I've mentioned before that I've dealt with TMS through the years. If you don't know what TMS is or who John Sarno is, I highly, highly recommend reading up on him. TMS stands for Tension Myositis Syndrome and it basically means that many forms of back pain, headache, carpal tunnel, IBS, etc. stem from stress-induced oxygen deprivation. Your body simply deprives an area of oxygen in an attempt to distract you from emotional pain. It's a benign condition, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it when you're suffering.
I had dealt with repetitive strain injuries for years when I found out about John Sarno. I read his book The MindBody Prescription, and within weeks my pain was gone--simply from the knowledge that it was all stemming from stress. I recommended his book to friends who were also suffering from RSI, and they were cured, too. I'm a huge believer in TMS, and a huge John Sarno fan. If you're dealing with any kind of chronic pain, I can't recommend his books enough.
TMS is a tricky son of a bitch. If you cure it in one form, it can pop up again in a different place. Shortly after my RSI was getting better, I developed severe vertigo. Like, I was walking down the street and then everything began spinning, end over end. It is very hard to walk when it seems like the ground is shooting up to meet your face. I ran (well, crawled) to an ENT, and while I was in his waiting room, happened to read a pamphlet about inner ear disorders, wherein they mentioned that they can be caused by oxygen deprivation to certain nerves. I shook my fist at my brain--which is a very strange thing to do in a waiting room--shouted "I AM ONTO YOU, TMS" and left. I never had vertigo again.
Since then, other annoying pains have cropped up, but generally they're manageable, whether or not I recognize them for what they are. So when I started having sciatic pain this summer, I wasn't too concerned. Usually I ignore the pain, and it goes away. The sciatic pain had arrived shortly after a neck spasm, which had appeared the morning after a heated, emotional argument with a relative. Huh.
I went to an acupuncturist for the neck spasm. Here's the problem with TMS: if you treat it physically, somehow its strength grows. The whole purpose of TMS is to distract you from emotional pain, so if you treat it like a physical syndrome, it knows it's working. Weird, but true. In my case, the neck spasm got better, but the sciatic pain got worse. And worse. By then I was aware that I was dealing with TMS, and I stopped going to acupuncture. Usually acknowledging the source of pain and considering the emotional sources of it can bring relief, so I hoped that would be the case this time.
I knew it was TMS because the syndrome tends to act in ways that differ from an actual structural problem. This is the kind of pain that, if you're not aware of TMS, can baffle you and your doctors. It might appear and disappear with no logic, or it changes locations (mine tends to go from one leg to the other, although it generally focuses on the left leg) and it gets better, not worse, with activity. Also, it flares up when there's emotional stress. This has at least been true for me. I've been dealing with some stressful family issues, so it's no surprise that my TMS came back.
As I said, knowing it's TMS and ignoring the pain or thinking about the emotional sources of it, while increasing activity to the affected area, usually nips it in the bud. I'm not sure why this didn't work this time, but I'm guessing there's more going on unconsciously than I'm even aware of. That I'm a lot more upset than I think I am. Because if pain is a gauge of someone's emotional turmoil, I am very, uh, turmoiled.
Because this pain, this is the worst thing I've ever experienced. I'm trying not to be dramatic, but it is bananas. (Technical term.) It starts in my left buttock (although sometimes, without warning, in my right! Just for kicks!) and it goes down my leg. It usually gets worse as the day goes on, and it feels like there's something writhing inside there, turning over and twisting and pulling at my sciatic nerve. My left leg is just a mass of pain. I can't even tell what part of it hurts more, nor do I care to. On a pain scale, this is definitely an 8 or a 9. The weird part is that I can seem entirely normal when it's going on, because it doesn't affect my movement at all. It amazes me that I'm not disabled by it. I can get up and down from a chair, walk normally, run, etc. Running, in fact, often helps, so I'm doing it as much as I can.
Yesterday I ran on a treadmill for a long time, while my leg yelled at me. The pain usually gets worse as the day goes on, but yesterday it had come early, so I ran while I yelled at it. Silently, you understand, so as not to alarm my fellow gym-goers. I was like CUT THIS SHIT OUT and my leg was like nuh-uh. By last night, oh my lord. I couldn't catch my breath, it was so bad. I thought I was going to pass out. I knew that stretching wouldn't help, but I couldn't help it, because it felt like everything was spasming. It didn't help. I took three Advil. Nothing. I was out of ideas, and I knew logically that sawing my leg off probably wasn't an option.
So here's what I did next: I locked myself in the bedroom, curled up on the bed, and forced myself to cry. This felt ... weird. I'm usually an accomplished crier, I cry with no problem, but I didn't feel like crying lately. Pain doesn't make me want to cry. I just get very quiet, and tired, and I stop answering emails, and I don't update my blog enough. But I had a hunch that crying might help, and it was a lot easier then renting a chainsaw. I thought about everything that could possibly be causing me emotional stress, and BOOM, I was off! I cried like I haven't cried in years. I soaked pillowcases. If the dog were in the room, he would have been shaking himself dry afterward. It was intense.
After a few minutes of this, I stood up. And the pain was gone. Gone. No pain. I can't even tell you how surreal that was. I sound confident about this TMS stuff, but it's hard not to worry. Severe pain has a way of convincing you that it's, you know, real. Or something is desperately wrong. But if I needed confirmation that this sciatic pain was a load of hooey, I sure as hell got it last night.
I guess this is why I'm writing this post today. It's tough, when you're dealing with chronic pain, to talk about much else, and let's face it, pain is kind of boring. I wanted to at least be able to have something hopeful to report. Today I feel more hopeful than I've felt in a long time. All I have to do, apparently, whenever the pain flares up, is cry my guts out. I'll let you know how this goes.