The Great Mind-Body Connection

With the name of my blog, I feel like this is an important post, and one I've been thinking about writing for almost a year now, but wasn't sure how to approach it. If you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you will be aware that over the past 10 years or so I have suffered with all sorts of chronic pain. Neck pain, back pain, wrist pain and sometimes even knee pain. And for many years I saw a great physio -- Super Physio -- who helped me get through some really dark times.

At this point in my life, I've probably spent months collectively doing physio exercises and taken so much ibuprofen (and sometimes stronger anti-inflammatories) that I can't imagine not having a bottle of 500 tablets from the U.S. sitting in our medicine cabinet at all times. I've stopped doing certain types of exercises and everyone is always saying things to me like, "Well, you need to be careful about your back." It's my own fault -- I'm the one who told them how injured I was.

Then sometime last year when I was having the umpteenth neck flare up, finding myself again on Super Physio's bench, I started wondering what was really going on. Why did I keep injuring myself in new places, when I hadn't even done anything? How does one sprain one's wrists sitting at a desk typing anyway?

My neck was in agony in the spring of last year. I had taken a four-hour flight to Turkey for a conference that got cancelled and had to turn around the next day and take the trip straight back, while my neck was in spasm the entire time. I started feeling like my body wasn't capable of living a normal life -- why were other people able to sit on long-haul flights or type at their desks without being in constant pain? And it was almost as if my physio confirmed my suspicions that there was a missing link. She said to me at one session that although my muscles were tight, my posture was fine and everything was in the right place. She started asking me about what else was going on in my life. What was stressing me out?

For months I was very upset. I knew that there was something else going on, but how could I fix it? You can't just zap away the ups and downs of everyday life. And who would want to? I have a challenging job, but I don't want anything less. I want to be able to handle an interesting, stressful life.

Then one day I was reading of my favorite bloggers (Alice Bradley) and she happened to write a post that mentioned how she suffers with TMS, or tension myositis syndrome. It's a psychosomatic illness -- not accepted by the mainstream medical profession, mind you -- that causes chronic back, neck and limb pain. John Sarno M.D., a physician and professor of rehabilitation at New York University School of Medicine, is the originator of the diagnosis of this syndrome.

I was fascinated. I went out straight away and bought his book, called the The Mindbody Prescription. And I couldn't believe what I was reading -- it was almost as if the book described what I was dealing with on a daily basis, as if it was written for me. The essence of his theory is that there are people with certain personality traits who tend to internalize and repress emotional pain unconsciously. And the chronic pain is the mind's way of distracting the person from uncovering this. It's essentially a coping mechanism. And the beauty of it? You don't need to do anything other than be aware of it to stop the cycle (well, there's a bit more to it, but not really much more).

The interesting thing about Sarno's theory is that he believes it could extend to other chronic conditions that conventional medicine isn't able to treat effectively, including eczema, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers. Thing is, if you have any chronic pain or syndrome that doctors haven't been able to help you with, it's worth a read, because there's nothing really to lose apart from the 10 quid ($15) price of the book.

I can honestly say that this theory was the missing link for me. I have been processing this information over the past year --  I have now read two books on it -- and have slowly gotten rid of all my crutches, including my physio exercises, my bottles of ibuprofen and that lovely smelling deep heat. And I've started exercising like a normal person again. We were in Croatia this summer and went kayaking one day. I would have never done that a few years ago because I would have been afraid of hurting my back or neck. But I was fine. And I can honestly say that I'm pain free now. I get small flare ups here and there, but they are now just warning signs for me: a good indication that I'm stressed or upset about something. And so I just tell the pain to go away and face the real problem, which seems much more healthy for my mind and body.

For the background story on my struggle with chronic pain and a bit more detail, read The Whole Story here.


  1. Sounds amazing. What a powerful story. I'm buying the book now!

    1. Will be very interested to know what you think -- good luck! Taron


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