In January, right at the beginning of 2017, I was preparing an Indian meal for friends coming to visit and it occurred to me that I had been standing for almost two hours in my kitchen chopping, slicing and dicing and getting everything ready. It made me cast my mind back to almost one year ago when this seemingly ordinary act of standing would have been impossible for me. I could just about manage a few minutes, the time to make a cup of tea!
Here is my story:
In April 2016 while on holiday, I suddenly started to get a mysterious tingle which I felt to be in my hip area and most noticeable when getting out of bed. I ignored it hoping it would go away by itself. I did not want to bother my GP with a tingle! However over April and May, the tingle seemed to be transforming into something else. It started to go down my leg and I wondered if I was imagining things but I seemed to be having difficulty standing. I first became aware of this during a visit to a museum for a two hour visit but I put it down to the high(ish) heels I was wearing. I carried on as normal but that omnipresent tingle was going nowhere.
Things came to a head during June when I was invited to a works leaving do. This was mostly a stand up affair with long speeches at the beginning of it. I was finding it excruciatingly difficult to remain standing. I looked around, everybody else seemed fine and I decided to sit down. What was wrong with me? I began to get somewhat worried and could not ignore this any longer. I first made an appointment with the doctor who diagnosed sciatica and packed me off with a prescription for anti-inflammatories and a referral to an osteopath. The osteopath diagnosed piriformis syndrome which I understood to be a tight muscle in the buttock which traps the sciatica nerve causing pain down the leg. This sounded about right. After my second visit, he told me that there was no need to come back, he gave me some exercises to do and told me to relax. He told me also after some tests that I was in good shape and that there was nothing structurally wrong with my back or spine. Nothing changed though and the pain was amplifying. I tried two sessions of acupuncture, three sessions of schiatsu and several massages. I was willing to try anything but surgery because I knew another trip to the doctor would start pointing in that direction because the pain had not lessened or shifted and was getting worse.
What a pain!
By July, I was now having severe difficulty walking. I could only walk a few hundred metres before finding somewhere to sit down. I could sit, but only if I sat forward, and getting back up was so painful that I dreaded it. Lying down was not much better as it took me ages to find a comfortable position and I would frequently wake up in the night with pain. Getting out of the bed was the worst. The moment I stood up, I would get this awful pain and tingling down my left leg. Just doing the basics to get ready for work became a huge chore and my life was beginning to revolve around that ever present pain.
In fact my life WAS the pain. I measured it every day. Better? Worse? The same? I started organising myself around it and I was adapting to it. Work was not a problem as I was office based and at least I could sit and walk short distances. Nobody ever suspected how much I was suffering and how miserable I felt. My colleague in the next office had tendonitis in his arm and I envied him, at least he could stand and walk properly!
Dr Google to the rescue
Still in July and before my holiday, I decided to start searching on google to see if I could get more insight into my condition. I only knew one person in my personal life who had sciatica. She resorted to surgery which did not work and had many complications after it. I typed in ‘sciatica psychological’ into the search engine because I had this feeling that my problem was psychological rather than structural. The first reply was interesting. It said that sciatica occurred in people who were afraid of the future, unsure which direction to take and who were resisting the flow of life. I could identify with this as it happened that I was facing a huge career change with the threat of job loss. I was also suffering from a relationship break-up.
Although I thought I was taking these major life events in my stride, maybe my body thought differently. More than anything, I was looking for a cure. Another search threw up lots of exercises guaranteed to banish your sciatica forever and here I paused for thought. For three years running up to the sciatica flare up, I had been diligently going to pilates classes two and three times a week. I had been doing all the exercises recommended for a strong back; strengthening core muscles especially the abdominal ones, stretching, breathing and some aerobic exercise. So you can imagine the disappointment that after all that, the very thing I was trying to avoid had assailed me! I was thoroughly disappointed and even more so that I was no longer able do those same exercises. I tried but it was so very uncomfortable so I gave it all up and I missed it so much. I hated how sedentary I had become. Back to google. Then I fell upon Dr Sarno.
Dr Sarno made a lot of sense
From the first reading on the internet, I was captivated and intrigued by what Dr Sarno had to say about back pain and I wanted to know more. Before buying his book, ‘Healing Back Pain’, I read everything I could find on the Internet including hundreds of testimonies from grateful people who had been cured. I listened to various interviews he gave and I immediately liked the man. He seemed so calm, reassuring and confident in what he was saying. If you want to call it ‘buying in’, then I bought in totally to his belief.
By the time I bought the book, I already had a good grasp of his teachings and I took the time also to read all the reviews on Amazon before buying it, overwhelmingly positive I might add. I read the book in one sitting. From it, I understood that the brain steps in when it detects that very deep, painful and angry feelings are about to emerge – as if we might go into some sort of massive melt down if we did. The distraction of the different pain syndromes are there to help and to ensure that the emotional melt down doesn’t happen. So getting rid of the pain was a matter of reprogramming the brain and he even talked about ‘talking to your brain’, as simple as that. He called the syndrome TMS (the mindbody syndrome) and described a particular personality type that was prone to chronic pain. It was me to a ‘T’ and I think this was the ‘thing’ that convinced me most to stay with it.
Now Dr Sarno did say that some people are cured after one reading and that knowledge awareness alone was enough to get rid of the pain. Some needed to read it two or three times for what he was saying to sink in and then a small majority would need extra support in the form of therapy. So I read it a second time during my holiday in July and more slowly this time to let it sink in. In fact the book had become my constant companion and although I could see no noticeable difference in my condition, I drew great comfort from reading it.
When I returned from my hotel-on-beach sedentary holiday, I decided to go one step further and buy one of his lectures on CD and his study guide. The lecture helped a lot in that it reinforced what I already understood and it was helpful to see him interacting with his patients, all suffering from one chronic pain or another, each with a different story.
By September, my moral was definitely better and I felt a great hope that I would get rid of this lingering pain. I happened upon the TMS Wiki and this is when I found Georgie Oldfield, a TMS practitioner based in Huddersfield UK with regular clinics in London, one of the very few practitioners in Europe. I booked to go to travel London from my home in Europe. More than anything I needed to talk to somebody who understood. It was now October and I was still hobbling around.
Nothing structurally wrong
Georgie gave me a lot of home work to complete in the form of an assessment, the type of family I came from, my personality type, my medical history, my family’s medical history and so on. Before our consultation, she examined me and once again confirmed that there was nothing structurally wrong with me. We spent an hour and a half together going over the assessment. We had a good talk and I left for home armed with a recovery kit.
The next day I seriously got down to work. I started to journal and to write things out of my system. It is not an easy exercise as it brings up some painful memories and at times I had to stop. Although the journaling did not come naturally to me, I stuck with it. Dr Sarno had said to write essays about all the things that bothered you so here I was doing just that. Personally speaking, most important is to forgive and acknowledge that whoever they were in your life, they tried to do their best with the tools they had.
As well as journaling, I not only re-read ‘Healing Back Pain’ but I underlined chapters especially in the psychological section, I was now studying it instead of reading it and I would soon be able to recite it off by heart; And yes, I did talk to my brain! I finally got it and it was nothing short of miraculous. The very day after I had started to journal, the pain started to go and the tingling started to subside. I knew, I just knew I was on the right path. Day by day, it got a bit better and by Christmas 2016, I was fully back to normal and resumed my normal activities. It was a full and complete recovery, an outstanding success. I had healed myself. I was so elated that I vowed I would walk everywhere, go back to the gym and even run! I wanted to tell everybody. I did try but got some funny looks but I guess that you cannot force anybody to believe something they do not wish to believe in. This is why I agreed with Georgie to write this testimonial because even if it helps one person, then it will be worthwhile.
I have not stopped there. I continue to read other books on the topic and by the way, the Indian meal turned out great and I didn’t have a pain or ache next day!