I share my story to bring awareness to the mind-body connection and how chronic stress rewires the nervous system, which can result in chronic pain, illness, and disease in the body. Awareness is the most important element to healing the mind, body and spirit.
We cannot heal what we do not recognize.
For 30 years, I suffered from chronic pain, fatigue, and autoimmune issues, living what I call the Low Grade Life. Stress from my past affected my future and manifested in the form of physical illness, often referred to as TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome).
Symptoms began at the age of 4 in the form of stomachaches and backaches, and as I grew, morphed into growing pains, carpal tunnel, and finally, back and neck pain at 14. The back pain was attributed to bad horseback riding falls and the carpal tunnel, to my daily piano practice.
As a young adult, in addition to escalating upper back and neck pain and muscle spasms, I was diagnosed with Migraine Induced Vertigo and Tinnitus. Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Lyme Disease were all suspected but never officially diagnosed. I had extreme adrenal fatigue, high cortisol levels, very high Epstein Barr antibodies, endometriosis, pelvic pain, brittle hair, and a whole host of other mysterious issues. There are truly no limitations to how chronic stress can affect the body.
For about five years, I questioned whether I would be able to continue working due to extreme fatigue, back pain, and muscle spasms. I would hop myself up on 5-Hour Energy and Diet Coke just to get through the day, while maintaining a relatively demanding professional career. For a time, I was determined to find “the cure” and take back my health, seeing doctors from all modalities and specialties, ranging from holistic and alternative care to traditional medical doctors. As a smart, proactive woman, I documented everything, trying to find the common thread.
At the age of 24, I ended up in pain management and was prescribed Tramadol (an opiate), which I took for 10 years to help with back pain. My MRIs show significant spinal issues including bulging disks, a herniated disk, spinal stenosis, dehydrated disks, and other things that quite frankly, sounded pretty ominous.
These issues caused me to begin saying “no” to life more than “yes,” out of fear of a flair up, making the pain worse, or getting injured. I stopped playing the piano, stopped playing soccer, and for a period of time, ceased almost all physical activity. At one point, I believed I could not even do yoga, after some nerve pain flair ups in my mid back sent my back into spasms.
In spite of years of fairly challenging symptoms, I looked like I had it all together. I looked healthy and fit. I had good jobs and continued succeeding in the work world. I had (and still have) a great husband, wonderful friends, a comfortable home and all the typical “things” we spend a lot of time and energy trying to accumulate. In actuality, looking one way externally and feeling physically terrible, just put more pressure on me to keep up appearances.
Medical doctors are ill equipped to treat the whole person, and even less equipped to treat mind-body symptoms caused by chronic stress. They focus on managing disease and pain, not healing it. Meanwhile, alternative therapies can be a bit of a crap shoot, leaving patients to wonder if there is any validity to some of the seemingly weird things that holistic therapists say and do.
My first experience with the mind-body connection came through CranioSacral Therapy (CST). While I started CranioSacral Therapy to help with physical pain, what I got out of it was a deep awareness of how thoughts, feelings, and experiences affect the physical body. CranioSacral Therapy works with the nervous system and helps people to come out of “fight or flight” and into a more balanced state of “rest and digest.”
Initially, I was not sure if CST was helping, but my daily headaches went away, as well as the intermittent dizziness and tinnitus, so, I stuck with it.
Over the years, CST has provided a safe container for me to work through my “stuff.” Emotions can get stuck in the body and CST is a gentle way to allow trauma and stress from daily life to be released. CST is usually therapeutic, but at times, it felt like cleaning out my closet – messy and disorganized until things were put back into place.
CranioSacral Therapy supported my overall wellbeing – body, mind and spirit. I still had pain and fatigue but was slowly and steadily improving in pretty much all other ways. While my symptoms were not 100% gone, they were no longer dominating my life.
My second brush with the mind-body connection was disguised as a setback – it was in fact, a redirection. After experiencing significant pelvic pain, I had a second laparoscopy to address endometriosis. Unlike the first surgery, the second surgery revealed no endometriosis.
This was hard to understand, given the pelvic pain I experienced. Shortly after the surgery, my coworker mentioned a book he had heard about from Howard Stern: Healing Back Pain.
Healing Back Pain and the TMS diagnosis (Tension Myositis Syndrome) was the “ah ha” moment I had been seeking. I was always convinced that my issues were coming from a root issue – I just wasn’t expecting them to come from chronic stress and suppressed emotions.
Today, I am 99% symptom free in all areas of my body. I do yoga daily and run, bike, and swim regularly. When stressful situations arise, they may cause a momentary flair up, but understanding how the mind-body connection works allows me to work through stress at a more rapid pace.
Finding out about TMS allowed for radical healing and if you are still deep in your own healing journey or just find this topic interesting, I encourage you to keep reading and learn more about TMS.