffled. In my last session, still trying to understand why I was in so much pain, he pressed into my abdomen and even I could feel what he felt - "this," he said, "this is a lot of emotional garbage." "Yeah," I replied, "that doesn't shock me." "Listen, he was adamant, "there is nothing structurally wrong with you. I wish I could fix it, but there is nothing physically to fix." At least an honest answer.
Now I have been very aware of the mind-body connection since I started practicing yoga seventeen years ago, but this one took some time. I learned that back pain emotionally meant lack of foundation, support, both financial and relational. Yep, this all made sense. But how did you fix it? I wasn't just going to pull a fat bank account out of my a** nor was I going to meet the man, the king!, of my dreams overnight. At this point I understood that my pain was far more complicated than a "herniated disc" or a "pinched nerve" (which are most likely NOT the cause of back pain, but we'll get to that). I accepted the fact that it would be with me until it wasn't, and that might just be for the rest of my life, unless I settled down, got a steady job, found a partner, built an empire. No pressure.
My pain became part of me. It was there while I sat, there every single time I bent over, every time I stood back up, every step I took, stretch I made, class I attended, run I ran, party I went to, each time I lied down to sleep, right there when I awoke. It made me angry and sad and fearFULL. I was a prisoner to it. The pain tainted every single act of my being alive.
If you have experienced anything like this or any kind of persistent pain anywhere, not just the back (neck, shoulder, hip, knee, sciatica, the list goes on), and are at a loss as to wtf is actually happening, you must read *Healing Back Pain, The Mind-Body Connection, or any book by Dr. John E. Sarno, MD. The doctor explains that I, and countless others, suffer from TMS (Tension Myoneural Syndrome). His work blew my mind. I connected to every single word. Some won't. Some are not ready. One must be the slightest bit open to the idea that your brain could be causing the pain because it wants to distract you from the repressed emotions so it restricts blood vessels, denies proper circulation to various parts of the body, and the result is real pain, sometimes agonizing, debilitating pain, due to, not your herniated disc or degenerative spine, but to mild oxygen deprivation - that's it.
"It's essential to know that almost all of the structural abnormalities of the spine are harmless." - Dr. John E. Sarno, MD
The tendency to repress bad feelings is universal. It is something we all do to a greater or lesser extent. This kind of pain syndrome isn't selective. While reading this book, I thought of so many people I knew who also needed to read this book. We, in our western world, were raised to separate the mind and body. Physical symptoms were the result of a physical event period. Most go to a doctor to find out why something hurts, and most doctors are not going to let a patient leave without an answer. So off you go - with your prescriptions and diagnosis and orders to rest, to stop doing all of the things you love, with hope that it will subside, but also with fear that doing ANYTHING will trigger it's return. Well, TMS thrives on fear. And our brain is so powerful that if we believe that running causes our low back pain, guess what is going to happen when we run, or backbend, or bend in general, or lift heavy objects, or sit for a long period, or wear high heels, or slouch. We start to live as though our backs are these fragile things - newsflash, they are not. Our backs are super strong - our spines can handle it - ALL of it. Now obviously if you have been in accident, or an x-ray shows that something serious (like a tumor) is going on then that is something different. Dr. Sarno does blow the whistle on most common, conventional diagnoses such as herniated disc, pinched nerve, spinal stenosis, arthritis of the spine, scoliosis, osteoarthritis of the hip, bursitis, tendonitis, inflammation to name a few. I am speaking to those chronic pain sufferers. And if you think that the pain is from "and old football injury," or an old accident such as getting mowed down by a bike, you are also mistaken. The body heals - itself! Whether we seek medical attention or not, and I'm gonna advise you to, but the body will take care of it, in time. Look, I am not a doctor - yet, but it is very possible that it is all in your head. The pain is real, but there may be nothing structurally wrong with you. It is a very brilliant mechanism of deflection - to keep you from sifting through that emotional garbage, to protect you from these "unappealing" feelings, the mind creates physical dis-ease.
"One of the biggest problems for patients is developing confidence that they can banish this physical disorder with a learning program. That kind of thing is completely outside of people's medical experience. It is my job to convince them that it can be done." - Dr. Sarno
Now I know that you are thinking exactly what I was thinking - okay, so what now? It's not like you will just wake up free of anger, anxiety, and stress, because you won't. It is merely knowing that the pain you feel is being caused by your brain and not your body. That's it. Seriously. Because once you become aware that its all a charade, the jig is up. The knowledge is the cure. Your brain has no need to restrict the blood flow, because you're awake now to the true cause of the pain - repression. And don't go beating yourself up about this, as though you are at fault. In Dr. Sarno's words:
"... emotional patterns were well established long before you reached the age of responsibility and what you are now is a result of a combination of genetic and developmental - environmental factors over which you had no control. Might as well take responsibility for how tall you are or the color of your eyes."
Why do I feel that this is the most important piece I've written to date? Because as I read the book and started to understand what was really going on in my own body, my relentless pain started to give way. It doesn't just vanish in an instant. It is a process. You must continuously meet the pain with your consciousness. When I start to feel it, I simply say to myself, "that's not pain, that's your brain. You are actually fine. It is just the anger/anxiety you felt towards ______ (fill in the blank with someone or something that happened either that day or ten years ago.)" . I call it out for what it is, and - it - recedes. I am a brand new person in a brand new body, or at least the one I had prior to the constant, extreme discomfort and depression. I cannot express in words how liberated I feel. Anyone who has been close to me in the last three years knows how much I have struggled. Free. I run all of the time. I run fast. I run on hard surfaces in minimal support shoes. I want to (but would never) take ten yoga classes a day because it no longer hurts, and I am slowly getting my backbends back. I can sit and type this epic blog post for hours and guess what - nothing! It brings tears to my eyes, the freedom. I wish I could give Dr. Sarno a giant hug, but sadly he passed in 2017, a New Yorker. But not without a legacy. I am so inspired and so moved, and so tripped out on the brain's ability to effect physiology / the influence of the emotions upon systems and organs of the body. I am so determined to share this knowledge that I am seriously considering it MY life's work, and am actively taking steps to align with that path.
"I believe that all medical studies are flawed if they do not consider the emotional factor." - Dr. Sarno
This work doesn't stop at pain syndromes but bleeds into everything. Illness, serious illness, immunity. Here is a list of other physical disorders Dr. Sarno, who had a success rate of completely curing 88% of his patients, has labeled as equivalents of TMS:
Pre-ulcer states Hay Fever Eczema
Peptic ulcer Asthma Psoriasis
Hiatus hernia Prostatitis Acne, hives
Spastic colon Tension headache Dizziness
IBS Migraine headache Ringing in the ears
If you are or know anyone who suffers from, well, anything, I cannot stress enough how much this work could change everything, so please share it. I know that I would have done anything to get relief - to find a cure. When I think of all the money I spent, and all I needed was $13.
When I speak to some about the book, people I love the very most in this life, I am met with resistance, which is to be expected. They say things like, "well that's not me, I'm not emotional." As though they were immune to experiencing emotions, or that they never endured trauma of any kind. But no one is exempt, and THEY are exactly WHO - this (TMS) is. Because it isn't socially acceptable to express these "negative", undesirable, uncomfortable feelings, these people suffer the most, and I know them and I love them and I want to help them. I hope that this finds you willing to be open to the possibility of a whole new existence.
One where you are finally - free.
One other important takeaway here is to pay attention. No encounter is by accident. If the SOUL reason for me to move to Los Angeles was to meet that guy so that he could bring me to this doctor's work, well then, it was all so totally worth it without one single inkling of a doubt...
I could go on forever and if you are still with me, thank you! And! The book teaches you everything you need to know - so much more than I could put in this blog and expect people to read. Don't dismiss this possibility based upon the limited information that I have reported.
This is the work! Miracle work.
*I have included links within this post where one can purchase Dr. Sarno's book. He has many. This is an affiliate link and can be explained here. Trust that the 52 cents I could make on each sale is not a get rich quick scheme I am pulling by writing this 2700 word story. :)
I will close with this poem by Ms. Norma Puziss, a patient of Dr. Sarno's.
Think psychological, not physical,
An idea that is most quizzical.
No one would have guessed
Emotions deeply repressed
Could produce such tension
Not to even mention
There is nothing to fear!
Subconscious do you hear?
You concentrate on pain,
A back sufferer's bane,
To divert one's attention
From underlying tension.
Your secret is out;
You have lost your clout.
So give it up, resign --
TMS is benign!
I am in control, not you.
I have learned that I've got to --
Thing psychological, not physical.