Since I wrote about the aftermath of the slip and fall on ice with my granddaughter Lilly while visiting snowy Austria in January (Pain and Gain), I feel as though I have been dancing with pain — trying out and learning many different steps. It seems hard to believe that it’s been just a few months, it seems like years.  Pain alters perception.

Eckhard Tolle, and many other teachers as well, suggest that if we can be present with our pain, (or anger, or fear, or judgement, or any physical or psychic injury), and watch it, rather than completely identifying with it, we can create some space around it.  It does not take us over; we are not trapped in its tentacles.  (See also Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, helpful to thousands of people with chronic distress, on how mindfulness can transform our experience of pain.)

I worked with this, it helped, but the pain remained.  It got better, then it got worse. Then it went somewhere else. Over the next several months I danced with TMS, NLP, and EBT 🙂  Each of the approaches has been significant for me in the dance, which was at times wild and confusing, then frustrating, downright frightening, and ultimately illuminating.

Friends asked that I write about my experience, so I am sharing my dance with pain in the hope you may be able to see yourself in the story, and perhaps see more quickly than I did what is up, and move toward wellness.

TMS stands for Tension Myoneural Syndrome,  If I could pick one book that has been deeply transformative for me, Dr. John E. Sarno’s Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, which elucidates TMS, and explains its causes and cures, would be on the short list.

I have known about TMS for years.  The premise is that many manifestations of pain in the body are caused by the mind, are the mind’s way of distracting (read protecting), us from having to deal with unacceptable, unpleasant emotions. The pain is absolutely real, physical, in our bodies, but the cause is not. Repressed, deep in our unconscious mind, these emotions surface in the form of pain at various locations in the body.

When exploring the possibility of pain being TMS, i.e., psychological in origin, having no physical cause, it is important to rule out serious disease.  It’s tricky, though, as many practitioners, doctors, and physiotherapists and other healers, will find some physical irregularity, and attribute the pain to this physical cause. So each person must examine the evidence carefully and decide for him/herself if the mind/body TMS dynamic is the appropriate explanation.  A growing number of practitioners are convinced that much of the epidemic of pain we see today is not physical in cause, but is our mind doing a number on us.

Here’s another key dimension to TMS and a test of whether it’s likely to be the explanation for the pain.  Particular personality types are susceptible to the disorder;  self-critical, having high expectations, tendency to perfectionism, wanted to do good, be good…. Does this speak to you, by any chance?  It certainly did to me!

I had known all about this for some time, and knowing about the disorder was enough to ‘cure’ several serious bouts of back pain, shoulder trouble, nerves, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, in me, my husband, and/or several friends of ours over the last several years.  But the tricky piece in this puzzle this round is that I had had an actual injury — several in fact, and so for a long time, some ten months, I associated my subsequent pain(s) with the injuries.  Pretty natural, eh?

It all started about a year ago… I had a bike fall.  It seemed minor at the time, I got up and cycled on.  But later there was pain.  And over the next several months, that pain became chronic. Although I didn’t make the connection then, the pain that continued to plague me was of a nature that it couldn’t really have come from the injury.  That’s typical of TMS.  Our mind will use an injury as a perfect site to start of create pain, because we will not suspect the psychological cause! (If all this sounds like mumbo jumbo, please get Healing Back Pain: The  Mind-Body Connection, from the library or Amazon, and see if it speaks to you.  It’s eye-opening, humbling, and enormously liberating!)

In my case, in addition to the bike fall, it just so happens that at the same time, about a year ago, I had heavy bout of feeling inadequate, feeling I was not doing enough, not being enough, not living up to ‘expectations’. I won’t go into that story here, but it’s a critical part of the dance: I was having all kinds of unpleasant emotions that I didn’t want to face (again!).

But I didn’t really make this connection, didn’t see that I had a new round of emotional baggage that was deeply distasteful to me, until early April.  In these intervening months I had dealt with a startling array of acute and sometimes debilitating aches and pains, and now, at last, I realized that the TMS dynamic was at work. The healing and return to normalcy could begin.

OK that’s enough for now.  To be continued!  And just so you know, the story has a happy ending — well, actually it’s not over, but it is now a dance, and not a downward spiral, which it had definitely become in the weeks after the slip and fall with Lilly.

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Your feedback is most welcome.

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