“There’s nothing like a little physical pain to keep your mind off your emotional problems.”
― John E. Sarno, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection
If you have Tension Myoneuro Syndrome (TMS), you have a certain personality which the late Dr. John Sarno labeled the “T Personality.” One of your characteristics is that you avoid anger and conflict.
As Dr. Sarno writes in his book, Healing Back Pain, “Many TMS patients are the antithesis of hostile; they often have a strong need to be good, nice, pleasant, accommodating, and helpful. Though they may be ambitious and often very accomplished, they do not necessarily pursue their goals with the intensity that seems to be characteristic of the Type A person.” (Not sure what that says about me who has chronic pain and suffered four heart attacks in 2008)?
For more details about the personality of those who suffer from TMS, read a former post which has been popular: The Care-Giver Personality
Maimed by the Medical Profession
Those who injure TMS victims are frequently traditional physicians. They are not taught how to deal with pain, especially now that chronic pain has become a special disorder.
They relinquish their responsibility by writing unnecessary prescriptions, or sending you to physical therapy or a specialist for whom you have to wait months for an appointment only to find the specialists don’t know what to do with chronic pain either. As a result your rage is pushed further into your unconscious. You don’t take a stand. You stuff the anger.
In June 2016 my disks L5-S1 degenerated, causing sciatic pain and the inability to walk or sit upright. First, my primary care physician prescribed three muscle relaxers a day for six weeks which did nothing but make me sleep and increase my anger because I knew I wasn’t being helped.
I asked for a Cat scan, he did X-rays. Lying on an X-ray table was excruciating. After two more months and finally a CT scan, he referred me to a neurosurgeon. Waited five months to see the neurosurgeon and was in his office less than five minutes when he directed me to a pain clinic.
The Disastrous Pain Clinic
Then I waited three months before seeing the pain clinic doctor. During the exam, he said he was going to push under my belly. He pushed extremely hard, I yelled and tears came to my eyes. “That’s your femoral nerve,” he said. No explanation, no apology. I was furious over the harsh treatment that diminished my anger.
After the exam, he suggested a spinal chord stimulator but announced that I had to see a psychologist first. “We don’t put them in crazy people,” he said tactlessly. Actually insurances require this. More waiting for another appointment to take a psychological exam covering 300 questions. Then an appointment to discuss the exam.
The loquacious shrink asked no questions. All he did was talk. He said we would discuss the exam, but when we didn’t, I ask about it. He said it was fine, that I was extremely consistent. We didn’t talk about because there was nothing screwy to talk about.
He admitted he could give me the green light, but insisted I was clinically depressed, not suffering from S.A.D. as other physicians had concluded and wanted me on an increased dose of an antidepressant followed by a compulsory third appointment a month later.
If I was clinically depressed why could I be given the green light?
(According to Dr. Sarno, prescribing antidepressants without therapy can be dangerous but traditional physicians do it all the time). I stopped taking them the minute the spinal chord stimulator didn’t work out because of negative side effects.
This psychologist was incredibly boring; I dreaded another appointment. I had therapy in my earlier years, and I know therapists ask questions, lots of them, they don’t talk about themselves incessantly. But did I express my rage about being held hostage for not one but three hours of billing by a boring shrink? No. Rage driven into the unconscious again and again.
Finally in May 2017, the grating pain doctor was ready to implant the trial stimulator, a procedure that usually took 40 minutes for others but took him two hours with me. He complained that my back was hard and bumpy and that’s why it tripled his time. I was in a rage, but I hid it.
Isn’t it interesting that the current medical profession bombards us with the idea that our backs are weak and falling apart? We need physical therapy, braces, wraps, corsets hot packs, cold packs and chiropractors. We shouldn’t lift anything over ten pounds, sleep on a soft bed or walk in flimsy shoes. Our backs are falling apart before our eyes.
Yet, fifty years ago people made their living by the strength of their backs. They rarely went to doctors. I can count on one hand how many times I went to the doctor when I was a child. The medical profession has made billions by keeping us weak. Or, at least, thinking we are.
Yet, my back was so hard, it took two hours to get one lead inserted. The research was right. Spines break down above and below back fusions. That’s exactly what happened to me after the fusion in Indiana. It triggered four fractures in my thoracic spine (as I did physical therapy and the therapists ignored it), and the degeneration of L5-S1 below the spinal fusion. More rage pushed under.
(And all of the above doesn’t take into consideration how I stuffed down anger when my PCP told me my heart was “good, very good” as I had three heart attacks, the last one nearly killing me. And the surgeon in Indiana who fused my back in spite of my protest, when it didn’t need it, using screws & rods that were too small, requiring a second surgery.
Basically those two physicians crippled me, changed my life forever & are the biggest rage of all. What was I suppose to do with all this anger? I stuffed it because I’m a goodist.
The Horrors of a Spinal Chord Stimulator (and Defibrillator)
During the procedure, the pain clinic doctor injected only one midazolam to relax me and 0.1 mg of fentanyl for pain during the entire two hours he jammed a lead up my spine, with a direct hit on every nerve, I swear. He didn’t even try to put the second lead in because it would have taken too much time.
If he had looked at my medical records, he would have seen that fentanyl didn’t work for me when my defibrillator was inserted (another horrendous experience). Either a muscle or nerve or both was injured during the defibrillator debacle while I was wide awake the entire time.
Apparently the cardiologists and the pain clinic doctor gave me too little medication to make a difference. During the defibrullator implantation, I kept rising up, it hurt so much, and the cardiologists kept shoving me down on the table.
One cardiologist said, “Shouldn’t we give her something to relax?” But nothing was done. He had been bragging that he was ten minutes ahead of schedule, and that was what was important to him.
When I tried to talk about it to my regular cardiologist, he cut off my conversation stating, “Mistakes were made.” Did I express my rage over painful, negligent treatment? No. That I couldn’t even use my walker due to my injured shoulder? No. That I wasn’t allowed to even talk about it? I buried the rage.
I could hear a thousand voices screaming in my ear like I had heard all my life, “People make mistakes.” So I pushed the rage into the unconscious. I wasn’t suppose to think about me. I was suppose to make others comfortable even when they made horrendous mistakes. So much rage buried deeper and deeper.
What I went through, regarding the spinal chord stimulator was equally heartless and unsympathetic, especially when the company advertised that the patient could be asleep while the device was implanted. I cried the entire two hours, it hurt so much. I couldn’t stop.
Indifferent to my suffering, the doctor was protecting himself, wanting to know when he had or hadn’t hit a nerve. For obvious reasons better training needs to be conducted and supervised before using patients as test subjects for hit-and-miss implantation of medical devices.
Furthermore, I was told a representative for my defibrillator would be there to make certain there would be no electrical interference from the stimulator that might offset my defibrillator, but it seems no one from the pain clinic ever contacted anyone at no cardiology. Did I speak up and ask about this? Demand that cardiology be there? No. Another possibly dangerous misstep which I pushed into the unconscious.
After a five-day trial, I gained only a 25% reduction of pain (with one lead) so he refused to insert the permanent device. I was disappointed at the time, but I realize now I finally got a break from ghastly treatment about my pain.
I had waited from June 2016 to June 2017 for help with my chronic pain only to be told there was no help. I was livid with my primary care physician, neurosurgeon, psychologist, anesthesiologist and the cardiologist, but did I express my rage? No. I’m a goodist. We have to look and act kind all the time. We give everyone else the benefit of the doubt. We suffer pain instead. How noble of us.
Now, what was I to do about my back pain?
The Rewards of Seeing a TMS Physician
In his book The Mindbody Prescription, Dr. Sarno tells about a patient who explains that a traditional physician tells you pain patients to go to bed or have surgery further injuring and dis-empowering you.
When you visit Dr. Sarno (or a mindbody physician), he emphatically affirms and soothes your feelings which makes you feel safe enough to look at your feelings.
On July 17, 2017 I made a trip to Southfield, MI to see TMS doctor Dr. Howard Schubiner at Providence Hospital (even though I wondered if my heart would take the trip, and it barely did). After being housebound for three years, I finally found a physician who not only offered hope but activated a sense of power instead of depletion within me.
As Dr. Schubiner and I talked, I was treated harshly by the pain clinic doctor and I deserved better. No kidding. I was finally being heard.
After a physical examination, he said, “You will walk again. Your surgeries are healed and the strength in your legs denotes that you have no nerve damage. Your current pain is from TMS.”
I started listening to Dr. John Sarno’s TMS books online at the beginning of July and continued to do so almost 24/7 after seeing Dr. Schubiner, who gave me his updated book, Unlearn Your Pain (2017). Many nights when I slept in my lift chair, I had the books (Audible, Audio Books or You Tube) playing as I slept.
I had hope again. TMS physicians give hope. As Dr. Sarno writes in his book Healing Back Pain, “The pain disappears only when that person has an opportunity to express the terrible, festering rage that has occupied his or her unconscious (sometimes) for years.”
Back to the Cardiologist
As I mentioned, I had been struggling with painful, frightening angina since February 2017. I didn’t know how I could manage lying on my back in the Cath lab due to my severe back pain.
After seeing Dr. Schubiner, I made an appointment with the cardiologist. His PA sent me directly from his office to the Emergency Room, thinking I might be suffering a heart attack at that moment. I was hospitalized for a week while two stents, causing 80% and 70% blockage, were repaired.
But once again an infuriating incident occurred. What are the odds of something going wrong as frequently as it has for me? The cardiologist nicked my artery while fixing the stent with the 80% blockage. He had to insert an additional stent to buttress the nicked artery. I went for help. What I got was a weakened artery, requiring yet another stent to reinforce it. Oh, lucky me.
I thought I was dying on the table when it happened. The pain traversed from the feeling of crushing cinder blocks dropping onto my chest, to a deep ache in the left arm to excruciating pain in both jaws that felt like all the nerves in my teeth were dying.
I continuously verbalized my pain, puzzled why he wasn’t fixing it, but all he would say is, “I’m sorry, Dianne Hang in there. We’re almost through…we’re almost through…we’re almost through.” He never told me about the nicked artery. He told my friend who was in the waiting room. Did I express my rage and disappointment about all this? No.
My checkup 10 days later was scheduled with a PA. Considering what had happened, I wanted to talk directly to my cardiologist. I had questions. Instead, I was shut down by the PA. In fact, I fully believe I was scheduled with the PA so I would be “calmed down” by the time of my next appointment in November. Did I express my rage? No. I stuffed it again and again and again and again to the almighty medical profession.
A few days after arriving home, I suffered shortness of breath, a symptom I didn’t endure before the procedure. I had nightmares and panic attacks. I had no motivation, no interest in talking to people or doing anything. My house got cluttered because it seemed like too much effort to put things away. Washing piled up. I’m a perfectionist so this was unlike me, but I couldn’t make myself get interested in anything.
There is a big difference between connecting with your rage and complaining about an incident. I had done a lot of complaining without integrating the rage. Then when unbearable depression descended upon me, I asked, “What’s going on psychologically?”
All of a sudden I realized how full of rage I was toward the cardiologist who nicked my artery. In fact, it took my breath away, and I realized why I had been struggling to breathe for days. It takes much energy to deny rage, to keep it under the bridge unnoticed. Now, I connected with my rage like a match to gasoline. Every time I went to that hospital, someone screwed up on my body. Wow. I was furious.
The next day I woke up depressed again, so depressed I could barely function which temporarily stymied me. And then insight hit again. The depression was my brain switching gears to protect me. The purpose of TMS is to keep you away from facing the psychological rage buried in the unconscious.
I had faced my rage toward the cardiologist in the cath lab, but I wasn’t finished by any means. My brain was afraid I couldn’t handle more rage. It wants to protect you from psychological wounds that would be worse than physical pain.
Talking To Your Brain
I yelled at my brain. “Cut. It. Out! Stop it! I don’t need this depression, I can handle this. I have every right to feel rage. And anyone who tells me differently is someone who is afraid of their own anger, afraid of mine or both.”
My anger was appropriate, and trying to pretend I didn’t have it was a lie. It’s not your job to make medical professionals comfortable. You have a right to first-rate medical care. And if you don’t get that, you have a right to a face-to-face apology. Everyone does.
Nor is it helpful to be told by friends and relatives that feeling rage is wrong. That has been as hurtful as what physicians have done. Those who suffer TMS have been told that all their lives, or allowed others to shut them down. They grew up being told they not only had to be nice but they had to make others happy at their own expense or be considered a bad, selfish person.
Do you know how angry that makes your brain to be told you have to live your life to make others happy while you are being abused? It’s not right. It’s dishonest. If you want to get rid of your pain, you have to face your rage. When you do, your pain will subside. When you are healed, your pain will disappear.
The Drive To Consciousness
The only way a victim of TMS will heal is to bring the rage from the unconscious to the conscious, and then sit with it as long as you need. There can be other emotions that you push down, too, not just rage and anger, although Dr. Sarno found that most of his patients healed their severe pain by facing their rage.
Research shows that many who suffer the pain of fibromyalgia, which according to Dr. Sarno is TMS on a severe level, have had physical, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect in their childhood. Many have rage from childhood that has been jammed into the darkness for years.
The brain participates in this game of pain by causing about 5% oxygen and blood deprivation to a specific area of your body. It’s not enough oxygen deprivation to injure tissue but enough to trigger horrendous pain in your muscles, nerves or tendons.
It chooses a place where you had or have an injury like a bulging disk or a prior knee or shoulder pain or injury. The brain wants us to believe we have a structural problems so we will focus on the body and not the emotional rage in your unconscious.
“The purpose of pain is to focus on the body,” explains Sarno in his book Healing Back Pain. “As long as the person remains unaware that the pain is serving as a distraction, it will continue to do so undisturbed. But the moment the realization sinks in–and it must sink in for mere intellectual appreciation of the process is not enough–then the pain stops as there is no further need for the pain. It’s the information that gets the job done.”
For example, I had surgery on my wrist, believing it was tendinitis. Whenever I’m psychologically upset, my wrist hurts even though I had surgery to fix it. That’s when I know my brain is playing TM tricks. I tell my brain to “cut it out” and it stops hurting immediately. That’s how it works.
Dr. Sarno calls it Knowledge Therapy. It really is.
Whenever you feel physical pain, you must ask: What’s going on psychologically? Sometimes it won’t seem like there is anything but keep asking. You feel pain because your brain wants you to focus on the body, not the emotions submerged in the unconscious. The brain things they would be to powerful or devastating to face.
The feeling might arise in the moment or take hours or days to acknowledge, but it is the only track to healing. If you don’t figure it out, the pain continues or shifts to another vulnerable area in your body to keep you off track. After all, the mind and body work together. They are not separate issues.
Figure out what emotions are holding you hostage to pain, then deal with them. You can do it. Do you want to walk again? Stop your knees from hurting? Unmask your neck pain, shoulder pain, sciatica? Think psychologically. What’s going on that seemingly hurts your body but really hurts your heart? What is your back pain or leg pain closeting? What does your brain think you can’t handle…but you can.
Some people heal their pain by merely reading Dr. Sarno’s books. For others it might take weeks, months or years. I’ve been submerging my feelings of rage and abandonment since I was four so it takes more work for people like me. But why not try it? I’m a whole lot better than I was in June, I can tell you that. And I have more work to do. It’s almost like living a mystery and solving the crime clue by clue.